The Doomsday Clock People Are Freaking Me Out

I know we’re screwed but jeez can we take it down a notch.
Image: Shutterstock/Jason Koebler

The Doomsday Clock is just ticked half a minute closer to midnight.

In one of the scientific community’s most bizarre rituals, members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists—a group of scientists and security experts that try to assess how close we are to total annihilation—stood on a stage before the National Press Club in Washington DC this morning. A large, black sheet draped object loomed center stage as members of the Bulletin shuffled in on the morning of January 25, 2018 to deliver bad news: humanity is fucked.


“We’ve come to a grim assessment,” Rachel Bronson—CEO of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists—told the waiting crowd. Two other members of the Bulletin got up from their seats and dramatically flanked the sheet-draped object. “It is with considerable concern that we set the time of the Doomsday Clock…as of today, it is two minutes to midnight.”

The scientists pulled down the black sheet to reveal a comically large, half-face clock. One of them inched the minute hand half a minute closer to midnight, completing the ritual metaphor designed to let the world know that everything is terrible and we’re probably going to die. According to the Bulletin, you can blame Trump for this. Mostly.

The reasons for the advancing of the Doomsday Clock are several, but mostly point back to America’s commander-in-chief. The Bulletin pointed to Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, his bickering with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the instability of the Iran Deal, and Washington’s lack of action regarding climate change as the main sources of the growing threat of total extinction of the human race.

Last year, the scientists took the unprecedented step of setting the clock half a minute closer—from three minutes to two minutes, thirty seconds—citing the election of Donald Trump, the global rise of nationalism, and the world’s sluggish response to climate change as the main reasons.

“You have to remember that Mr. Trump had not yet become president,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board Co-Chair Robert Rosner told me last August after Trump made his fire and fury comments about North Korea. “We were loathe to pre-judge the man. We thought it was unwise. Now we know more." Rosner was the scientist who pulled the sheet off the clock this morning and moved the second hand closer to midnight.

Two minutes to midnight is the closest to doomsday to the scientists have ever set the clock. It’s only been there once before—in 1953 when the US had decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb and was testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific Ocean. In 1991, as the US and USSR were making deep cuts to its nuclear arsenals, the scientists set the clock at 17 minutes to midnight.

“We hope this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger,” he said in a prepared statement released as part of the ceremony. “The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now.”

The Bulletin is a group of experts and scientists. These people know their fields and understand both the science of disaster and the dangerous geopolitics of the current moment. However, it’s important to note that this is a warning, not a prediction. They are people coming to a subjective consensus conclusion based on the available evidence as they see it. The Doomsday Clock ceremony is a subjective—and deeply weird—yearly event. I’m glad they do it, but it’s important take their warnings with a grain of salt.