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Countdown to catastrophe: Doomsday Clock remains unchanged 

In a significant announcement, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has decided to keep the hands of the Doomsday Clock fixed at 90 seconds to midnight for 2024, signaling a sustained moment of historic danger.

This decision reflects the ongoing ominous trends that threaten global catastrophe, and emphasizes the urgency of addressing major global threats.

The experts indicate that the decision to maintain the Doomsday Clock’s position is not due to a stabilization of global threats but rather to the continued presence of significant dangers.

The unchanged setting at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest ever in history, underscores the critical nature of the current global situation.

A symbol of global peril

The Doomsday Clock, first set in 1947, is a metaphorical design that highlights the proximity of humanity to self-destruction due to dangerous technologies of our own making. 

Initially, the focus was on the nuclear threat during the post-World War II era, especially the potential nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 2007, the Bulletin expanded its scope to include catastrophic disruptions from climate change.

Urgent call for action

Rachel Bronson, the Bulletin’s president and CEO, articulated the urgency of the situation. She stressed that the unchanged time on the Doomsday Clock does not imply stability but a pressing need for action from governments and communities worldwide. 

“Conflict hotspots around the world carry the threat of nuclear escalation, climate change is already causing death and destruction, and disruptive technologies like AI and biological research advance faster than their safeguards,” said Bronson.

Historical context 

The Doomsday Clock was conceptualized by scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear weapons during World War II. Artist Martyl Langsdorf, tasked with creating a design for the Bulletin’s June 1947 magazine cover, was inspired by the urgency and responsibility felt by these scientists. 

Initially considering the symbol for uranium, Langsdorf eventually chose a clock to convey the critical time pressure to control atomic weapons.

“Ominous trends continue to point the world toward global catastrophe. The war in Ukraine and the widespread and growing reliance on nuclear weapons increase the risk of nuclear escalation. China, Russia, and the United States are all spending huge sums to expand or modernize their nuclear arsenals, adding to the ever-present danger of nuclear war through mistake or miscalculation,” the experts wrote in their 2024 statement.

“In 2023, Earth experienced its hottest year on record, and massive floods, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters affected millions of people around the world. Meanwhile, rapid and worrisome developments in the life sciences and other disruptive technologies accelerated, while governments made only feeble efforts to control them.”

Deteriorating state of the world

“The members of the Science and Security Board have been deeply worried about the deteriorating state of the world. That is why we set the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight in 2019 and at 100 seconds to midnight in 2022.”

“Last year, we expressed our heightened concern by moving the Clock to 90 seconds to midnight – the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been – in large part because of Russian threats to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.”

Unprecedented level of danger 

“Today, we once again set the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight because humanity continues to face an unprecedented level of danger.”

The team says that leaders and citizens around the world should take this statement as a stark warning and respond urgently, as if today were the most dangerous moment in modern history. “Because it may well be…But the world can be made safer. The Clock can move away from midnight.” 

Public engagement

In response to the grave warning represented by the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has removed the paywall for the latest issue of its magazine, encouraging public engagement and awareness. 

The publication focuses on actions that individuals and communities can undertake to mitigate these global threats, emphasizing the role of citizens in steering away from the brink of catastrophe.

Younger generations

Despite the grim warning symbolized by the Doomsday Clock, Bronson notes a glimmer of hope, particularly in the proactive stance of younger generations. Their involvement and leadership in addressing these global challenges provide a beacon of hope.

As the Doomsday Clock remains at a perilous 90 seconds to midnight, the world faces a critical juncture. The collective effort of global citizens and leaders is essential to turn back the hands of the Clock. 

The Bulletin’s initiative to educate and involve the public is a crucial step in this direction, but it is the actions of individuals and governments that will ultimately determine the fate of the planet.

How to turn back the clock 

“Everyone on Earth has an interest in reducing the likelihood of global catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, advances in the life sciences, disruptive technologies, and the widespread corruption of the world’s information ecosystem,” wrote the Bulletin team. 

“These threats, singularly and as they interact, are of such a character and magnitude that no one nation or leader can bring them under control. That is the task of leaders and nations working together in the shared belief that common threats demand common action.”   

“As the first step, and despite their profound disagreements, three of the world’s leading powers – the United States, China, and Russia – should commence serious dialogue about each of the global threats outlined here.” 

“At the highest levels, these three countries need to take responsibility for the existential danger the world now faces. They have the capacity to pull the world back from the brink of catastrophe. They should do so, with clarity and courage, and without delay.”

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