“100 seconds to self-destruct”. This is a sentence all of us may be familiar with. It is largely used in sci-fi or spy films where these words are said by a computer generated voice in a monotonous tone. More often than not, this sequence ends in the total annihilation of the villain’s lair and the hero escapes unscathed, delivering a cheesy one-liner with a smile on his face. Only this time there’s no computer generated voice delivering the statement, there is no villain or hero either, and in fact, if the countdown hits zero, there may not be any place to escape to, since when the timer hits zero, its Earth’s doomsday.
Such is the view of the The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a non-profit scientific organisation which has maintained the so-called Doomsday clock since its inception in 1947. Founded by a group called the Chicago Atomic scientists after their participation in the Manhattan Project which gave the world its first atomic weapons (the same ones used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945), the Clock represents our proximity to a worldwide catastrophe reasons for which may be nuclear war, climate change, bio-terrorism and others. Year after year, the Bulletin monitors potential threats such as these and changes the time on the clock moving us closer or farther away from the complete destruction of our home planet. According to the organisation, rather than equating the clock with the end of the world, it seeks to serve as a wake up call in the shape of a visual metaphor that everyone can comprehend. For the last two years now, the clock has been a mere 100 seconds away from midnight, representing great fear among the scientific community. Fear that stems not only from the horrifyingly ubiquitous Covid-19, but the inability of governments to work cooperatively and the ever present and in fact increasing, nuclear arsenal. This year’s event was held on January 27, when the CEO and president of the Bulletin Rachel Bronson said: “The Doomsday Clock continues to hover dangerously, reminding us how much work is needed to push the hands away from midnight” and “In this time of genuine crisis, governments around the world too often abdicated responsibility, ignored scientific advice, did not cooperate to communicate effectively and consequently failed to protect the health and welfare of their citizens”, covering two of the major topics discussed at length in the report put out by the Bulletin alongside the event. The report also emphasised climate change that has been brought forth by mankind such as the increasing carbon content in the atmosphere despite stringent lockdown measures in most countries due to the pandemic, wildfires that raged rampant in 2020 and melting icebergs everywhere that have caused the core temperature of the planet to rise more than 1.2 degree Celsius which may seem minuscule to the average person but on a planetary scale, it is extremely distressing.
After pointing out all that is wrong in the world, the Bulletin provides us with hope for light at the end of the tunnel, appreciating the actions of the new United States administration to rejoin the Paris accords which seek to reduce air pollution drastically by the year 2050, and by saying that however severe or impossible the challenges we face are, the fact that they are all man-made is indeed an indication that by persevering and acting intelligently with collective efforts from all countries, we will achieve the solutions and hopefully, stop the clock from ticking any further.
(The author is retired bureaucrat)