Thursday, January 18, 2007

Doomsday Clock

Did you know there is a clock that ticks off the minutes until Doomsday?

This Doomsday Clock was instituted in 1947 by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) to symbolize the human race being "minutes to midnight". Midnight represents world destruction through nuclear war, but also through climate changing technologies and nanotechnology.

5 Minutes to MidnightYesterday, January 17th, 2007, the clock inched two minutes closer to midnight ... to Doomsday. It now rests at 11:55; five minutes to midnight.

That seems awfully close to the nuclear horror which midnight represents. A mere 5 minutes. Commercial breaks take longer than that nowadays. By the time you grabbed your sammich and cold beverage ... KABLOOEY!

Of course, the Clock is not literal in its timekeeping. Those small increments of time, those ticks of mankind's future, are just a measure of the degree of current nuclear threat. You likely have time for that ham and cheese after all.

You see, the Doomsday Clock was started at seven minutes to midnight way back in 1947. It was a response to escalating nuclear capabilities and the beginning Cold War. Too, the Clock has been only been changed 18 times since its inception. Sometimes it moved closer to midnight; sometimes the clock was rewound.

The closest time it ever showed was in 1953; it was placed at 11:58 reflecting nuclear tests by both the United States and Soviet Union. It had previously been set to 11:57 in 1949 after the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb test. Only 1984 came almost that close again, being set at three minutes to midnight.

Everything was not always doom and gloom, however; the Clock has been rewound many times. The farthest from midnight was in 1991 when the United States and Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty; the Clock was set to 17 minutes to midnight, 11:43.

The timepiece of destruction is not always able to keep up with world events, either. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Clock stayed at its previous setting of seven minutes to midnight set in 1960. Of course, those tense events in 1962 took place over the course of weeks and it may have been too rapid for the BAS to adjust the clock. However, in 1963 the clock was moved five minutes, to 11:48 back in response to the Partial Test Ban Treaty.

The change done on the 17th was announced on January 12th, 2007 in a press release that also cited "climate change" as a contributing factor. The push "for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks" is the reasoning.

While the Doomsday Clock is a just a gauge of potential threat by a group of people (admittedly experienced and intelligent people), any changes to its settings has always been noteworthy events to the media.

Will moving the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight incite changes? Likely not many, and likely not fast. But it may make some people stop and think, to examine things they usually ignore outside the evening news or the occasional water cooler debates. I know by seeing this change, and subsequently researching it, I've learned a few new things; about history, about recent events, about technology. Some of it makes me wonder ...

The BAS website has tons of information if that little niggle of curiosity is tickling your brain. If you'd like a graphical, encapsulated view of all the changes on the Doomsday Clock, Wikipedia has a small page devoted to it.

If you'd like to read about 20 Ways the World Could End, head over to and check out their nifty article from October 2000. I often wonder if number 20 is the real deal. ~.^

(Also, today will be a double post day. Look for a more light-hearted entry later this afternoon! ~.^)

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