It’s five minutes to midnight.
Not literally, of course, but the Doomsday Clock, a theoretical clock face created and maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, now reads 11:55 p.m.
Created in 1947, the Doomsday Clock tracks the progression of global issues – according to a Jan. 12 USA Today article by Doyle Rice, “the closer to a setting of midnight it gets, the closer it is estimated that a global disaster will occur.”
Initially, the clock read seven minutes to midnight, and the time has changed on 20 different occasions since that date. Nuclear issues, both treaties and bomb tests, often precipitate a time change, but recently, climate change has been added to the mix.
When the clock moved this January, the time ticked one minute later, moving on from 2010’s 11:54 p.m.
Among the reasons for the clock’s change earlier this year include the “ongoing threats from nuclear proliferation, climate change and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy,” according the USA Today article.
The most recent time change, unfortunately, is a step backward. After the signing of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and Russia in 2010 and “attempts to limit climate change,” the clock moved backward, from six minutes to midnight to five, as stated in the USA Today article.
But why does the Doomsday Clock matter? It’s nothing real or tangible, just a symbol.
Forward progress, meaning the clock’s time moved backward instead of forward, has occurred just eight times since the clock’s inception, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ website. The website also notes the variety of incidents responsible for moving the clock’s hands from between its two current extremes, 17 minutes to midnight after the end of the Cold War, and two minutes to midnight after U.S. and Soviet H-bomb tests in 1953.
While a midnight reading on the clock does not absolutely indicate disasters of apocalyptic proportions, five minutes to midnight should simply feel too close for comfort.
I believe that we should all be aware the current time of the Doomsday Clock, not because I want everyone to worry about impending nuclear disaster or death by greenhouse gases, or anything like that, but because I believe it is important to understand that the decisions we all make have global repercussions.
When we, the public, vote for a new president, write to members of Congress or take any sort of political action, we need to keep in mind what a precarious balance the world lies in.
We need to understand the gravity of issues with the potential to affect the world; whether it is a president speaking of efforts to negotiate nuclear treaties or a report on the causes of climate change, we need to listen.
We elect the politicians who make the decisions that change the world, so we owe it to ourselves to realize just how important those elections, and the decisions made by those elected actually are.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists does not seem to feel as though the current political situation is promising. As noted in a Jan. 12 Washington Times article by Catherine Poe, a report by the group states: “In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges. The political processes in place seem wholly inadequate to meet the challenges to human existence that we confront.”
I believe that the Doomsday Clock serves as a reminder that although we may have made recent progress in nuclear and climate change issues, we are far from in the clear, and we, as a world, should be working constantly and diligently to remove, or at least lessen, the various threats to the safety of humanity.