Group: ‘Doomsday Clock’ Unchanged at 90 Seconds to Midnight

24 January 2024

A nonprofit group called Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is again bringing attention to crises around the world with its "Doomsday Clock."

The group describes the Doomsday Clock as a measure of the risk of worldwide disaster. On Tuesday, the group kept its "clock" set at 90 seconds to midnight, the same position as last year. The group noted Russia's nuclear weapons activities during the Ukraine war, nuclear-armed Israel's war in Gaza and climate change.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists considers midnight to be the point of total world destruction. The group says its clock is based on "existential" risks to Earth and its people. Those includes nuclear threats, climate change and technologies like artificial intelligence and new biotechnology.

Rescuers work at a site of a residential building heavily damaged during a Russian missile attack, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine January 23, 2024. (REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy)
Rescuers work at a site of a residential building heavily damaged during a Russian missile attack, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine January 23, 2024. (REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy)

Rachel Bronson is the Bulletin's president and CEO. She told Reuters news service that keeping the clock unchanged from the year earlier does not mean that the world is stable.

The group said on Tuesday that dangerous trends continue to point toward disaster. China, Russia, and the United States are all modernizing their nuclear weapons. The group said that increases the risk of a nuclear war through a mistake or misunderstanding.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine began nearly two years ago and has increased tensions with the West to their highest levels since the Cold War. An "end to Russia's war in Ukraine seems distant, and the use of nuclear weapons by Russia in that conflict remains a serious possibility. In the past year Russia has sent numerous worrying nuclear signals," Bronson said.

Bronson noted Russian President Vladimir Putin's February 2023 decision to suspend Russian involvement in the New START treaty with the United States. That treaty limited the nuclear supplies of the two countries. The United States and Russia together hold almost 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.

Bronson also noted Putin's March decision to send nuclear weapons to Belarus and the Russian withdrawal of approval for a treaty banning nuclear tests. Russian expert Sergei Karaganov last year supported threatening to carry out nuclear strikes in Europe to frighten Russia's enemies.

Alexander Glaser of Princeton University is a member of the group's board of experts on nuclear technology and climate science.

"The picture is quite bleak on the nuclear side this year," he said.

Nuclear-armed Israel has been at war with Hamas since the Palestinian Islamist group, based in Gaza, launched attacks in southern Israel in October 2023. Bronson said the conflict risks becoming a big war in the Middle East.

Climate change was added as an issue affecting the clock in 2007. Bronson noted that 2023 was the hottest year on record since satellite measurement of temperatures started in 1979. She also said fossil fuel emissions continue to rise.

Bronson said that 2023 was a record-breaking year for clean energy with $1.7 trillion in new investments. But fossil fuel investments also totaled nearly $1 trillion. Bronson called current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not enough. She said the results of climate change "disproportionately affect the poorest people in the world."

The Chicago-based nonprofit created the clock in 1947 at the beginning of the Cold War. The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by a group including scientists Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by Reuters.


Words in This Story

doomsday — n. the day that the world ends or is destroyed

existential — adj. having to do with existence itself

stable adj. not likely to change; steady in nature

trend n. the direction of change

bleak — adj. not hopeful

fossil fuel — n. carbon fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal

emission — n. something that is released into the air

greenhouse gas –n. a gas that is believed to cause the atmosphere to get warmer

disproportionate — adj. affecting one side more than the other