What Is the Doomsday Clock? How Close Humans Are to Self-Annihilation to Be Revealed

Scientists are due to reveal how close they think humankind is to self-annihilation by announcing the 2022 Doomsday Clock on Tuesday.

The Doomsday Clock was created to warn the public about the dangers of humanity's actions and highlight perils that must be addressed in order to guarantee our survival. It was first unveiled in 1947, amid fears of a nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia.

The threat of nuclear war is not the only manmade danger considered by the Doomsday Clock scientists. Climate change was added to their deliberations in 2007.

The clock indicates the risk of humanity's destruction by how close it is to midnight. This can change from several minutes—a relatively safe judgment—to seconds.

When the clock was first unveiled it was set at seven minutes to midnight. At the end of 1991, when the U.S. and Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to cut down on nuclear weapons, the clock went back to 17 minutes to midnight.

In recent years, however, the clock has edged dangerously close to midnight. In 2020 the scientists set it to just 100 seconds away, citing worldwide governmental dysfunction in dealing with global threats. It was left at this perilous point for 2021.

Before this, the closest it had been to midnight was two minutes away in 1953 when the U.S. and Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons within six months of each other. The same time was set in 2018 due to both nuclear risk and climate change.

The clock's time is decided by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a Chicago-based group, and specifically its Science and Security Board, which is made up of experts in nuclear risk, climate change and disruptive technologies. It also consults the organization's Board of Sponsors—a panel of world-leading scientists that was established in 1948 by Albert Einstein.

The physical Doomsday Clock is in the lobby of the organization's offices at the University of Chicago. The 2022 time will be revealed in a virtual news conference at 10:00 a.m. ET.

The event will include remarks from author and science communicator Hank Green, as well as researchers in the fields of cybersecurity, international affairs and political science.

Green tweeted on January 14 that his involvement in the news conference was an "especially large honor considering that this is the 75th anniversary of the release of the clock."

He added that the clock had "been creeping closer to midnight" largely because of concerns about climate change.

Doomsday clock
A representation of the Doomsday Clock as seen in 2020 when it stood at 100 seconds to midnight. The clock is set by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty