The “Doomsday Clock” stands at 100 seconds to midnight, a panel of scientists and security experts said Wednesday, matching the level of risk assigned last year when the globe saw its first signs that a devastating pandemic was taking shape.
The mutating disease remains a key point of worry to these risk-watchers as did the the early-January attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“Humanity continues to suffer this year as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which includes experts from all over but can link its origins to the University of Chicago. Governments too often abdicated responsibility during this public health crisis, she said.
The lasting impact from the spotty official COVID response, Bronson said, raises uncertainty over whether officials can respond with appropriate concern to climate-change risk and nuclear tensions.
Each year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists decides whether to nudge the clock closer to midnight or the hour of “doom.” They ask themselves is humanity safer or at greater risk compared to last year? In December 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which includes 13 Nobel Laureates, marked its 75th anniversary.
The clock stood 17 minutes away from midnight at the end of the Cold War.
Last year, before the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were fully realized, the Bulletin moved its clock from two minutes to midnight to a mere 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it had ever been.
That decision was driven by the departure of global leaders from multilateral pacts with major global counterparts to instead go it alone more often.
As for the nuclear portion of the risk assessment, the panel said in its release that accelerating nuclear programs in multiple countries moved the world into less stable and manageable territory last year.
“Development of hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missile defenses, and weapons-delivery systems that can flexibly use conventional or nuclear warheads may raise the probability of miscalculation in times of tension,” it said. “Events like the deadly assault earlier this month on the U.S. Capitol renewed legitimate concerns about national leaders who have sole control of the use of nuclear weapons.”
The level of the response to climate change remains to be seen, however.
U.S. President Joe Biden has given climate change and slowing global warming a focus in his few weeks in office, placing a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on U.S. lands and waters, as his administration moves to reverse Trump administration policies on energy and the environment.
Biden has already triggered the return of the U.S. to the voluntary Paris Climate Agreement that U.S. allies have stuck with since its launch five years ago.