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‘Doomsday Clock’ Sets New, Foreboding Record As It’s Moved Only 90 Seconds To Midnight

Russia's war in Ukraine is the main reason the infamous "Doomsday Clock" hosted at the University of Chicago has moved closer than ever to midnight.

People climb posts and hold signs as thousands gather during a rally in support of Ukrainian sovereignty in the Loop on Feb. 27, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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HYDE PARK — The “Doomsday Clock” has been set as close to midnight as it’s ever been.

The clock has been set at only 90 seconds to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Tuesday. That’s 10 seconds closer to midnight than when the clock was last changed in 2020 due to the “existential dangers” of nuclear war, climate change and information warfare.

The Bulletin moved the Doomsday Clock’s hands forward “largely (though not exclusively) because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine,” staffers wrote. “The Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight — the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.”

The Doomsday Clock was created by artist Martyl Langsdorf, who designed the clock for the cover of the Bulletin’s June 1947 issue and set it at seven minutes to midnight. Langsdorf’s husband, Alexander Langsdorf Jr., helped develop atomic weapons at UChicago through the Manhattan Project.

The clock was as far as 17 minutes from midnight in 1991, when the Cold War ended. It’s inched steadily closer to midnight in the years since.

A “second horrifying year” of conflict in Ukraine and “Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons” in the war are among the main reasons the clock was bumped forward 10 seconds this year.

Beyond creating an “exceedingly dangerous nuclear situation,” the war has contributed to high natural gas prices, pushing private capital to invest in new fossil fuel developments rather than renewable energy that can combat climate change, the Bulletin wrote.

The “invasion of Ukraine has weakened the global will to cooperate on climate change,” staffers said.

A lacking global preparedness to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks also contributed to the clock’s forward leap.

“Devastating events like the COVID-19 pandemic can no longer be considered rare, once-a-century occurrences,” the Bulletin wrote. “The world’s ability to predict which of these viruses and microbes are most likely to cause human disease is woefully inadequate.”

Another area of concern for the Doomsday Clock — the threats caused by disruptive technologies — told a “mixed story” this year, according to the Bulletin.

The American and French elections of 2022 showed the nations’ general pushback against disinformation, even as “cyber-enabled disinformation continues unabated,” staffers wrote.

The Doomsday Clock is in the lobby of UChicago’s Keller Center, 1307 E. 60th St.

Two UChicago faculty members sit on the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, which sets the Doomsday Clock. They are board co-chair Daniel Holz and former chair Robert Rosner, who are professors in the university’s department of astronomy and astrophysics.

Suzet McKinney, Sterling Bay principal and University of Illinois Chicago graduate, also sits on the board. Sterling Bay is the developer behind the Lincoln Yards megadevelopment along the Chicago River, among other local projects.

To read the Bulletin’s full 2023 statement, click here.

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