The Doomsday Clock started ticking in 1947. This was the brainchild of an international group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists who’d participated in The Manhattan Project – an R&D program that resulted in the production of the first nuclear weapons. Essentially, the Doomsday Clock was designed to calculate precisely how close we are to global catastrophe. Mankind’s proximity to annihilation was simply expressed by the number of “minutes” to midnight.
The people who determine the time on the clock aren’t just a bunch of wild-eyed loons. The board is made up of scientists and other boffins with deep knowledge of nuclear technology and climate science – many of them serve as consultants to governments and international agencies. Any change to the clock’s timing is only done after consultation with an illustrious board that currently includes 13 Nobel Laureates.
When the Clock was launched in 1947, the time was set at seven minutes to midnight. This figure was calculated on the basis that the greatest danger to humanity came from nuclear weapons and the fact that the US and the Soviet Union were set on a collision course for a nuclear arms race.
Over the past 73 years, the time on the clock has ebbed and flowed. The most positive moment came in 1991 when the clock hand was set at 17 minutes to midnight. This development was brought about by the end of the Cold War when the US and Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that triggered deep cuts to the two countries’ nuclear weapons arsenals.
So what’s the closest that the hands have come to midnight? Well, unfortunately that would be right now. Last month, the Science and Security Board set the time on the clock to “100 seconds to midnight”.
Explaining their position in a statement, Dr Rachel Bronson, the board’s CEO, explained: “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers — nuclear war and climate change — that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”
Here at Time+Tide, we’re usually a pretty happy-go-lucky bunch. But you don’t have to be a glass-half-empty type to realise this is an alarming development. Between the bushfires, the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal and Donald Trump’s excitable nature, there’s certainly very real cause for concern.
Which, of course, is why you need to buy a new watch. Because if we’re inching steadily closer to Armageddon then you might as well enjoy yourself while you can. After all, what’s the point of holding out for that grail watch you’ve been drooling after when time is running out for us all.
Imagine the worst-case scenario actually happens. As one of the ragged group of survivors, you find yourself scratching out a dystopian existence on a burnt-out husk of the planet. Dressed like a skinny extra from Mad Max, you’re now left to scavenge for food, water and a semi-acceptable macchiato. In such desperate times, you may as well have the consoling presence of a very fine watch on your wrist.