The Quick 10: 10 Times the Doomsday Clock Time Has Been Adjusted

Image credit: 

If you haven't heard of the Doomsday Clock, here's a brief and terrifying synopsis for you: It was created in 1947 at the University of Chicago as an easy analogy to show people how close we are to armaggeddon at any given moment. "Midnight" on the clock represents doomsday, and, obviously, the closer the hands are to midnight, the closer we are to total annhilation. When it was first "set" in 1947, during the Cold War, we were at 11:53. Since then, it's been readjusted 18 times, so today's Q10 is going to highlight 10 of those adjustments and why they happened.

doomsday1. By 1953, the clock had lost five minutes, putting the time at 11:58. But the reason was pretty called for "“ it was the time period when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were testing nukes. So far, it's the closest we've ever been to midnight.
2. Ten years later, though, we had not only gained back those five, we had doubled it. The clock was at 11:48 thanks to increased studies and scientific understanding of nuclear weapons. And, in 1963, the U.S. and the Soviet Unition signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which limited nuclear testing.

3. Although things were looking up regarding the Soviet Union, by 1968, France and China had started testing nukes and we were embroiled in Vietnam. Mainly due to those events, we lost another five minutes, putting us at 11:53.

4. In the next three years, the Senate passed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Three treaties = five minutes gained on the clock, putting us back at 11:48"¦

5. At least, until India tested a nuclear device in 1974 and we lost another three. 11:51.

6. By 1981, the U.S. and the USSR weren't as "friendly" as they were during the past treaties and discussions had kind of stalled. The arms race was getting out of control, terrorists were becoming more active and things in Afghanistan, South Africa and Poland weren't looking good. This resulted in a loss of six minutes, putting us closer to midnight than we had been since 1953.

7. But then things started to look up! By 1991, more treaties were signed, the Berlin Wall was torn down, the Iron Curtain fell. We gained a whopping 14 minutes, putting us at 11:43, the farthest we have ever been from midnight. Talk about a swing in events!

8. It didn't last long, though, and we've been losing ground ever since. In 1998, India and Pakistan both tested nuclear weapons. That combined with increased military spending throughout the world caused us to lose eight minutes, putting us back in the less-than-10-minute range "“ 11:51.

9. We still weren't gaining any ground in 2002. The U.S. rejected arms control treaties, probably because of 9/11, and they talked about withdrawing from the previously-signed Anti-Ballistic Missle Treaty. This resulted in a loss of two minutes "“ 11:53.

10. Right now, we're at five minutes til midnight. We lost another two in 2007 thanks to North Korea's nuke tests and the uncertainty of Iran's nuclear actions. And, experts are now considering climate change as one of the possible doomsday events in addition to a nuclear holocaust.

Well, now I'm mildly depressed.

Photo via the Australian Broadcasting Company

January 14, 2009 - 10:30am
webby
submit to reddit