Three Minutes to Midnight | Vol. 3 / No. 13.4

Three minutes to go... | Photo (original): Andrew Filer, CC BY 2.0
Three minutes to go… | Photo (original): Andrew Filer, CC BY-SA 2.0

Here’s a cheery bit of news: according to the Tuesday’s annual press release from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it is still three minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

The Doomsday Clock was started in 1947 at seven minutes to midnight, and was intended as a way of visualizing just how close the human race is at any one time to annihilating itself. Last year, the clock was set to its current time, three minutes to doom, because of the looming spectres of climate change and nuclear armament. Three minutes, as you can see below, is the closest we’ve ever come to killing ourselves according to the clock, matched only by the period 1953-1959, which you might also note did not include the Cuban missile crisis. That was in 1962, when people were saying words like “tactical nuclear weapons” with straight faces.*

No change from last year | Image:  Fastfission, Public Domain via Commons
No change from last year | Image: Fastfission, Public Domain via Commons

So according to the Doomsday Clock, we’re actually worse off than then.

Anyhow, the press release essentially boils down to “yeah, we made some progress on nukes and global warming, but it was two steps forward, two steps back.” The good included the Paris climate talks and the Iran nuclear deal. The bad included the fact that the climate talks were just talks, that the US and China are playing a game of brinkmanship in the South China Sea, and that Russia keeps saying things like they can turn the US into “radioactive ash” if they want (and no-one’s ever really sure just how much of that is posturing and how much is Putin picking CAMFs for high office).

You can read the full press release here, but I just thought you’d like to pass your Thursday afternoon by dwelling on how perpetually close to wiping ourselves off the face of the Earth we always seem to be. Elon Musk had better hurry up with that multi-planet species thing he’s working on, I guess.


*There are two kinds of nuclear weapons: “strategic” — the kind you can aim at another population on another continent and threaten to use as a means of cowboy diplomacy — and “tactical” — the kind you put in a missile and say to yourself “hey, we could totally use this without killing ourselves, right?” “Tactical” nuclear weaponry included things like short-range nuclear missiles, nuclear artillery shells, and nuclear land mines. Because nothing says “get away from my borders” like making those borders (and a lot more besides) completely uninhabitable for the next twenty thousand years or so.


Richard Ford Burley is a writer and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.