Pandemic ‘a historic wake-up’ call, but Doomsday Clock remains unchanged

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists urge greater global cooperation at Jan. 27 unveiling event

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that the hands of the Doomsday Clock remain at 100 seconds to midnight in 2021, calling the COVID-19 pandemic a historic “wake-up call” for humanity to strengthen international cooperation. 

In 2020, the hands of the clock moved to 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it has ever been to apocalypse. Despite some positive indications of renewed nuclear agreements and action on climate change, the pandemic demonstrated fault lines in international ability to respond to disaster.

“The pandemic revealed just how unprepared and unwilling countries and the international system are to handle global emergencies properly,” the Bulletin board wrote. “In this time of genuine crisis, governments too often abdicated responsibility, ignored scientific advice, did not cooperate or communicate effectively, and consequently failed to protect the health and welfare of their citizens. As a result, many hundreds of thousands of human beings died needlessly.” 

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was created by a group of Manhattan Project scientists based at the University of Chicago who saw an immediate need for a public reckoning in the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1947, the Bulletin created the iconic Doomsday Clock to signal how close humanity was to self-destruction, and it meets every year to determine how much metaphorical time we have to avert global catastrophe. Though it was first created in response to nuclear weapons, the clock reckoning now includes climate change and “disruptive technologies,” such as bio- and cybersecurity.

However, Bulletin members have constantly emphasized that the clock is not intended to make people fearful, but rather to spur them to action. The full statement lists a number of actions needed to make the world safer, and urges all people to press their governments for action. 

“It is time for all to take the actions needed to—quite literally—save the world,” the board wrote.

The full 2021 statement, including updates on the state of nuclear weapons around the world, is here. You can also read about how the Doomsday Clock was founded.