This week, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists made its annual update on our path to total world destruction and revealed that we are currently just three minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

Wait … what?

Maybe you missed Tuesday’s announcement, as it tends to fly a little under-the-radar, especially during a week when the Kardashians are making scandalous headlines (when will it end). So, here’s what you need to know.

First of all, some background information is required to understand what this is all about. In 1947, not too long after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, a group of scientists realized that humanity was hurtling towards an fiery ending if things kept going as they were. They created the concept of the Doomsday Clock, which symbolically counts down to midnight, or the end of the world. It was initially set at seven minutes to midnight. This was meant to serve as a warning to everyone that we were teetering a little too close to the brink of a nuclear disaster.


Throughout the Cold War, the hands of the clock moved several times in tandem with the nuclear developments made by the U.S. and the Soviet Union. As each nation tested more destructive weapons and the Cold War appeared to be growing more heated, the Doomsday Clock inched closer to midnight. Things reached a peak in 1953, when the clock was pushed forward to just two minutes before midnight. That was the year the U.S. tested the first Hydrogen bomb and the USSR immediately followed suit.

Interestingly, the closest call of all, the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, didn’t budge the clock at all since it was resolved so quickly. Not too much later, the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed by the world superpowers and above-ground nuclear tests ceased. The clock wound down in 1963, reading 12 minutes to midnight.

Tensions escalated many times during the Cold War, but détente brought a stronger sense of safety. By 1991, the war ended with the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. This treaty required both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to significantly reduce their nuclear arsenals and disarm their missiles. These developments lead the Doomsday Clock to reset to an astounding 17 minutes away from midnight.


The world has not been so safe since then …

The minute hands have been moving ahead slowly over the last 25 years, stopping five minutes from midnight in 2012, when North Korea made threats of nuclear war. Last year, the clock was set to just three minutes away from midnight, which is where it remains today.

In a written statement, those behind the decision explained that this was based on “unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals.” The statement continues on with an admonishment of our world leaders, essentially blaming them for not acting in our best interests.

It is frightening to know that we are closer to our doom than we were during the height of the Cold War, and one has to wonder what lies ahead of us once the clock finally strikes midnight.