• AMPlus Issue7

2020, Just 100 Seconds to Midnight

Keyuri Desai

19th October 2020

2020 has been a challenging year for humankind due to several reasons. The pandemic being the most disastrous of all, each month in this year has seen some kind of large scale tragedy. The year that started with the Australian bushfires followed by the global COVID pandemic, severe racial injustice and the BLM protests as a result of it, cyclones hitting India and Bangladesh, forest fires, floods, and possibly more disasters that may occur in the 2.5 months we have left. 2020 has been characterized by death, disease, and misery. This year will take the world time and perseverance to recover from and certainly go down in our history books. As 2020 comes to an end, one wonders why did so many things go wrong? Why 2020?


Doomsday now closer to midnight than ever (Source: Bulletin)

On the 23rd of January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a letter addressed to the ‘Leaders and Citizens of the World’, declared that the doomsday clock has been set to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been. To understand what this clock is, one has to go back 73 years to 1947, the end of the Second World War. The ‘Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ was founded in 1945 by a group of scientists who were a part of the ‘Manhattan Project’ and were concerned about the consequences of their nuclear research. Martyl Langsdorf, the wife of nuclear physicist Alexander Langsdorf, created this clock two years later and set it to 11:53 pm, seven minutes from ‘midnight’ the destruction of humanity.

Over the years, the Bulletin’s board has changed the ‘time to midnight’ in the clock 24 times to highlight worldwide crises it believes can threaten the human race's survival, such as climate change and nuclear weapons use. In the year 1953, the clock was set at two minutes due to the high tensions between the U.S and Soviet Union and the testing of H-bombs by both the countries. In 1963, the clock was moved back to 12 minutes to midnight as the U.S and Soviets signed the ‘Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty’.

In 2015, it was moved 3 minutes to midnight because of “unchecked climate change and continued threats to the existence of humanity,” as said by the Bulletin. Now, at a mere 100 seconds away, we are closer than ever ‘to midnight.’ Even though this reset's primary motivators were the looming threats of climate change,cyber-enabled information warfare, and nuclear warfare, the Bulletin clearly emphasized the misinformation and the deliberate erosion by politicians of science and our core institutions over the last few years. On the one hand, the governmental action against climate change falls extremely short of what is necessary. On the other hand, leaders and politicians have undermined several significant arms control treaties during the last year. The result of this has been an atmosphere conducive to a renewed arms race, proliferation of nuclear weapons, and an increase in the plausibility of the outbreak of a nuclear war.

This clock was reset even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO. Did the clock miss it? In this context, while they never explicitly mentioned the pandemic, the truth is the clock in no way missed it. Instead, it anticipated the reaction and handling of the threat worldwide. While most countries did impose stringent lockdowns and followed the prescribed scientific methodologies, in reality, the pandemic is far from ‘under control’. In countries like the U.S, leaders severely undermined the pandemic's scope and effects and have also gone so far as denying it entirely. The virus in itself has been a massive medical, economic, and social challenge to governments all around the world, and its management in such a confusing time is undoubtedly a challenging, remarkable task.

In no way is the doomsday clock entirely reliable to assess and predict all the possible threats to humankind, however, it is undoubtedly a realistic reflection of the direction we are headed in. Leaders and politicians of the world have been dismissive of climate change and other proven scientific theories for a while. While setting the clock in January, the Bulletin mentioned, “The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because the world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.”


Last year, i.e., 2019, was one of the warmest years on record with extensive wildfires and quicker than expected melting of glacial ice. As reported by NBC, Greenland lost 586 billion tons of ice in 2019. Yet, there was a limited political response worldwide to these alarming effects of manmade climate change. We are currently charging in the opposite direction with rising carbon emissions, increasing plastic use, and continued inactivity of taking any significant steps to counter the effects of climate change.

To answer the question “ Why 2020?” one needs to understand that the calamities and disasters witnessed this year weren’t sudden. Scientists have warned us for decades about climate change and its devastating effects in particular. So the natural disasters that took place this year were predicted, their effects estimated, and perhaps even planned by the global inactivity and governmental undermining of repeated warnings. 2020 isn’t a sudden fracture in our time on the Earth. It is the reality we have created for ourselves through decades of mindless exploitation. If we continue on the same path, each year may present itself just as harshly as this one. If we do not reverse the clock, a dark silent midnight might be our reality soon. 2020 might as well be the beginning of the end.

(Sources: The Bulletin, Washington Post, NBC, The Hill)

Edited by: Ritish

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