COVID wake-up call: It is 100 seconds to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has just revealed the new setting of the Doomsday Clock: It is still 100 seconds to midnight.

The pandemic revealed just how unprepared and unwilling countries and the international system are to handle global emergencies properly. 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.

Though lethal on a massive scale, this particular pandemic is not an existential threat. Its consequences are grave and will be lasting. But COVID-19 will not obliterate civilization, and we expect the disease to recede eventually. Still, the pandemic serves as a historic wake-up call, a vivid illustration that national governments and international organizations are unprepared to manage nuclear weapons and climate change, which currently pose existential threats to humanity, or the other dangers—including more virulent pandemics and next-generation warfare—that could threaten civilization in the near future.

As we noted in our last Doomsday Clock statement, the existential threats of nuclear weapons and climate change have intensified in recent years because of a threat multiplier: the continuing corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision-making depend. Here, again, the COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call.

In 2020, online lying literally killed.

Negative events in the nuclear, climate change, and disinformation arenas might justify moving the clock closer to midnight. But amid the gloom, we see some positive developments. The election of a US president who acknowledges climate change as a profound threat and supports international cooperation

We set the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight—the closest it has ever been—because the existential risks confronting humanity today call for quick and comprehensive action across the 21st century’s complex threat spectrum.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2021 Doomsday Clock Announcement

The list of practical steps identified by the Bulletin that world leaders can and should initiate in 2021 to protect humanity from major global threats is a long one.

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Featured Image: The Doomsday Data Visualizations, Disruptive Technologies

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