Called the Doomsday Clock, it hangs on a wall in the University of Chicago. In over 65 years, the hour hand has maintained its vigil at 12 o’clock while the minute hand has only changed eighteen times – inching closer towards midnight. Created in 1947, during the dawn of the atomic age, the universally-recognized clock represents the countdown to human extinction. Each year a governing board of notable scientists meet to determine the time to set on the clock. The closer they set the clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster.
Below is the grim history of the time set on the Doomsday Clock.
1947: SEVEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
The Clock appears on the cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists for the first time.
The Soviet Union denies it, but President Truman tells the American public that the Soviets tested their first nuclear device – officially starting the arms race.
1953: TWO MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
After much debate, the US decides to pursue the hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more powerful than any atomic bomb.
1960: SEVEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
For the first time, the US and Soviet Union appear eager to avoid direct confrontation.
1963: 12 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
After a decade of almost non-stop nuclear tests, the US and Soviet Union sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty, which ends all atmospheric nuclear testing. The event signals awareness among the Soviets and United States that they need to work together to prevent nuclear annihilation.
1968: SEVEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Regional wars are raging. US involvement in Vietnam intensifies, India and Pakistan battle in 1965, and Israel and its Arab neighbors renew hostilities in 1967. France and China develop nuclear weapons to assert themselves as global players.
1969: 10 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Nearly all of the world’s nations come together to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The deal is simple–the nuclear weapon states vow to help the treaty’s non-nuclear weapon signatories develop nuclear power if they promise to forego producing nuclear weapons.
1972: 12 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
The US and Soviet Union attempt to curb the race for nuclear superiority by signing treaty.
1974: NINE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
South Asia gets the Bomb, as India tests its first nuclear device. The US and Soviet Union appear to be modernizing their nuclear forces, not reducing them.
1980: SEVEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
The bulletin describes the Soviet Union and US as ‘nucleoholics’ – drunks who insist that a drink being consumed is ‘the last one,’ but who can always find a good excuse for one more.
1981: FOUR MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan hardens the U.S. nuclear posture. President Jimmy Carter pulls the US from the Olympic Games in Moscow and considers ways in which the US could win a nuclear war. President Reagan scraps talk of arms control and proposes that the best way to end the Cold War is for the US to win it.
1984: THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
US-Soviet relations reach their iciest point in decades and dialogue between the two superpowers virtually stops. The US seems to flout the few arms control agreements in place by seeking an expansive, space-based anti-ballistic missile capability, raising worries that a new arms race will begin.
1988: SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
The US and Soviet Union sign the historic Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the first agreement to actually ban a whole category of nuclear weapons.
1990: 10 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
One Eastern European country after another frees itself from Soviet control. In late 1989, the Berlin Wall falls, symbolically ending the Cold War.
1991: 17 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Cold War is officially over and the US and Russia begin making cuts to their nuclear arsenals.
1995: 14 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Hopes for a large post-Cold War peace and a renouncing of nuclear weapons fade. It is recognized that there are more than 40,000 nuclear weapons remain worldwide. Concern that terrorists could exploit poorly secured nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union.
1998: NINE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
India and Pakistan stage nuclear weapons tests only three weeks apart. Russia and the United States ‘continue to serve as poor examples to the rest of the world’. Together, they still maintain 7,000 warheads ready to fire at each other within 15 minutes.
2002: SEVEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Concerns regarding a nuclear terrorist attack underscore enormous amount of unsecured -and sometimes unaccounted for – weapon-grade nuclear materials. The US expresses a desire to design new nuclear weapons.
2007: FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
World described to be at the ‘brink of a second nuclear age’. The United States and Russia remain ready to stage a nuclear attack within minutes, North Korea conducts a nuclear test, and many in the international community worry that Iran plans to acquire the Bomb.
Climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity. Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property.
2010:SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Belief that civilization is moving closer to being free of nuclear weapons. Talks between Washington and Moscow for a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty are nearly complete, and more negotiations for further reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenal are already planned.
Dangers posed by climate change are growing, but ‘there are pockets of progress’. Most notably, at Copenhagen, the developing and industrialized countries agree to take responsibility for carbon emissions.
2012: FIVE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Difficulty in ridding the world of nuclear weapons and harnessing nuclear power. Potential for nuclear weapons use in regional conflicts in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and South Asia described as alarming.
Difficulty dealing with climate disruption from global warming.
2015: THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT
Climate change and new efforts to modernize nuclear weapons stockpiles. Concern over rising sea levels prompted a radical change in the Doomsday Clock time pushing it two minutes closer to disaster. The last time it was at the 11:57 p.m. mark was in 1984, when tensions escalated between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.