A hypothetical timepiece ticks ever-closer to midnight — the hour of humanity's annihilation — and it's about to be reset.
Since 1947, nuclear scientists and other experts have acted as timekeepers for the Doomsday Clock. A team of advisers, researchers and policy specialists with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) annually evaluates the state of the world to decide if the clock's hands will tick forward, sweep back or remain where they are. The hands currently stand at 100 seconds before midnight; the BAS set that time in 2020 and it held steady in 2021, Live Science previously reported.
But after a year of COVID-19 and climate disasters unfolding worldwide, what time will the clock show in 2022? You can find out on Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. ET, as BAS announces the Doomsday Clock's update — and commemorates the clock's 75th anniversary — in a live press event that you can watch here at Live Science, on the BAS website and on the organization's Facebook page.
When the clock debuted to the public after World War II, nuclear weapons were thought to be the biggest human-created threat to our existence. In the decades that followed, other looming risks have emerged, including rapidly-accelerating climate change and pandemics. The clock's time for 2021 — 100 seconds before midnight — is the closest the hands have come to the so-called doomsday hour in the clock's history.
Since the Doomsday Clock's last update in January 2021, evidence of escalating climate change has mounted. Sea-level rise is accelerating faster than prior models of worst-case-scenarios had predicted; the burning of tropical rainforests is producing more atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) than the rainforests absorb; and even the perpetually frozen region of Antarctica known as the "Last Ice Area" is in danger of melting away.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also continued to surge, fueled by the emergence in 2021 of the highly contagious omicron variant; by public resistance to vaccinations, lockdowns and mask mandates; and by unequal access to vaccines and other preventative resources in countries worldwide. To date, COVID-19 has infected more than 66 million people in the U.S. and has killed more than 850,000 Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Jan. 18. Globally, more than 330 million people have contracted COVID-19, and more than 5.5 million people have died, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center maintained by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
How these and other considerations will inform the Doomsday Clock's time in 2022 remain to be seen, but humanity is already in the realm of the two-minute warning period and every second counts, BAS President and CEO Rachel Bronson said in 2020.
"Danger is high, and the margin for error is low," Bronson said.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.