About the Doomsday Clock and why we need to supersede it


The Doomsday Clock was set up by the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, at the dawn of the nuclear age. Measured in 'minutes to midnight', it is a symbol of how close the world is to destruction from nuclear war. The clock currently reads five minutes to midnight.

For 60 years this globally recognised measure has been our only attempt to give a simple physical representation of the threat posed from just one of the many dangers facing humanity.

The clock is moved by the Bulletin's board of directors, in consultation with its board of sponsors, which includes the President of the Royal Society Lord Rees, the well known scientist Dr Stephen Hawking and 18 Nobel Prize winners. The process and debate surrounding when, and by how much, to change the time on the Doomsday Clock is hugely valuable. It is a testament to the knowledge and intellect of the esteemed members of the panel.

However, the fact is that the method of presentation (ie the clock) is outmoded and does not engage the public. Some of the reasons for this assertion are as follows:-

The Doomsday Clock only reflects the risk of nuclear war, but we are now considering numerous other threats, such as climate change.The main issue is that the average person sees no way to influence the clock and it does not set any sort of aspirational target. Furthermore, an analogue clock is now a dated symbol to use and it does not set the risk in any context. It does not engage ordinary people, who struggle to understand the concept. Infact, many have never even heard of it.

For these reasons we should supersede the Doomsday Clock and launch something on an impressive global scale with a symbolism that engages and links between people, between nations and from one generation to the next.

The numerous threats facing humanity are all part of the Universal Extinction Constant (UEC), which is a permanent feature for all life. Its changing value is a constant variable called the Extinction Threat Level (ETL). We should abandon the Doomsday Clock as a symbol and harness the collective expertise towards establishing and reporting the ETL for the human race. Only an advanced sentient species (ie humans) can attempt to calculate, monitor and improve its ever-changing ETL. Once established as a measure, every event and activity can be expressed in terms of its impact on the ETL, be it positive or negative. Dramatically reducing the ETL for our species will require co-operation, investment and understanding on a planetary scale. Therefore, adopting a simple shared measure that applies to, and can be understood by, everyone is very important. ETL is, was, and always will be relevant. Our impact on it is something we can all be judged against, irrespective of our location in space or time. It applies to every generation and it should be incumbent on each and every one of us to try and reduce it for the common good of our species. Measuring and reporting the ETL can then be used to help modify behaviour.

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