2021 Doomsday Clock Statement
Science and Security Board
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Editor, John Mecklin
Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.
To: Leaders and citizens of the world
Re: This is your COVID wake-up call: It is 100 seconds to midnight
Date: January 27, 2021
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.
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.
Accelerating nuclear programs in multiple countries moved the world into less stable and manageable territory last year. Development of hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missile defenses, and weapons-delivery systems that can flexibly use conventional or nuclear warheads may raise the probability of miscalculation in times of tension. Events like the deadly assault earlier this month on the US Capitol renewed legitimate concerns about national leaders who have sole control of the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear nations, however, have ignored or undermined practical and available diplomatic and security tools for managing nuclear risks. By our estimation, the potential for the world to stumble into nuclear war—an ever-present danger over the last 75 years—increased in 2020. An extremely dangerous global failure to address existential threats—what we called “the new abnormal” in 2019—tightened its grip in the nuclear realm in the past year, increasing the likelihood of catastrophe.
In 2020, online lying literally killed.
Governments in the United States, Russia, and other countries appear to consider nuclear weapons more-and-more usable, increasing the risks of their actual use. There continues to be an extraordinary disregard for the potential of an accidental nuclear war, even as well-documented examples of frighteningly close calls have emerged.
Having now killed more than two million human beings, COVID-19 is an unmistakable global wake-up call. The message is simple and chilling: Next time could be far worse. Given the pandemic experience, no one can reasonably say he or she was not warned. It remains 100 seconds to midnight, the most dangerous situation that humanity has ever faced. It is time for all to take the actions needed to—quite literally—save the world.