No cause for alarm, but the Doomsday Clock is ticking
Let's begin with a magic trick. Look at your watch. Or if you are not wearing one, take a look at the nearest clock. Doesn't matter which, the carriage clock on the mantelpiece, the grandfather clock in the hall, even the digital display on your mobile phone. Any clock will do.
And in a moment I will reveal to you exactly what the time is.
You might wonder how I can possibly know that, given that different people will be reading at a different time.
But I can say with total confidence that the time is... drum roll... 11.58pm. And 30 seconds.
What? You reckon it's only half past three? Or 8.25pm? Well you had better reset your watch. Because my information comes from some of the greatest minds in the world. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists no less.
And the bad news is that in 90 seconds, when the clock strikes 12, it doesn't mean your Mondeo will turn into a pumpkin. It means the world will be plunged into total destruction.
Try to look on the bright side, and all that.
This week a group of very serious-looking people unveiled their Doomsday Clock. A man with fluffy white hair, who might have made a good guest on Don't Ask Me if only he had mastered the art of smiling, stood on the left. A young casually dressed guy in an open-necked blue shirt, who looked fresh from a shift on the Open University, was next to him. On the right there was a short, stocky Oriental guy, and between them were two stern Hillary Clinton lookalikes, who removed the tarpaulin. Then a very earnest American called Steve Fetter told us in hushed tones how the end was nigh.
It does beg a few questions though. Particularly given that it was on Tuesday that they told us we were all 90 seconds from destruction. I know these people are very clever and terribly busy, but has it not crossed these great minds that their atomic clock may have developed a malfunction? That four days on, the day of devastation doesn't seem to have arrived? Maybe they need to give it a bit of a bash on the back, switch off and switch on, or at least adjust the pendulum or something?
The Bulletin was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein – long before he started selling smart meters – and a group of Chicago University scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons. Two years later they launched the clock as a way to warn humanity just how close to nuclear apocalypse the world was.
According to the scientists, we are now closer than ever been before, largely thanks to the war in Ukraine. Two years ago, when all we had to worry about was global warming, we had a whacking 100 seconds to go before the big bang. But now, thanks to the best efforts of Mad Vlad, we are 10 seconds closer. I'm not sure whether the Germans' decision to lend the Ukrainians its tanks has moved the dial, and whether it has made us closer or further away from being wiped out.
Former Irish president Mary Robinson warned: "The threats are even more acute, and the failures of leadership even more damning. We live today in a world of interlocking crises, each illustrating the unwillingness of leaders to act in the true long-term interests of their people."
Which I think, in plain English, means the world's politicians are rubbish. And with the greatest respect, you don't need to be an atomic scientist to know that.
Now, of course, there are two sides to every story, and how you view the latest adjustment to the Doomsday Clock depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.
If you are one of those people who always sees the glass as half empty, the fact that we are 90 seconds away from the Apocalypse will probably fill you with at least a little trepidation. You will may be wearing a tin hat, stocking up on tinned fruit, and sitting under the dining table in the brace position. Or maybe, given that its 2023, you will have super-glued yourself to some form of public transport. It's all the rage you know.
On the other hand, you can look at it with an analytical mind. Instead of viewing the news in isolation, you can look at a broader range of data to put the latest development in context. And the good news is that in 1949, when that lovable rogue Joseph Stalin was testing out his nuclear explosives, the world was three minutes to destruction. Four years later, in 1953, a whole minute had been lost. Since then, the world seems to have done a pretty good job of stabilising the situation. Over the past 70 years we have lost only 30 seconds.
Assuming that trend continues, and the Doomsday clock says we now have 90 seconds to go, basic maths suggests the world really has another 210 years left.
So no need to worry. Just enjoy the rest of your weekend.