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2021 Doomsday Clock stuck at 100 seconds to midnight – a "historic wake-up call"

"Leaders and citizens of the world. This is your COVID wake-up call: It is 100 seconds to midnight." 

That's the warning scientists gave on Wednesday morning, as they announced that the 2021 Doomsday clock — a visual depiction of perceived threats facing the planet — is holding at a record-close 100 seconds to midnight. 

In 2020, the hands of the clock moved from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds — the closest it's ever been to symbolic doom. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced Wednesday that it's staying at that same spot in the annual update, calling the COVID-19 pandemic a "wake-up call." 

"The pandemic revealed just how unprepared and unwilling countries and the international system are to handle global emergencies properly," the organization said. "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." 

The organization said that disregard for science and the spreading of conspiracy theories, often by political figures and partisan leaders, will only continue to undermine the ability to protect people from future threats. 

Although lethal, the coronavirus pandemic is not actually an existential threat to humanity. Rather, the group is more concerned with accelerating nuclear weapons programs, worsening climate change and possible future, even more devastating pandemics.

Members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board, Robert Rosner and Suzet McKinney, reveal the 2021 setting of the Doomsday Clock: It is still 100 seconds to midnight.  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists/Thomas Gaulkin

"We continue to believe that human beings can manage the dangers posed by modern technology, even in times of crisis," the organization said. "But if humanity is to avoid an existential catastrophe—one that would dwarf anything it has yet seen—national leaders must do a far better job of countering disinformation, heeding science, and cooperating to diminish global risks."

The nonprofit Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in the 1940s by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists after the development of atomic weapons. Over the last decade, its Doomsday Clock has slowly inched closer to midnight, symbolizing the growing risk of a civilization-ending apocalypse.  

The group says it does see some reasons for optimism in the year ahead, including President Joe Biden's plans to aggressively combat climate change. But it urged world leaders to do more to cut carbon emissions and to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons for good.

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