Richard Ord: Doomsday is coming ... if you don't do what your mum says

With an air of grim finality, the Doomsday Clock was wheeled out earlier this week and, as its name implies, it didn’t bode well.

Monday, 13th January 2020, 7:38 am
Updated Monday, 3rd February 2020, 11:14 am
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists handout photo of (left to right) Edmund G Brown, Mary Robinson and Ban Ki-moon during a press conference in Washington DC with The Doomsday Clock which has moved closer to midnight than it has ever been and is now just 100 seconds away from striking 12. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 23, 2020. The clock, which serves as a metaphor for global apocalypse, was moved forward by 20 seconds. The announcement from the clock's keepers means the perceived threat is now more severe than it was last year and in 1953, when it was two minutes away. See PA story SCIENCE Doomsday. Photo credit should read: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

We are 100 seconds from midnight. And midnight in this case does not mean a hooting owl or missing the last Metro home. It refers to humankind being wiped off the face of the planet, thanks to our sick lust for nuclear war and shrink-wrapped baked beans.

I know what you’re thinking: “100 seconds! That’s barely time to boil an egg.” Grab a banana instead. You’ve just about got enough time to peel it, dip it in that jar of Nutella and eke out three chomps before the Earth is swallowed up a grotesque fireball. On the plus side… the clock isn’t a real clock.

You don’t want to be using the Doomsday Clock to set your wristwatch, not least because it goes backwards as well as forwards. Since its invention in 1947 the big hand has wavered between 17 minutes to midnight and last year’s disturbing two minutes to midnight. Waving, as well as drowning!

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As a thought-provoking device it has done a sterling job in focusing our minds on how close we have been to destroying our planet – until this week, that is.

While our stern-faced scientists are right to move the big hand closer to midnight, to issue the warning in seconds rather tan minutes has diminished its impact.

It’s a bit like when you were a kid and your mother gave you ten seconds to tidy your room or your Angel Delight would be fed to the dog.

‘One, two, three...’ she’d start at a rate of knots with you racing around in a panic. She’d slow at ‘four, five, six” but you keep chucking toys in boxes and magazines under the bed. You are frantic at ‘Seven … eight … nine...” Images of your pet dog eating your pudding swim in your mind. And then she goes ‘Nine and a half...’ NINE AND A HALF? Suddenly, you have more time than you thought. In fact, after ‘nine and three quarters’ you relax. What next? ‘Nine and 56 one-hundredths!’ You just know your pudding is safe.

So it is with the scientists and their Doomsday Clock. I suspect there is no warning when the end of the world is nigh. The dinosaurs were living the life of Riley just after teatime (5.45pm by the Doomsday Clock) then, wham, wiped out by a meteorite!

A hundred seconds to midnight is not so much a portent of doom, but a metaphorical ticking off from your mum.