Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on Wednesday chose to keep its "Doomsday Clock" at 100 seconds before midnight, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of nuclear war and climate change.
The Chicago-based group chose to keep the clock -- which symbolically reflects how close the world is to destruction -- at 11:58 p.m., and 20 seconds, saying the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic indicates a lack of the structures necessary to combat other grave threats.
"The hands of the Doomsday Clock remain at 100 seconds to midnight, as close to midnight as ever," said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a statement. "The lethal and fear-inspiring COVID-19 pandemic serves as a historic 'wake-up call,' a vivid illustration that national governments and international organizations are unprepared to manage the truly civilization-ending threats of nuclear weapons and climate change."
Since the start of the pandemic, 100.7 million people have been infected and 2.17 million have died worldwide, including 25.57 million cases and 428,015 deaths in the United States, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
"Though lethal on a massive scale, this particular pandemic is not an existential threat. Its consequences are grave and will be lasting. But COVID-19 will not obliterate civilization, and we expect the disease will recede eventually," the group said.
The group also warned of the threat of nuclear conflict, particularly between the United States and Russia, calling on the two countries to extend the New START treaty for as long as possible.
"The U.S., Russia and the world's nuclear powers must stop shouting at each other," said former California Gov. Jerry Brown, the group's executive chair. "It's time to eliminate nuclear weapons, not build more of them."
The scientists also expressed the need for the United States to to address the issue of climate change by rejoining the Paris Agreement and reducing the use of fossil fuels. U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order last week to re-enter the pact.
"Over the coming decade, fossil fuel use needs to decline precipitously if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided," said Susan Solomon, member of the group's science and security board.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists first began the tradition in 1947 as a way to gauge the world's proximity to nuclear holocaust. In 2007 the group added climate change as a factor in the clock's setting.
The furthest the clock has ever been from midnight was set in 1991, at 11:43, or 17 minutes from "doomsday," after the United States signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Soviet Union dissolved.
Prior to 2020, 2 minutes to midnight had been the closest the clock had ever been set, reaching that point both during the Cold War and following the first U.S. test of a thermonuclear weapon.