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What is the Doomsday Clock, and why do we care if it’s still 2 minutes to midnight?

What is the Doomsday Clock, and why do we care if it’s still 2 minutes to midnight?
[Photo: NASA/Unsplash]

Is it that time of year already?

In what it dubbed “a new abnormal,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said today that the so-called Doomsday Clock is still set to two minutes before midnight, indicating that humanity is closer to destruction than it’s been at any point since World War II. While the setting remains unchanged from last year, Bulletin editors warn that the lack of movement should not be taken as a sign of stability in world affairs. Rather, they say it should serve as a warning to world leaders.

“The current international security situation–what we call the ‘new abnormal’–has extended over two years now,” the editors wrote. “It’s a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War, a state that features an unpredictable and shifting landscape of simmering disputes that multiply the chances for major military conflict to erupt.”

The Bulletin typically adjusts the virtual clock once a year and has been doing so since 1947. Two years ago, it set the clock to 2.5 minutes to midnight, citing reckless attitudes toward nuclear weapons.

So should we really take this seriously? Well, yes. While the clock itself is symbolic, it was chosen to convey a serious message, and the scientists behind it take real measurable issues into account when they adjust its position, including threats from climate change, nuclear arms, and capricious leadership from political figures. The Bulletin was founded in the 1940s by scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project, so they knew a little something about threats to humanity.

Read more about the clock and its history here.

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