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The Doomsday Clock Would Like You To Be Concerned

Do you hear a faint, foreboding ticking off in the distance? Or is it just me?

Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been setting and publishing the time on its metaphorical Doomsday Clock. The closer the clock is to midnight, the greater the perceived existential dangers are to the planet: nuclear disaster, climate change, a global pandemic, malevolent artificial intelligences and/or killer nanorobots. Of course, balancing the risks of nuclear winter versus dramatically rising oceans is an unavoidably arbitrary task. Indeed, the clock’s original designer explained that it debuted at 11:53 p.m. because “it looked good to my eye.”

But, undeterred, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, along with its Board of Sponsors and 15 Nobel laureates, moved the clock’s hand a scooch on Thursday — 30 seconds closer to midnight. It is now officially 11:58 p.m. according to the metaphorical timekeeper.

It’s the closest the clock has ever been to doomsday, though it’s been here before, in the 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union were both testing thermonuclear devices and destroying islands in the process.

The group explained its latest move mainly by citing President Trump’s handling of nuclear risks in North Korea and Iran. It also throws in worries about climate change for good measure. “Major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race, one that will be very expensive and will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions,” the Bulletin’s CEO wrote in a statement.

As Keats would say, “O soft embalmer of the still midnight …

Oliver Roeder was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied game theory and political competition.