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It can’t have been easy to work out what to do with the hands on the Doomsday Clock this year. In one of the odder group rituals of the reality-based community, a panel of experts ceremoniously set the hands on a drawing of a clock on Tuesday night.

They’ve done this every year since 1947 to express how well they think we’ve alleviated existential threats, initially from nuclear weapons, but now including the likes of climate change and cyberattacks.

The closer to midnight – doomsday – the worse we’ve done. The clock has been hovering around 5 minutes to the hour for a decade, but in 2015, after a general lack of progress on nuclear non-proliferation and climate change, the hands moved to 3 minutes to midnight. This year, the sages left them there.

Why? The latest picture is mixed. There was agreement in Paris at the end of 2015 to limit global warming – feeble, but at least an agreement. And Iran earlier agreed to verified limits on its nuclear activities.

But China and Pakistan are increasing their nuclear arsenals, North Korea tested what may have been a more usable nuke, and the US and Russia plan to modernise their own arsenals, at a cost of $350 billion in the US. Panel member Sharon Squassoni, of Washington DC think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, remarked that you’re not likely to reduce your reliance on nukes when you’re spending that much.

Metaphor for destruction

Those who maintain the clock stand by its importance in its 70th year.

“The clock is a metaphor …

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