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'Doomsday Clock' moved forward. What has scientists worried?

Scientists say they moved the 'Doomsday Clock' a minute closer to midnight because nations are failing to sufficiently address nuclear proliferation, climate change, and other global threats.

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“Is this ridiculous thing still around?” Darrin Cothran, a commenter on a Los Angeles Times web page noting the clock's shift moaned. “Time to tell these elderly gentlemen that it's time to retire.”

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“They're just trying to stay relevant,” piped up an anonymous commentator on Slashdot. “We all forgot about them when the Cold War ended, and they crave attention again.”

Others, however, argue in favor of at least some type of global warning clock – as a simple indicator for society that unseen looming problems exist and need public attention.

Daniel Abbasi, a former senior adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency, has argued that the world needs a Global Climate Change Index akin to the Dow Jones Industrial Average to chart humanity's gains – and reversals. It needs to be simple enough to keep public eyes from glazing over and still hold policymakers’ feet to the fire on really lowering greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

Bulletin scientists argue that the need for their clock remains strong. Key recommendations for a safer world that they say have not been taken up include:

• Ratification by the US and China of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

• Implementing multinational management of the civilian nuclear energy fuel cycle with strict standards for safety, security, and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons

• Strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency's capacity to oversee nuclear materials and technology development

• Adopting climate change agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions

• Transforming the coal power sector of the world economy to retire older plants and require new plants to capture and store carbon dioxide they produce

• Increasing public and private investments in alternatives to carbon-emitting energy sources, such as solar and wind, and technologies for energy storage

“Whether meeting the challenges of nuclear power, or mitigating the suffering from human-caused global warming, or preventing catastrophic nuclear conflict in a volatile world, the power of people is essential,” Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said in a statement.

“For this reason, we ask other scientists and experts to join us in engaging ordinary citizens,” she said. “Together, we can present the most significant questions to policymakers and industry leaders.  Most importantly, we can demand answers and action.”

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