Hear ye, hear ye: the Doomsday Clock, the strange metaphorical timepiece we only look at once per year, has just been moved 30 seconds closer to midnight. It now sits at 11:58, just two ticks away from the end of everything we all hold dear.

This sounds pretty bad. But what does it mean? As we wrote this time last year:

“Invented by former members of the Manhattan Project, the so-called Doomsday Clock isn’t really a clock at all, but rather a handy way to visualize the aggregate effects of various threats to humanity: The closer the metaphorical minute hand is to midnight, the closer we are to total destruction.

The clock is overseen by the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, along with their Board of Sponsors, which is stacked with Nobel Laureates. Each year, they consider humanity’s greatest ailments and boil them down into a concrete conclusion: are we nearer to doom than we were last year?”

A graph demonstrating the movements of the Doomsday Clock.
A graph demonstrating the movements of the Doomsday Clock. Fastfission/Public Domain

We’ve been at two minutes to midnight just once before: in 1953, the year the United States and the Soviet Union each developed thermonuclear weapons for the first time. This year, the Board cited “the failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future”—especially nuclear weapons and climate change—as the reason to move the clock forward.

“Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals,” the report reads. “Momentum toward this new reality is increasing.”

In a Washington Post op-ed published this morning, board members Lawrence Krauss and Robert Rosner doubled down, writing that “the world is not only more dangerous now than it was a year ago; it is as threatening as it has been since World War II.”

This is also the closest the clock has ever gotten to midnight: in over seven decades of chaos and change, it has never ticked over to 11:59. But hey, there’s always next year (unless, of course, there isn’t).