Can Humanity Survive? Want to Bet on It?

Sixty ago years, a group of physicists concerned about nuclear weapons created the Doomsday Clock and set its hands at seven minutes to midnight. Now, the clock’s keepers, alarmed by new dangers like climate change, have moved the hands up to 11:55 p.m.

My first reaction was a sigh of relief. After all, the 1947 doomsday prediction marked the start of a golden age. Never have so many humans lived so long — and maybe never so peacefully — as during the past 60 years. The per-capita rate of violence, particularly in the West, seems remarkably low by historical standards. If the clock’s keepers are worried once again, their track record suggests we’re in for even happier days.

But there’s one novel twist that gives me pause. When the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced two weeks ago in Washington that it was adjusting the clock, it was joined in a trans-Atlantic press conference by scientists at the Royal Society in London. One of them was the society’s president, Martin Rees, a new breed of doomsayer.

Dr. Rees, a cosmologist at Cambridge and Britain’s astronomer royal, doesn’t just issue gloomy predictions. He doesn’t just move the hands of an imaginary and inscrutable clock. (Its keepers have never explained what one of their minutes equals on anyone else’s clock or calendar.)

No, Dr. Rees is braver. He gives odds on doomsday and offers to bet on disaster. In his 2003 book, “Our Final Hour,” he gives civilization no more than a 50 percent chance of surviving until 2100.

Dr. Rees is not a knee-jerk technophobe — he expects great advances as researchers around the world link their knowledge — but he fears that progress will be undone by what he calls the new global village idiots. He’s sure enough of himself to post an offer on Long Bets, a clever innovation on the Web that Stewart Brand helped start with money from Jeff Bezos, the founder of


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, recently, a friend of mine suggested the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

– Research thx to Lisa G.

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