The Steel Door of Doom is Welded Shut
The latest 2022 release by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) subtitled “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” concludes with this call to action:
“The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”
Any grade-school dropout can see that the two sentences in this paragraph contradict each other. However, it’s the second sentence, and in particular the use of the metaphor “window of opportunity,” that I want to discuss in this post. This metaphor was brought to my attention by Sam Mitchell’s excellent YouTube video rant on this topic, which I highly recommend.
I will begin with a bit of linguistic history.
First, the metaphor “window of opportunity” apparently evolved from the American space program during the 1960’s, when the phrase “launch window” was used for the period of time a rocket could be launched to reach its intended orbit. According to the website idiomorigins, by the 1970’s, “window of opportunity” was in common use.
According to thefreedictionary, this metaphor “became popular during the years of the arms race between the Western and Communist powers, when it referred specifically to a chance for attacking. By about 1980 it had been extended to other narrow chances.”
According to Investopia, the modern understanding of this metaphor is “a short, often fleeting time period during which a rare and desired action can be taken. Once the window closes, the opportunity may never come again.”
In summary, the IPCC is using a cold-war rocket-launch metaphor to say that we have a very short time period for humanity to take the necessary actions to maintain a planet that can support civilization. Apparently, the only questions that remains are “how brief is brief?” and “how rapid is rapid”?
The answer to both questions is universally “10 years.” The window is going to be open for ten more years. Here are three examples:
First, in 2006 the famous NASA climate scientist James Hansen asserted the window of opportunity would be closed by 2016:
I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change … no longer than a decade, at the most.
Next, in 1989 the Los Angeles Times published an article on climate change that contained the assertion that the window of opportunity would be closed by 2000.
according to Noel Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program. He said that governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the so-called “greenhouse effect” before it goes beyond human control.
And finally, In 1978 Exxon’s senior scientist James Black warned that the window would be closed by the late 1980’s.
… present thinking holds that man has a time window [of opportunity] of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.
The propagandists, cynics, hopium addicts and apolcaloptimists will always say that the window will be open for ten more years. The scientists, journalists, politicians and industrialists will always say ten more years. The frauds, liars, scammers and delusional braggers will always say ten more years. Just as long as modern industrial civilization supports the capacity of humans to write, publish and disseminate their metaphoric window garbage, they will say “ten more years.”
So says Katherine Hayhoe
In the next ten years, we need to understand that accounting for climate change isn’t a luxury or an evil: it’s an essential part of every decision we make.
So says Zeke Hausfather
If we really want to limit warming to well below two degrees (the sort of primary Paris agreement goals), we can’t wait ten more years and do nothing. We need to start reducing emissions now, regardless.
So says Michael Mann
It’s definitely the scientific consensus now that warming stabilizes quickly, within 10 years, of emissions going to zero.
What is crystal clear to anyone who understands that “climate change” is a symptom of overshoot is that the “window of opportunity” closed decades, centuries or possibly even millennia ago. Maybe it closed somewhere around the time humans learned to make weapons to attack and kill other humans and species. Maybe it closed when humans drove the dodo bird to extinction in the late 1600’s. Maybe it closed in the 1880’s when humans started using coal to generate electricity for their homes and factories. Maybe it closed in the late 1970’s when Exxon failed to disclose its own internal research and instead launched a pro-oil propaganda campaign.
Regardless of when the window closed, it is closed. The launch window came and and the rocket reached its intended orbit with spectacular success. As a result, humanity prospered and now eight billion of us are living in the era of overshoot, overpopulation and collapse, the anthropocene. And at this very moment, the rocket is blazing through the atmosphere in an overheated fireball, briefly and rapidly crashing according to physical laws that leave no option for its secure and sustainable future.
We are living in the time of the sixth great extinction. We humans are collectively responsible for the near-term collapse of everything. The “rapidly closing window of opportunity” is in reality a “steel door of doom” that was welded shut generations ago.
16 thoughts on “The Steel Door of Doom is Welded Shut”
I often hear the line – “they’ll think of something”. My standard response is that, as a retired engineer, I was probably among the “they” that’s being counted on to make this situation go away, and I got nothin’.
(born in the year 313 ppm CO2)
Is there any evidence that the increasing levels of methane, CO2 and other gasses are contributing to breathing problems? It seems so many people these days are having respiratory issues, even before Covid. I have severe allergies and they just seem to get worse every few years.
My allergies are getting worse each year — today I am up at 4AM because of them. Yes, there is definitely evidence that climate change is making things tougher on us, though not directly from methane or CO2. This article has a lot of info:
Between 1995 and 2011, warmer temperatures have caused the U.S. pollen season to increase around the country to be 11 to 27 days longer.7
Warmer temperatures from climate change cause flowers to bloom earlier and increase the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. These changes in temperatures cause an increase in the concentration of pollen in the air, the strength of airborne allergens and an increase in allergy symptoms. Exposure to stronger amounts of pollen and mold may make people that do not currently have allergies develop allergic symptoms.8
Climate change causes some allergen-producing plants to move into new areas, and winds can carry pollen and mold from outside the United States.8
Thanks Eliot. I guess being addicted to anithistimine and nasal spray is just another sign of the times.
I like to compare it to a freight train heading straight for a cliff at full speed. You can’t wait until the edge of the cliff to hit the brakes. You have to stomp on the brakes a mile before you even see the cliff, and even then you will be lucky to stop in time.
How sad for our civilization that the “window of opportunity” to hit the brakes passed at least 40 years ago, maybe closer to 50 years now. We stomped on the gas pedal instead, literally, and now we are flying over the cliff at full speed.
I’m not sure what’s more grotesque as we fall to our deaths, the people who deny there is any problem at all, or the people who insist a few solar panels and wind turbines will solve all our problems… Utter insanity.
My husband likes to say that if you’re in the backseat of Thelma & Louise’s car after it plunges over the cliff’s edge, there’s nothing to do but offer your fellow passengers a burrito.
In other words, be kind. The hippies were right all along. Peace, love, and understanding is all we ever had.
We will reach record global oil and coal production and combustion in 21 and 22. In two years the IPCC et al will push our window to 2035 to cut emissions as we continue along the path to 800 ppm CO2e. Reptilian weather conditions ahead…
Great blog by the way Eliot. Thanks for doing this for all of us realists.
With gratitude! Many thanks.
Will this help reduce emissions?
Thank you for writing this. I’m 51, and noticed the “10 years left” every year pattern in the early 2000s.
It’s not 100 seconds to midnight. That was probably 1990. Now, it’s actually something like 4 the next morning: still dark, but dawn is coming, and nobody will be able to deny what the darkness has allowed.
It’s nearly 100 in many parts of Southern CA now. I just told a friend of mine and his reply was, “yeah it’s Spring”. WASF.
Mann’s comment is not complete. Temperatures stop rising and stay constant only if all direct human emissions cease, AND all indirect human-caused GHG emissions cease too. Then the balance between CO2 uptake and pipeline forcing balance out. We can’t control indirect emissions except slowly with a big lag. Try concrete’ing over the Arctic permafrost, or ending higher rains over the tropics and methane production there, and slowing AMOC and higher ocean temperatures over the higher area equatorial regions and dying corals and how these impact ocean CO2 uptake. Mann’s science papers are excellent, but the Hopium he gives out is slanted and does not serve the emergency mentality that is required.
Thanks for your excellent comment.