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.