Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Climate Scientist Mike Hulme has stirred a hornets nest by suggesting setting climate deadlines is counterproductive, because when the deadlines are missed people point and laugh.
Why setting a climate deadline is dangerous
The publication of the IPCC Special Report on global warming of 1.5C paved the way for the rise of the political rhetoric of setting a fixed deadline for decisive actions on climate change. However, the dangers of such deadline rhetoric suggest the need for the IPCC to take responsibility for its report and openly challenge the credibility of such a deadline.
Shinichiro Asayama, Rob Bellamy, Oliver Geden, Warren Pearce and Mike Hulme
This rise of ‘climate deadline-ism’ is, in some ways, a product of long-standing scientific (and political) endeavours to quantify what is ‘dangerous’ climate change. First articulated as a peak temperature target, this was then converted to a finite carbon budget and is now expressed as a fixed deadline after which policy interventions are deemed to be ‘too late’. This discursive translation of danger may help to increase a sense of urgency, as evidenced by the recent emergence of a youth climate movement. However, it also creates the condition in which a climate emergency is being rashly declared, a move that could lead to politically dangerous consequences.
A more fundamental problem with deadline-ism is that it might incite cynical, cry-wolf responses and undermine the credibility of climate science when an anticipated disaster does not happen. The imagery of deadlines and countdown clocks offers an illusory cliff-edge after which the world heads inevitably to its imminent demise. It promulgates the imaginary of extinction and the collapse of civilization. The impacts of climate change are more likely to be intermittent, slow and gradual.
…Read more: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0543-4 (Free access available from the link on Mike Hulme’s website)
The response from the climate alarm community has been less than enthusiastic. For example, from Think Progress;
We don’t have 12 years to save the climate. We have 14 months.
The deadline for protecting our children from a ruined climate is close at hand.
JOE ROMMJUL 26, 2019, 8:00 AM
Into this discussion over rhetoric comes a new article in journal Nature Climate Change, “Why setting a climate deadline is dangerous.” In it, scholars from Japan, the U.K., and Germany argue “a 2030 deadline arises from political (mis)use of science in setting an artificial deadline.”
The article is deeply flawed. For instance, the authors write of the IPCC’s “estimate of the remaining time to reach 1.5°C — a likely range of 12–34 years from 2018. This is where the ‘12 years’ rhetoric originates.”
But that’s not accurate. The ’12 years’ rhetoric does not originate from the fact that we might hit 1.5 degrees Celcius in 2030. It originates from the fact that if we don’t make very deep cuts by 2030, we have no possible chance of keeping below 1.5 degrees — and if we don’t make deep cuts by 2030 we are going to blow past 2 degrees.
ThinkProgress asked Dr. Mann to comment on this new article about deadlines. “We should of course be as clear as possible about what we mean when we talk dangerous warming limits and pathways for limiting warming below them,” he wrote in an email.
“But saying there should be no targets or timelines at all is really just giving a free pass to polluters,” he added. “It’s a welcome message to the forces of denial and delay.” And those forces currently control the highest office in the land.
…Read more: https://thinkprogress.org/we-dont-have-12-years-to-save-the-climate-we-have-14-months-71401316dbc4/
Deadlines have been a feature of climate politics since 1989, when the UN predicted disaster if global warming is not checked by the year 2000.
Deadlines make great theatre.
But as Mike Hulme points out, deadlines can come back to haunt you, when the alleged terrifying consequences of ignoring the deadline fail to manifest.