This is the follow-up of on previous post in which I discussed a Guardian article of October 2006, claiming that we only had ten years to save the planet “from mankind”. This was only one article in a string of others that I found having the same structure: number of time left to save the world/planet.
Fast forward two years.
There was this book review of the book “Seven Years to save the planet: The Questions and Answers” written by Bill McGuire. That seven years is defined as follows (my emphasis):
Why are there only seven years to save “the planet”? (Strictly speaking, as McGuire acknowledges, the planet itself, qua big hunk of rock, isn’t in any danger, just the distribution of life on it and our habits of civilisation.) Well, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, world carbon emissions will have to start falling dramatically after 2015 to prevent catastrophic change.
The author also wrote another Guardian article about the same subject, titled Do believe the hype on climate change. It has the eerie subtitle “When it comes to the science of climate change – if it reads like a disaster novel, then it really is that bad”.
Reading that subtitle and you know what you gonna get. There is an almost identical claim in that article (my emphasis):
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if we are to have any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, we need to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 80% by mid-century. To accomplish this, emissions be must stabilised by 2015 and fall thereafter.
He really meant what he was saying.
Needless to say that emissions weren’t stabilized by 2015, let alone falling dramatically, thereafter. Do I understand it correctly that, being well after that deadline, we now have no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change?
Hey, why do I feel the sudden urge to figure out what this McGuire claimed after the deadline in 2015?
He seems to be a bit silent about his previous predictions. There is only one article after the deadline and not a peep about his emissions-should-fall-after-2015-to-have-any-chance-of-avoiding-dangerous-climate-change claim made in 2008.
Later that year things have changed … for the worse: “We only have months, not years, to save civilisation from climate change“!
I bet you didn’t see that coming! Neither did I.
Where did that come from so suddenly? It was four years at the beginning of that year. This is going downhill very fast…
I didn’t find anything in the article that confirmed the only-months deadline. This came closest (my emphasis):
The challenge is how to do it quickly. The answer is a wartime mobilisation, not unlike the US effort on the country’s entry into the second world war, when it restructured its industrial economy not in a matter of decades or years, but in a matter of months. We don’t know exactly how much time remains for such an effort, but we do know that time is running out. Nature is the timekeeper but we cannot see the clock.
The only mention of months is in the historical example of WWII when only months sufficed to restructure industry. If the journalist wrote that title himself, then he just might want to say that we can’t know, but that he believes time is running out and therefore it could as well be months. If someone else came up with that title, then he had completely misread the article.
October until December 2018
Many, many moons came and went and nothing happened. Nine years passed until we got the ultimate savior message: it is now twelve years before all life on Earth is doomed (my emphasis):
On Monday, scientists revealed that we have only 12 years to put in place real strategies to combat climate change before the future of all life on Earth is doomed.
Wheeeeew, what a relief!!! We still have 12 years before the future of all life on Earth is doomed! Confirmed by another article a couple months later (my empahsis):
Two months ago, the UN’s climate change panel warned that unless humanity takes drastic action, we will only have 12 years to save the planet from disaster.
If two Guardian articles make the same claim, it surely must be true… 😉
Both articles link to another Guardian article about the IPCC SR15 special report which was discussed in a previous post.
What does this learn us?
The remarkable thing is how these predictions follow each other. The end date of the prediction in 2006 was pretty far into the future (10 – 15 years). Between 2008 and 2009 several predictions were made and the time span shrunk from seven years to “a matter of months” between September 2008 and November 2009. A decade later, when the end date of the 2006 prediction wasn’t even reached, we again see a long time frame of 12 years. This is how it looks like in a Gantt graph:
I wonder what happened around 2008 – 2009 that made activists so confident that they were predicting in the very near future? Were they so optimistic that they were expecting huge changes in a very short time span? Also, why was there such a large (publication of) prediction gap between 2009 and 2018?
I also wonder whether we will see a repeat of predictions launched with ever short end dates like we had between 2008 – 2009) and what will be the trigger for more confidence.
A funny thing to remark is that all those doom predictions were attributed to the science:
According to the Guardian, the Stern report was based on the “science” and the “world’s top climate economist”. The report indeed referred to several scientists and the IPCC, and was written by an economist
The only-seven-years-to-prevent-catastrophic-change claim was attributed to the IPCC. It is not clear what specifically he found in a report that justifies that we could “prevent catastrophic change” by falling emissions after 2015. The author linked for this to the … home page for the IPCC. That is the same as a police officer stopping a driver and when asked what is wrong, the officer gives him the complete traffic law compendium. What the driver did wrong is in there, that is for sure, but couldn’t he be a bit more specific?
The Obama-only-has-four-years claim was the opinion of a climate scientist (James Hansen)
The only-months-to-save-the-civilization referred James Hansen, Rajendra Pachauri and said that all previous reports became more dire, suggesting that the one that followed (COP15) would probably do the same
The two only-12-years-left claims are (mis)attributed to the IPCC SR15 report.
Of those deadlines that already passed, NONE of the predictions were correct.
There is another, more important, common thing: all these claims are made in a politically setting:
The article of the Stern report was tagged “Politics” and the report was commissioned by the British government . As far as I can find, the author of the report had a political affiliation (Labour) (by the way, the challenges/solutions of climate change and the conclusion of the report are in line with this political party).
- The “Seven Years to Save the Planet” is a book in the “Politics book” section.
The Obama-only-has-four-years as claimed by Hansen had to do with creating a sense of urgency. For the first time there was a president who was sympathetic to the cause and that made it attractive to up the ante, in order for him to take action before another, maybe not so sympathetic president would be sworn in. I don’t believe for a moment that Hansen really believed his own claim, but at the time it was the best thing to do when wanting to force a breakthrough.
- The only-months-to-save-civilization statement was made just before the assembly of world leaders in Copenhagen (COP15).
The only-12-years to save the planet/life on Earth was (wrongly) attributed to the IPCC SR15 report, but most probably should be attributed to the journalist who wrote the Guardian article they linked to.
These predictions are just misinformation, probably in order to create a sense of urgency. It is suggested that these claims are coming from the “Science”, but in reality it is the (mis)interpretation or the opinion of journalists and/or activists in order to achieve a (political) goal. Therefor misinforming those poor Guardian readers. Not once, but on a continuous basis. Hopefully those readers don’t take these claims too seriously, but I have my doubts.