Skip to main content


Don’t believe Boris’s doomsday clock

Scarlet macaws in a Peruvian rainforest. Getty Images

The “fatalistic flourishes” spouted at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow this week would make anyone switch off, says Simon Kelner in the I newspaper. Boris Johnson has us at “one minute to midnight” on the doomsday clock. What would you do if you were told you only had a minute to live? “I’ll bet it’s not to put the recycling bin out.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told the BBC that if leaders failed to act now, they’d “allow a genocide on an infinitely greater scale” than the Nazis inflicted. Wisely, he apologised. If you’re trying to save the planet, an “idiomatic arms race” doesn’t help.

The gloomiest headlines always overegg it, says Tom Chivers in UnHerd. There are a bunch of International Panel on Climate Change models we mainstream science journalists like to look at – from 2007. The juiciest catastrophes only come from a “worst case” scenario, snappily named RCP 8.5, in which everyone carries on as normal and we “burn all the coal”. The world has actually changed its energy mix far faster than the IPCC anticipated, and Cop26 celebrated a deal to end deforestation by 2030. Things are looking up. Climate change is extremely bad, but we’re not in the “last chance saloon” yet.

And the historians are often wrong, says David Wengrow in The Guardian. “Catastrophe is not foretold.” We have evidence of ancient garden cities without centres governed in truly democratic ways, of societies that adapted with the seasons. Viewed against the backdrop of our entire history, we turn out to be a playful, inventive species that only recently got stuck in a deadly game of extraction and expansion – “You’re either growing or you’re dying” – and forgot how to change the rules. My late friend David Graeber wrote: “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make and could just as easily make differently.”

I agree, says Dagomar Degroot in The Washington Post. Like most climate scholars, I worry about a “terrifying” future of smoky skies and burning seas. “But it’s wrong – and dangerous.” Climate policies have been drafted or are being implemented on a scale that once seemed unimaginable. Doomism threatens to derail this progress. That way lies apathy. What use is fighting if the battle is already lost? Why advance any righteous cause – racial justice, a fair economy, a healthy democracy – when the climate apocalypse is right around the corner? “But it is beginning to feel possible that the climate crisis can be overcome.”