In the summer of 2008, Andrew Simms of the British think-tank the New Economics Foundation launched his doomsday clock at the web address onehundredmonths.org.uk. It had a stark message: ‘We have 100 months to save our climate.’ His point was that the estimate of the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 emissions meant that ‘in just 100 months’ time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change’. That was 103 months ago.
Simms’ clock was meant to dramatise the case for positive government action to limit CO2 emissions. It was a campaign backed by the Guardian. For each of the hundred months that followed, the Guardian hosted a blog by Simms. There he highlighted new initiatives, political campaigns and climate projections, lobbying for action on emissions.
Over these 100 months, world leaders made some agreements on climate change. Others were torn up, or watered down. Most recently the Paris Conference stands poised to agree new measures to limit emissions, but is overshadowed by scepticism from the incoming US president. One thing is for certain. Until now, no promises or agreements have led to an overall reduction in CO2 emissions. Emissions stood at 35.8million kilotons in 2013 — 2.6million more than when Simms started his clock.
All through this time, for all of these 100 months, Simms’ blog kept ticking away. ‘We either do, or we don’t, avert runaway warming’, he wrote in September 2008. The ‘climate clock is still ticking – even speeding up’, he said in November 2008. By Christmas of that year he was warning that ‘an increasing number of voices in the climate-change debate are beginning to express despair’. Some of that despair seemed to be rubbing off on Simms. The ‘time for meaningful action is shrinking just as fewer appear convinced of the need to act’, he said in March 2010. ‘We are now stuck with global warming’, he wrote in January 2011. By May 2013, his blog was warning that the International Monetary Fund’s anticipation of a growing economy could only lead to greater carbon emissions.
The problem with Simms’ climate clock was that the longer it ticked, the less seriously it was taken. One hundred months to save the planet seemed both shocking, and motivating. But as it went on, and on, the impact of the clock became debilitating rather than galvanising.