The Climate Window. (It’s like a regular window. Except climatey.)
A frame that should make you SERIOUSLY HAPPY to be alive rn
Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.
The climate window is something you possess by dint of being alive right now. If you have no resources and no capacity to act, your window might be a subterranean porthole. If you have all the power of a nation or corporation behind you, your window might be a series of ginormous french doors. If you have already been fighting the fight, your window might be the triple-glazed perfection you installed last year. But if you’re alive right now, regardless of the scale of your power and pane, you have...A CLIMATE WINDOW. And that’s a beautiful opening.
Being alive to feel the humid breeze flowing in through this window is equal parts empowering and daunting and bad for your frizz. Yes, we’re alive. Yes, we want to stop the imminent destruction of the earth. No, we don’t quite know how. Or we do, but no one is listening, as we scream at the top of our lungs while dancing naked in the middle of Oxford Circus. No, that definitely was not me in the oversized zebra head and unitard.
Over time I’ve collected writings (tweets, poems, bathroom graffiti) that speak to this climate window. My own goes something like, AAAAH, I’M ALIVE NOW, I NEED TO DO SOMETHING (dances like a chicken, plunges her head into an ice bath). Most of these writings fall into two camps: Act now for chrissakes, or We are so effing lucky to be alive right now. I think, for reasons that I will enumerate in this essay, that the latter is the stronger tack.
Negative, window-is-closing language stresses people out and does more to discourage than inspire. Don’t highlight the finite finestra. The frantic, time-is-running-out messaging, however true, makes people cower. There is a ton of literature about this. This kind of messaging is like breathing down a bomb defuser’s neck as the clock ticks away. It only works on Tom Cruise. This doesn’t mean hiding the truth, or the enormity of the challenge. It just means not front-loading your window talk with panic on a deadline.
There’s some evidence that strong fear with a slant towards brutal honesty can get people going, but omg when combined with a looming deadline, it’s a toss up. Three-fifths of me wants to drink a lot of Aperol and crawl into a hole. Two-fifths of me wants to grab my megaphone and run screaming down my street:
Peter Kalmus is the People's Climate Scientist @ClimateHumanThere are 10 years, 9 months, 11 days until 2030, when the IPCC estimates we should be halfway to net-zero emissions for some chance of avoiding blowing past 1.5°C of warming. Every day counts. Do all you can! Wake everyone up.
The window messaging I think we need to focus on is how fortunate we are to be alive right now. Indeed, it’s a challenge. Indeed, politicians around us are not taking the actions they need to take to prevent our demise. But we are alive to keep pushing.
Good climate window talk doesn’t have to shy away from the precariousness, loss, or uncertain outcomes we will experience as we sidle up to climate apocalypse. It just has to also acknowledge the power we have now. Like so:
This window is full of danger, but we are alive to mitigate, to do as much as we can:
The window is this tiny period on a vast continuum of a time where things are not yet locked in. We have an opportunity:
It’s scary that Elizabeth Sawin wrote this in 2007, but it still holds true for me.
There are moments when the ten-year window comes into clear focus for me, moments when it stands out against the blur of obligations and worries and pleasures of my ordinary life.
It is in those moments – when I can see the ten-year window while not being too frightened by its seriousness – that I seem to know best what to do. It is in these moments that I find myself standing beside my neighbors with my “Stop Global Warming” signs, buying electricity produced from methane capture, and expanding the garden that feeds my family. It is in those moments that I feel most like the person I would like to be, someone who knows what to do when she is given a window of opportunity.
We are alive. We can act. This tweet from Eric Holthaus captures the promise of climate window as perfectly as one could.
How do you think about the climate window? I would love to know!
LAST LAST WEEK
I’ve been processing a lovely email from Patrick for the past few weeks. It was about the newsletter edition in which I whined about the impossibility of sustainable choice, given a vacuum of information. He threw a rule at me, which I first thought entirely impossible, but then realized made a good pile of sense. The gist of it: Don’t shop at the supermarket. I felt overwhelmed immediately - I hardly shop at the supermarket! I am pickling my arugula pods right now! I buy flour in bulk! no supermarket ever? - but then realized I was missing the greater point. Keeping ‘don’t shop at the supermarket’ in your brain as a simple heuristic is actually SPOT ON for short-handing your way to a lower carbon footprint. The food and products you buy will invariably have been produced smaller, lighter, and closer to home. Patrick went much deeper, on farming small as a practice that yields so much benefit, but that needs a whole other edition. Coming soon.
My amazing friend Hannah writes a great newsletter called At The End Of The Day. Her most recent drop is a beautiful distillation of everything I am feeling right now (bonus Kristen Wiig memes). Subscribe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of news and information? Subscribe to At The End Of The Day, for a people-first perspective on the news.
By day I write a bimonthly newsletter for the wonderful org that I work for. It’s a light dose of climate news you can use. Subscribe to Fair Path Forward?
Hope you are safe and happy and healthy! Have a wonderful weekend!