Five minutes to midnight.

“This is the hardest, most terrible, thing to say to a young person, but we have no choice: it is five minutes before midnight. Time is running out.”

Peter Goldmark, director of the EDF‘s Climate and Air program said that in an interview with Dominique Browning that I was reading on Climate Progress, and it caught my attention in a slightly different way than usual.

Midnight has always had a power in human cultures. It signifies the end of a day, or of an era, or of a life. It is used widely from the clock in Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, to the Doomsday Clock, and the slow, measured tolling of the midnight bell is the footsteps of approaching doom – inevitable, implacable, and impartial.

To say that it is five minutes to midnight is to invoke the final warning, the last call for us to turn aside from the course that has aimed us at the abyss, and in legend it is a warning that is rarely, if ever, heeded.

All that is background – it is the standard thought process (in theory) evoked when someone says that in regards to a particular issue, it is five minutes to midnight. This time, however, it triggered something else. It’s October right now, and the days are growing shorter. This means that while midnight is the official turning point, dawn is a little farther off every day than it was the day before, and the longer we wait, the longer it will take for darkness to give way to light.

Right now we are past the brink. We have tumbled over the abyss and there is NO chance to forestall the burning midnight ahead, and yet there is that one glimmer on the horizon – we may yet, if we heed the oft-ignored warnings, we may yet have a chance to ensure that the sun will rise at the end, and that the decades of misery ahead will be a trial and a warning to future generations, rather than the dwindling of Humanity into the annals of history. There is hope, but the longer we delay, the smaller that hope becomes. For the sake of this analogy, let each of the five minutes represent one year. For each minute that ticks by, we grow closer to midwinter. For each year that passes we grow closer to a midnight without end, but if the warning is heard across the globe, and action is taken, Dawn will come, and though our delay will have prolonged the night, if we can heed that warning, and stop at 11:59:59 could be enough to allow us to come out of the darkness wiser, perhaps, but most importantly, alive.

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