May 22, 2013

We Need a Change in Climate News

The past two weeks has seen climate change in the news, or rather, a tiny bit more than the usually pathetic coverage it gets from mainstream news outlets, considering we're talking about the future of our species.

The first noteworthy piece of climate news is that the world has reached a new and ominous milestone: the concentration of carbon dioxide has reached 400 ppm. Lisa Welp and Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institute write about this in the way scientists write: with an even, almost detached tone.

Contrast that to the tenor in a piece which appeared in the Rolling Stone last summer, written by Bill McKibben who spells out the simple math: in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees C, we must keep total carbon dioxide emissions below 565 gigatons. That's our total carbon budget going forward. Burning all the known fossil fuels still in the ground would release five times that, or 2,795 gigatons. Even the scientists say that the consequences would be "unimaginable".


The second bit of news is that Skeptical Science did a survey of more than 12,000 peer-reviewed papers on climate change that contain a statement on whether or not global warming is caused by humans. They find that among those papers, 97% state that we humans are responsible.

That might make you think of Galileo, who got excommunicated for 400 years - he was eventually re-instated posthumously - for being the lone dissenter to say that the earth goes around the sun. But a piece in Scientific American points out that Galileo had the evidence on his side. In his case, Occam's razor was very sharp indeed. In contrast, in the case of climate change, the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of the 97%.

So it is surprising - some might say unconscionable - that mainstream TV news (ABC, NBC, CBS) has been woefully silent on what is arguably the largest problem of our times. The Guardian is one of those few news outlets that consistently cover climate change news, including issues affecting the United States. Inside the US, the Huffington Post offers decent coverage, but it's not exactly mainstream and ubiquitous like USA Today or CNN.

If you are interested in getting a glimpse of the science of climate change and what the controversy is about, I highly recommend "Earth: the climate wars", a BBC documentary hosted by Iain Stewart, a geologist and a professor at the University of Southampton, with a knack for explaining the sometimes intricate science in a clear and engaging way.

Episode 1 covers the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and contains (around minute 22) the best visual demonstration I have ever seen of how well CO2 traps heat. Episode 2 discusses the controversy around climate change, neatly punching holes through some familiar arguments disseminated by climate deniers. Episode 3 talks about how to build the future we need.


Earth The Climate Wars - Episode 1 of 3.


I've said it before: it's not the planet we need to "save"; the planet has seen drastic climate change many times before, and it's been fine. Mass species extinctions have occurred before, and new species have emerged in their wake. But we, homo sapiens, have never had to cope with global temperatures more than one degree C away from the mean, for the duration of human civilization. The next species extinction event is likely to include us.

Some statements made by climate scientists are measured and factual. Some are more emotional. All, if you read between the lines, are pervaded with a deep sense of dread. These scientists, the ones who know the real scoop, are scared.

So it's time for the media to overcome their own fears and put this issue squarely on the national and global table for discussion. It's time for all of us to get our courage up and face the facts. After all, doing that sort of thing is exactly what makes us who we are: sapiens.


Shared at Simply Natural Saturdays



You may also like:
1. Slash your carbon footprint
2. Why the new CAFE standard is just my cup of tea
3. 99 One-Liners Rebutting Climate Deniers' Most Commonly Used Arguments with links to the full climate science.



  1. I think the media does talk about it but people aren't listening. The average person is like, "What you want me to do about it?" I'm trying to do my part. Check out my new blog, I pick up trash because...

  2. You've got a great trash pickup initiative, Sheila!

    We need more participation by everyone in keeping our planet wholesome, but that means that everyone needs to be better informed, exactly so that people do know what to do in their own daily lives. Because we are not helpless: each of us really can do our bit to make the planet a better place.


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