Sometimes we get so sick of the phrase 'history in the making' that the brain tends to switch off. What is it this time?, we sigh. A new high-tech piece of military technology that will boost US killing power? A big jump in a newspaper's online advertising revenue? The world's best footballer, Lionel Messi, joining 'an exclusive list of adidas athletes to have their own signature product'? Sometimes the 'history' in question only stretches back a few years, maybe a century or two. Only very occasionally, if the claim is truly deserved, does it strech back to the earliest era of written records.
But now, with humanity's huge impact on the planet's climate becoming ever clearer, we need to go back several million years. Because climate-related news of history being made are about the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) reaching 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time CO2 was this high was probably 4.5 million years ago, before modern humans even existed.
Throughout recorded history, up till the Industrial Revolution, CO2 was much lower at around 280 ppm. But large-scale industrial and agricultural activity since then has seen humanity profoundly alter the make-up of the atmosphere and even the stability of Earth's climate.
said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.
According to Bob Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former UK government chief scientific adviser:
noted in the Guardian, even just 2C is regarded as 'the level beyond which catastrophic warming is thought to become unstoppable.' But social scientist Chris Shaw has warned that even the notion of a single 'safe' global temperature rise is dangerous. He observes that:
taboo, and the global corporate and financial juggernaut, driven by the demands of capital, shows no sign of slowing down. Scientists calculate that humans pumped around 10.4 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in 2011, the most recent year analysed. A Nature news article reports:
climate calamity will not be going away for some considerable time.line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>'It Is Irresponsible Not To Mention Climate Change'
On 20 May, a devastating tornado hit Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, and killed at least 24 people, including nine children, injured around 240 people, and destroyed hundreds of homes and shops, two schools and a hospital. It is not yet clear what the impact of global warming might be on tornadoes. A warmer climate may mean there is more moisture in the atmosphere and therefore more thunderstorms and tornadoes, says Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the UK's Met Office:
article behind paywall)
Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University, agrees it's 'too early to tell' the impact of global warming on tornadoes, although he added:
told the New York Times in 2010:
better documented, including deluges, droughts, and heat waves.'
However, he also adds:
revisited the scientific evidence on global warming and tornadoes, and again highlights Trenberth's remark above.
But on the main BBC News television programmes, science correspondent David Shukman brushed the topic away:
alert earlier this year.
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>'Deniers Want The Public To Be Confused'
But sometimes luck simply runs out for high-profile, highly-paid journalists performing their clunking impressions of 'balanced' journalism. This was the fate that befell Sarah Montague of the much-vaunted BBC Radio 4 Today programme when she interviewed James Hansen on May 17. Hansen, the former senior Nasa climate scientist who first warned the world about catastrophic climate change in 1988, corrected the BBC interviewer when she said in her introduction that the global average temperature had not changed in two decades.
Why are they doing this?
caught out of its depth on climate science.
The false 'balance' in climate journalism is heavily skewed by the supposed need to share time between climate science and climate science denial. This is irrational 'journalism' by media professionals who have been seduced by a stubborn minority of people who 'refuse to accept that climate change is happening despite the overwhelming scientific evidence', notes Ryan Koronowski. This minority, particularly in the United States, are fanatic about fanning the flames of doubt and are often in powerful positions in the political establishment. These climate science deniers are often also free-market ideologues. Koronowski, deputy editor of Climate Progess, cites a recent study by researchers in Australia which found that:
Green Backlash, Routledge, London, 1996; and Sharon Beder, Global Spin, Green Books, Totnes, 1997.)
For many years now, there has been an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. A new survey of more than 4,000 peer-reviewed papers showed that 97.1% agreed that humans are causing climate change. Suzanne Goldenberg reported on the Guardian website that:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The Pan-Tentacled, Wall-Eyed And Parrot-Beaked Global Kraken
Political, military, industry and financial elites who take science seriously are well aware of the pressing reality of climate change, and worry about what it means for their global grip on power. Nafeez Ahmed observes that the US military is becoming 'increasingly concerned about the international and domestic security implications of climate change.' A US Department of Defense (DoD) document, published in February this year, warns that climate change will have 'significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to greater competition for more limited and critical life-sustaining resources like food and water.' Climate change impacts will likely also act 'as accelerants of instability or conflict in parts of the world' and 'DoD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on its facilities, infrastructure, training and testing activities, and military capabilities.'
The US military's stance on climate change is, of course, not motivated out of a heartfelt wish to be a benefactor for humanity. As Ahmed points out:
expand their Arctic military presence.'
Methane hydrates lying beneath the Arctic permafrost and the seafloor are tantalisingly now within reach. An attempt by the Tokyo-based state oil company Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation to extract methane from far below the ocean 'shows promise': an odd way to describe a reckless operation that will further tip the balance in favour of climate instability. A Nature news story, 'Japanese test coaxes fire from ice', blithely told readers:
'Together we stand'. Those are nice-sounding words. But they are an unfortunate echo of the well-known farcical refrain from the UK's discredited 'coalition' government: 'We're all in this together'. The propaganda phrase conveys a convenient myth of a shared society with shared aims: a real democracy, in other words.
The Nature editorial springs from a similarly deluded mindset:
If the world's leading scientific publication has failed us, perhaps we could turn instead to writers such as Edward Abbey. In his classic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, Abbey powerfully and poetically rails against the corporate ravaging of the environment. In one vivid scene, the four titular protaganists overlook the devastation wreaked by a huge strip mine in Arizona: