U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” — 1000 ppm

In the last two years, our scientific understanding of business-as-usual projections for global warming has changed dramatically (see “M.I.T. doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C” and “Hadley Center projects 5-7°C warming by 2100“). Yet, much of the U.S. public — especially conservatives — remain in the dark about just how dire the situation is (see “Gallup poll shows catastrophic failure of media, conservatives still easily duped by deniers“).

Why? Because the U.S. media is largely ignoring the story. Case in point: Where was the coverage of the Copenhagen Climate Science Congress, attended by 2000 scientists, which concluded with this Key Message #1:

Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

What is the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectory? That would be A1F1 (the red dotted line in the figure below from figure SPM-3 of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Synthesis Report):


The A1F1 scenario takes us to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide of 1000 ppm in 2100 — otherwise known as the end of human civilization as we have known it. Actually it’s worse than that. The 2001 IPCC report largely failed to model amplifying carbon cycle feedbacks. The 2007 IPCC report, which began to consider such feedbacks, warns that even averaging 11 GtC (billion metric tons of carbon) a year this century could take us to 1000 ppm (see “Nature publishes my climate analysis and solution“). The A1F1 scenario averages well above 15 GtC a year through 2100 as you can see from the figure on the left.

Energy Daily (subs. req’d) notes of the U.S. media non-coverage of Copenhagen:

Ironically–given the Gallup finding that two in five Americans think the press is exaggerating climate change concerns–only a few of the major U.S. news outlets published accounts of the Copenhagen gathering, which received heavy coverage by news outlets in Europe and Asia.

Great point — though “ironically” isn’t the right word. There is nothing ironic about this. It is cause and effect. The right word is “tragically.”

Exceeding A1F1 probably means total planetary warming by 2100 compared to preindustrial levels of 5°C or more. I discuss the harsh impacts of such warming here.

West Coast Climate Equity notes:

Last time mean global temperatures reached 2 to 3 degrees Celsius above present levels, in the mid-Pliocene (3 million years ago), an event associated with CO2 levels of about 400 parts per million, polar regions were heated by near-8 degrees C and sea levels have risen by 25+/-12 meters relative to the present. This represents near-total melting of Greenland and west Antarctica ice sheets (Robinson et al., 2008: “Pliocene role in assessing future climate impacts” (

A rise of mean global temperatures above 4 or 5 degrees Celsius would shift the atmosphere to pre-glacial/interglacial conditions, which dominated the Earth from about 34 million years ago (end-Eocene) (Zachos et al., 2008)

That means ultimate sea level rise of 250 feet, with the best current projection being 5 feet by 2100 (see “Startling new sea level rise research: “Most likely” 0.8 to 2.0 meters by 2100“), rising thereafter 10 to 20 inches a decade (or more) for centuries. Good luck adapting to that, next 50 generations.

Key Message #5 from the Congress is:

Key Message 5: Inaction is Inexcusable

There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches — economic, technological, behavioural, management — to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

What is inexcusable is US media coverage and the blinkered conservative strategy of scientific denial — what can only be described as a murder-suicide pact with the human race (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh — what does that radicalism mean for Obama, progressives, and humanity?“).

45 Responses to U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm … the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” — 1000 ppm

  1. Real Americans read, listen to and watch the BBC.

  2. ecostew says:

    Indeed, the US media seemed to cover the denier International Conference more while the international media had coverage of the Copenhagen science meeting e.g., UK – many posting showed up on the Climate Ark site.

  3. lgcarey says:

    In the U.K., The Guardian and The Independent must have over a dozen stories, often focusing on a particular presentation, as well as longer “big picture” stories. As far as I can tell, the NYT carried two rather generic ClimateWire stories and then James Kanter’s story at Dot Earth focusing on Schellnhuber’s “apocalyptic prediction” of possible collapse of earth’s carrying capacity – which made Schellnhuber sound like a raving lunatic if one had not read some of the other preceding and increasingly dire assessments (which of course the NYT hadn’t covered) regarding worse than projected emissions levels, higher predicted temps, higher than expected sea levels, etc.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    I think this all goes back to something I keep saying and most people here in the US don’t want to hear: It’s all related to the basics of American culture. Manifest destiny, rugged individualism, a deep-seated distrust of concentrated, centralized power, and a strong inclination to trust businesses.

    Of course, these leanings often conflict–we don’t like big, powerful, centralized government, but we look the other way when it’s big, powerful, centralized corporate power, as long as they keep producing nice shiny things for us to buy. Any attempt to restrain corporations who are demonstrably harming the public raises the cry of “Big Brother!” from some quarters, even in 2009.

    While mainstream Americans almost never think of it in these terms, our overriding philosophy is that good actions for society as a whole are necessarily an emergent property of individuals doing what’s in their own, short-term best interests. This is absurd, as investors in/with Enron, Madoff, and any of the many, many stocks that got crushed in the last six months (thanks to the rampant idiocy that deregulation unleashed on the housing and banking sectors) could tell you. But that’s a hot stove we have to touch over and over again, with no sign that we’ll ever learn the lesson “permanently”.

    A significant portion of the US still thinks that as long as they have their guns, their pickup trucks, and no one telling them what to do, they’re in a virtual utopia. Is it any wonder why environmental Neanderthals like Inhofe keep getting re-elected, or the mainstream media is so scared to cover Copenhagen?

  5. It’s far worse than just the confederate flag waving nuts in the United States.

    18% of the civilized world embrace a wealthy costumed nut who claims that Africa is suffering from a ‘condom mentality’. And that’s the least of it.

  6. Harrier says:

    I’ll thank you not to take cheap shots at the Catholic Church.

  7. I’ll thank you not to take cheap shots at the Catholic Church.

    And I will disrespectfully decline. People like you are the problem, not the solution. It will only get worse for you religious nuts, not better. Get used to it.

  8. lgcarey says:

    Yeah, can’t say I agree with the papal position on contraception, but if we’re going to stand any chance of climbing out of this hole, the faith communities of the world are a likely source of help. Most faiths have some significant teachings about caring for creation. For example, however you feel about evangelical Christians, lots of them take their faith very seriously and a growing number of evangelical leaders are pointing out how we’re completely screwing up what they see as a Biblical duty to preserve creation – whether they figure that out fast enough to make a difference remains to be seen.

  9. paulm says:

    Basically we’re moving to survival mode.

    If things really are as bad as they are then its going to be survival of the fittest.

  10. Jason says:

    I’ve got to agree with lgcarey. I’m here and I care pretty passionately about this issue because of my faith and despite a rather strong libertarian nature. I’m gung ho over regulation because we (those who think that Jesus had some pretty amazing things to say) are compelled to care about the “least” of God’s children as well as a mandate to care for, not dispoil, nature. I’m not saying that Christians haven’t obfuscated Jesus’ teachings with a bunch of crap – we have – but there is some real gold under all of the trappings and wrong turns.

  11. but there is some real gold under all of the trappings and wrong turns.

    Your faith is false. You use your religion as an excuse not to ask any hard questions of yourself, and the universe you live in.

  12. Harrier says:

    Also, Joe, there’s an ad running on this blog promoting drilling, with the tagline ‘tell Congress to unlock America’s oil.’ You might want to see to that.

  13. Informed integrity pushes us to the edge of our comfort zones in the search for truth

  14. lgcarey says:

    Thomas, I’m just curious – if Jason chose to set aside his strong pre-existing political views regarding a libertarian approach to regulation and choose to passionately embrace the contrary idea of regulating CO2 because his faith suggests that such regulation is necessary to protect others and creation, exactly how does that process of personal re-evaluation and radical change in perspective represent avoiding “asking any hard questions of yourself”?

  15. the search for truth

    Wow, that is one nutty bit of blog spam. It is my belief that I should insult and deride your nutty religious beliefs at every opportunity, as I consider them a direct threat to the ability of science to resolve planetary scale problems.

    Will your religious political party be intolerant of my beliefs and rituals as well?

  16. I’m just curious

    I’m curious where I can get a parser to parse your question.

    It’s not a matter of regulation, it’s a scientific and technical matter of removing a hundred gigatons or more of carbon from the atmosphere in as expedient a manner as possible. Clearly regulation is inadequate, carbon combustion must cease. You don’t seem to get that yet.

  17. Jason says:

    Banning carbon combustion is a form of regulation.

  18. Jason says:

    And not that it’s germane to the discussion, but I happened to vote Obama – in fact he’s the first politician that I’ve donated to in my 35 years. I grew up far right, but I’m now independent (which is NOT the same thing as center – I’m hard environmentalist).

  19. Banning carbon combustion is a form of regulation.

    I didn’t say anything about banning it. I simply said it must cease.

    You realize I am illuminating serious flaws in your critical thinking abilities, right?

  20. Julian D says:

    Well said Thomas

  21. And the hard question Jason must ask himself, is how he intends to stop doing what he knows to be detrimental to the future of life on the planet Earth.

    I promised myself I won’t dominate this blog for long stretches.

    Good luck, you’ll need it, prayer is so ineffective.

    Have a nice St. Patrick’s day!

  22. Jason says:

    Your statements are inconsistent. You state: “regulation is inadequate, carbon combustion must cease. You don’t seem to get that yet.” I stated that regulation can ban carbon combution (e.g. step 1 is ban coal plants). Banning is one form of getting it to cease – I do get that comsupmtion must end (and soon). I did not state that regulation is the only possible route. I also favor lifestyle changes and a massive reduction in comsumerism. And I have made significant changes in my own life and am attempting to make more. So where’s the inconsistency?

  23. Ray says:

    Perhaps people are beginning to doubt global warming. Polling trends say as such and the earth temperature has been quite stable for a decade.

    [JR: First sentence is certainly true of conservative leaning people. Second half of second sentence is not true.]

  24. Jay Alt says:

    Some churches have been slower to move than others. It would be counterproductive and foolish to underestimate the influence of religion on the public as it identifies climate change as a moral issue.

    Statement by US Catholic Bishops – 2001

    . . .”At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both ‘the human environment’ and the natural environment.” . . .

  25. ecostew says:


    One must look at the longer-term trend.

  26. Sasparilla says:

    I have to second what ecostew said – here in the US, at least on the paper’s that I check (daily for the most part – NYT, Wall Street, Washington Post and LA Times) the Climate Denier party got one or two articles in each one. The Copenhagen Climate Science Congress was literally not covered (other than the don’t take this seriously piece by that do nothinger in the New York Times and a link to a blog page in LA Times). The rest of the world needs to know how warped things are over in the US, even now.

    This was big and hugely important (even in the warped 50 50 viewpoint of much of our press here in the US). I can only surmise why these paper’s ignored this (probably the most important scientific gathering on climate change till the next IPCC in 2012?). We need an independent media as much as we need an independent judiciary and it appears we don’t have one here in the US on this issue in particular (alot of big advertisers for the NYT and others like ExxonMobil probably like this behavior by the papers). There’s alot of hope around here but there’s alot of fronts where we have been and continue to loose the war to educate our public – this is the perfect example.

    Joe great article. I’m not sure even the label of Tragic for the papers behavior covers this, horrific might not even cover it when you think about the possible effects of their behaviors.

  27. Hmpf says:

    What shocked me a bit was that the German media also largely ignored the Copenhagen conference. Seems the British media are the only ones who really get it, these days.

    (Anyone who noticed a significant amount of reporting on the issue in the German media last week, please correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t follow every major newspaper, just most of them.)

  28. Bob Wright says:

    Actually abc News has a nifty little series of video essays called “Nature’s Edge”. The only problem is you have to stay up all night Thursday or find it on the abc web site. Charlie Gibson does the intros, but backs off and lets Bill Blakemore do the controversial stuff (tell the truth).

    Too chicken for prime time I guess. Maybe they want to cover their butts for 10-15 years from now when everyone cries “Where was the MSM when all this was going down!”

  29. Fred Smith says:

    >your faith is false…

    Oh, that’s going to help us solve our climate change problems!

    Joe gives us great information and a fantastic forum. I often learn as much from the comments as from Joe’s postings. So let’s not form a circular firing squad.

    People here would be up in arms if a religious person started proselytizing and bashing unbelievers. Let’s not have the unreligious doing it.

  30. Ray says:

    [JR: First sentence is certainly true of conservative leaning people. Second half of second sentence is not true.]

    According to Gallup Dem, Rep, and Ind all show the same trend.

    “As recently as 2006, significantly more Americans thought the news underestimated the seriousness of global warming than said it exaggerated it, 38% vs. 30%. Now, according to Gallup’s 2009 Environment survey, more Americans say the problem is exaggerated rather than underestimated, 41% vs. 28%.”

    I will need to see where you get your information. GISS, HadCrut, NOAA, UAH and RSS graphs, when overlain or averaged show a stable temperature.

  31. your faith is false…

    Oh, that’s going to help us solve our climate change problems!

    Yes it is. Immensely. The truth hurts, doesn’t it. Good. It is my intension to insult you, to offend you, to shock you, and to provoke you. Get used to it.

  32. Your statements are inconsistent.

    Sorry to inform you, but your posts are no longer worth even reading.

    Not only to you not yet get it, you refuse to get it, even when someone takes the time to lay out your preconceptions in the most evidential manner.

    Sad. But true.

  33. Ben Lieberman says:

    A notion of news and the collapse of the news media both contribute to the problem. We know very well about the problem of false balance: some people believe that seawater is safe to sail in, but others think sea water is boiling hot. But there is another structural problem with the news media in the US: a lack of interest in covering something that is not “new” unless it is dressed up as new through some mock controversy or insult. Another probelm lies in the fact that American news organizations are collapsing and employ fewer and fewer reporters to cover any story, especially one that would require an airplane ticket and hotel room in an exotic and distanct city such as Copenhagen.

  34. David B. Benson says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz — Carbon compustiion need not cease so long as the resulting carbon dioxide is properly removed from the atmosphere.

  35. Carbon combustion need not cease so long as the resulting carbon dioxide is properly removed from the atmosphere.

    That will surely make the oil, coal and gas sh_t stain go away.

    Let me explain it to you as gently as I can -you people are so delusional (the religiously faithful especially so) that the only credible response I can think of is to inform you that you yourselves are the sh_t stains on reality. Seriously, am I being clear enough here? I have very little respect for muddled thinking.

    I’m out of here, this has become unproductive for me.

  36. David B. Benson says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz — Bye. Hope you regain your poise soon.

  37. jorleh says:

    Fine story Joe. People really don`t know where we are going. A few days ago Jorma Ollila presented in Helsingin Sanomat the oil company Shell`s vision of the future of oil (Ollila being head of board of Shell and Nokia). That future was in short business-as-usual. There was nothing of the real science of the climate change. And, however, we are heading for 1000 ppm. Is the case lost?

  38. Pete Best says:

    There is simply not enough fossil fuel for this A1F1 scenario to surface. Oil will be a problem come 2020, we cannot simply state that we have enough of the stuff to being forth scenarios such as these. If peak oil occurs and there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that it will then the cost of the stuff will rocket, exports to places such as the USA will srop off and we can expect another war or too.

  39. Brian S. says:

    I’d suggest that people with faith just ignore Thomas Lee Elifritiz. He uses blog posts like some people use the bathroom walls — to insult and provoke.

    Science and religion may not be the easiest of fits, but who said life was supposed to be easy? If religion is keeping some people in the dark about climate change, it is, increasingly, motivating others to begin changing their wasteful ways.

    Wasn’t it science that helped get us in this predicament in the first place? Figuring out how the world around us worked helped us create technology to manipulate that world. There’s a whole lot of science involved in the creation of the internal combustion engine, after all. All this was blithely called “scientific progress” until not so long ago. Doesn’t seem like “progress” now, does it?

    Yes, science will be hugely important in helping us get out of the mess that science, and faith, and human nature helped get us into in the first place. But it may only be a science wedded to humility that can save us. Many people find a real humility through faith. Some can get there through science, too.

    Besides, the creation stories of the cosmologists are getting almost as wacky as those of theologians. String theorists talking about universes within universes, quantum weirdness, and maybe we’re all just the Sims:


  40. Fred says:

    Pete : don’t worry about oil, they’ll extract and we’ll happily burn coal and tar sands – which both are much worse about releasing CO2 than oil.

    Just my 2c : French main newspapers hadn’t a single line about Copenhagen either – even in “Le Monde”‘s recently created “Planet” section. And “of course” nothing on TV.

    I’m seriously thinking about going to Copenhagen in December to protest – does anyone know about precise dates and protests being organized ?

  41. lgcarey says:

    Pete – I think that, notwithstanding the real likelihood of peak oil, the data regarding total fossil fuel resources suggest that there’s more than enough remaining fossil resources to create a climate catastrophe if we insist on burning all the fossil fuel we can get our hands on, working our way to ever harder to extract resources: all the natural gas, all the coal, all the tar sands, all the oil shale, all the methane deposits, etc.

  42. Besides, the creation stories of the cosmologists are getting almost as wacky as those of theologians.

    Mathematics and physics are indeed wacky. Honest people just shouldn’t be basing their cosmological speculations on things like that, they should just let their imaginations run wild.

  43. James Reed says: Leave lies at the door, and bring misconceptions.
    Human CO2 is not a sin, and will not bring about the apocalypse. <- Is a powerpoint and must be opened either using powerpoint or google.

    Contact me and I will happily discuss global warming.

  44. glennz says:

    I’m not worried about a thing!
    except maybe penguings not being able to get through the ice in antartica.
    the “professor” will next be in the ice breaker business!

  45. John A says:

    And the hard question Jason must ask himself, is how he intends to stop doing what he knows to be detrimental to the future of life on the planet Earth.

    I promised myself I won’t dominate this blog for long stretches.

    Good luck, you’ll need it, prayer is so ineffective.

    Have a nice St. Patrick’s day!