"Breaking: The earth is breaking … but how about that Royal Wedding?"
Obviously, large parts of the Earth are breaking up at an unprecedented rate — with dire implications for humanity:
- JPL bombshell: Polar ice sheet mass loss is speeding up, on pace for 1 foot sea level rise by 2050
- Arctic Death Spiral 2010: Navy’s oceanographer tells Congress, “the volume of ice as of last September has never been lower”¦in the last several thousand years”
But that isn’t sexy enough to get the kind of round-the-clock media attention lavished on the royal couple. Salon slammed the media obsession with William and Kate:
As you read this, the big three morning shows — “Good Morning America,” “Today” and “The CBS Morning News” — are continuing to re-hash, analyze and replay the ceremony on tape while going live to various correspondents and experts in England and elsewhere. The morning shows usually run two hours — more if an affiliate takes their built-in spillover, but for the sake of argument let’s just say they did two hours’ worth, and add that to the overnight coverage, which ran four hours in some cases, bringing the total to six. And then let’s ask ourselves this question: When’s the last time the top guns of the American electronic media covered an event, any event, for six hours straight without any significant interruption, at any hour of the day or night?
It’s been so long I can’t remember offhand. The countdown to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, maybe….though I was a TV critic then, too, and I don’t recall the medium’s biggest and most important outlets spending so much time on that one gravely important topic to the exclusion of other news. They certainly don’t do that kind of thing for the State of the Union Address, or for the president’s meeting with any significant head of state, or for Congressional debates about urgent issues of foreign or domestic policy, even for the funerals of our most significant and beloved (or despised) leaders. American presidential inaugurations don’t rate that many nonstop, laser-focused hours. Even the run-up to our own annual homegrown orgies of celebrity worship, the SuperBowl and the Oscars, don’t go on for four to six hours on every major broadcast network and cable news outlet simultaneously, to the exclusion of everything else. This sort of thing is mostly just not done — except when the royal family of the United Kingdom, our onetime estranged national parent, adds a new member via nuptials.
This, apparently, is what it takes to get the media’s undivided attention: the marriage between two people who are politically powerless, and who spend their waking lives as designated fetish objects for the United Kingdom’s interested citizenry, for Anglophiles the world over, and for the celebrity-fixated media. Our collective Ken and Barbie dolls.
We love looking at their clothes and shoes and cars and security details and following tabloid reports of their social events and private miseries and misadventures. We comb newsstands and Google for photos of the latest royal baby.
This, according to TV news, is what we really, really, really, really, really care about.
Well, it is a real-life reality show, staged like a reality show, only more lavish. So the coverage makes sense in terms of the media’s ongoing love affair with that genre, whose benefit to their parent companies is not so much the large audiences (which only a few such shows actually receive) as it is the low cost of production. And heck, Britain was kind enough to pay for this ostentatious event in the midst of their austerity death spiral.
Meanwhile, media coverage of climate change goes in the tank (see Silence of the Lambs: Media herd’s coverage of climate change “fell off the map” in 2010). Future generations will be baffled by our priorities — and the media’s.
One last point. Climate Central has a post on “Royal Weddings and Climate Change.” They “are excited because in central England, where Prince William and Kate Middleton wed today, people have directly measured temperature for longer than anywhere else in the world. Ever since 1659 … scientists have continuously taken thermometer readings in this region of England”:
This data set has been compiled by the Met Office of the Hadley Center, and it represents the average temperature across a triangular area of the U.K. between Bristol, Lancashire, and London.
Like most temperature records, it shows a moderate warming, especially over the past few decades. (Source: Climate Central)
Climate Central discusses the impact of temperature on wedding attire in the past and conclude:
The projections for England, based on the average of climate models as reported by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is for the average yearly temperatures in England to rise by an additional three to five degrees Fahrenheit this century.
What this means for Royal Weddings and proper Royal Wedding attire, only time will tell.
In fact, we can draw a much stronger conclusion than that about future royal weddings.
Climate Central cites the average of the IPCC models. But that approach greatly underestimates what we face on our current emissions path:
- The average includes a great many low emissions scenarios that our current inaction renders implausible if not nearly impossible.
- Second, few of those models do a good job at incorporating even most of the known feedbacks — and none models what is almost certainly the most dangerous carbon-cycle feedback, the thawing of the permafrost (see “NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100“).
Fortunately, the UK’s Met Office itself has fixed that problem. Given that their data is the source for the above chart, it seems only fair to look at their projections into the future. Back in December 2008, Dr. Vicky Pope, head of climate change predictions at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre reported on their modeling which showed “catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path.
Then in 2009 Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, laid out the worst-case scenarios in a terrific and terrifying talk (audio here, PPT here), which I discuss here: UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”
Finally, in November 2010, the Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world “” which we may face in the 2060s!
To be clear, the worst-case scenario is NOT the 5°C warming — that is simply business as usual warming in Hadley’s model as well as MIT’s (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F).
What is “worst-case” is that if we stay on our current high emissions pathway for another few decades and the carbon cycle feedbacks turn out to be strong (as observations and paleoclimate data suggest they will be) then it could happen by the 2060s. It could look something like this [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:
[This is ‘only the ‘moderate’ A1B scenario, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 520 ppm in 2050 and 700 in 2100 (to which they add feedbacks). The worst-case scenario, the pathway we are currently on, is A1F1 (1000 ppm in 2010).]
In this scenario, the London area is some 5°C (9°F) warmer on average. Again, in the Met Office analysis, the question is not if this happens, but when. Betts wrote in November:
… our best estimate is that the A1FI emissions scenario would lead to a warming of 4°C relative to pre-industrial during the 2070s. If carbon-cycle feedbacks are stronger, which appears less likely but still credible, then 4°C warming could be reached by the early 2060s in projections that are consistent with the IPCC’s ‘likely range’.
On the one hand, the A1FI is quite a high emissions scenario, and I suspect that humanity will turn off of it by 2030. On the other hand, even a much lower emissions like A1B is only a few tenths of a degree centigrade cooler.
So England won’t be “Cool Brittania” anymore and future royal weddings will doubtless not be in the summer or early spring. Winter weddings may become all the rage.
BUT the bigger point is obvious. By sometime in the 2030s at the latest, and probably much sooner (especially if sanity could be restored to the U.S. conservative movement), the entire world is going to be desperately focusing all of its effort on mitigation and adaptation and triage and alleviating suffering in a WWII-scale and WW-style effort.
Further, if we fail to act soon, fail to stop the multiple simultaneous catastrophes that scientists warn are coming on our current emissions path, then most of the population of the world will be blaming the rich countries, including the UK (despite its more serious effort to reduce emissions than, say, the United States) for failing to spend even a small fraction of its wealth to avert the worst (see Introduction to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost).
Bottom Line: If we see anything close to the warming the top experts at the Met Office are warning we face on our current emissions path, then by mid-century it seems all but inconceivable that Britain would engage in such a display of conspicuous consumption.