Breaking: The earth is breaking … but how about that Royal Wedding?

One commenter pointed out that the (HuffPost) icon I used for the post on Bin Laden was actually a good symbol for the “Breaking Earth.”

Obviously, large parts of the Earth are breaking up at an unprecedented rate — with dire implications for humanity:

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:

  1. The average includes a great many low emissions scenarios that our current inaction renders implausible if not nearly impossible.
  2. 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]:

A1B Met

[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.

17 Responses to Breaking: The earth is breaking … but how about that Royal Wedding?

  1. Richard D says:

    “And heck, Britain was kind enough to pay for this ostentatious event in the midst of their austerity death spiral.”

    It will be a boon for our economy. Britan is going to rise to the challenges faced by the 21st century with an industry powered by novelty plates and saucers and other useless paraphernalia. And we’ll escape rising sea levels on the resulting landfill.

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    The highest point in the District of Columbia is 410 feet (125 m) above sea level at Fort Reno in Tenleytown. The lowest point is sea level, which occurs along all of the Anacostia shore and all of the Potomac shore except the uppermost mile (the Little Falls-Chain Bridge area). The sea level Tidal Basin rose eleven feet during Hurricane Isabel on September 18, 2003.

    Wiki –
    At least DC will begin to flood first.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    The melting of Arctic glaciers and ice caps, including Greenland’s massive ice sheet, are projected to help raise global sea levels by 35 to 63 inches (90-160 centimeters) by 2100, AMAP said, though it noted that the estimate was highly uncertain.

    That’s up from a 2007 projection of 7 to 23 inches (19-59 centimeters) by the U.N. panel, which didn’t consider the dynamics of ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctica.

  4. paulm says:

    Britain’s Burning

    After the sun, the fires: Record-breaking dry spell fuels huge moorland blazes across UK

    Rainfall was just 21 per cent of the expected levels, and the average temperature was the hottest since records began 353 years ago.

  5. Richard Brenne says:

    The records taken from 1659 must have been converted in Fahrenheit when that scale was developed in 1724 (Celsius was developed in 1742) though thermometers without scales had been around for over a century before that especially in Italy (including Galileo) and a little later England (including Newton).

    And about the Royal Wedding, here was my previous comment (often lost at the end of long threads) about that:

    It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of the tornadoes affecting so many lives (hundreds dead, thousands injured, millions affected) with the royal wedding about two very privileged people, with two billion gasping in their telegenic presence.

    I was eating a bowl of soup in front of Nightline last night, expecting to hear more about the millions of commoners devastated by the biggest tornado disaster since the Great Depression, and almost experienced a living room tornado from all of Cynthia McFadden’s breathless gushing. “They kissed!” Then, Lord Jesus is my witness, “They kissed again!”

    It might seem that the royal wedding has little to do with climate change, but oddly it does. Celebrity worship of this magnitude (in this case going back hundreds of years) includes the worship of those with the largest carbon and all other footprints, and a desire to try to increasingly be like them.

    Four hundred years ago during the reign of England’s last great monarch (that I know of, I’m an inverse royal scholar, preferring the histories of people like Howard Zinn) Elizabeth, the world might have had somewhere around 100,000 kings, queens, emperors and other inbred and arrogant aristocrats.

    Now we have around a billion people living with access to more food, travel, entertainment, knowledge, comfort and convenience than most pre-20th Century royals could’ve imagined. Our planet doesn’t have the resources and the biosphere can’t handle this many living this lavishly.

    So to celebrate the line of succession that most exemplifies this excess is so silly that Omar Sharif could’ve just as easily returned Peter O’Toole’s arrogant insult in Lawrence of Arabia, and used this broadcast as an example.

    In fact it is this line of succession that kicked off the fossil fuel use that has us looking at our rapidly approaching collective mortality in the royal mirror. Because Henry VIII wanted a male heir and to divorce to find a woman (or several) to provide him with one he separated from the Catholic Church, which meant separating from most of Europe where he’d been getting most of his cannons and other metal objects, and so he set about smelting his own metals (although I’m guessing he had others to do the actual work) to make his own cannons and that caused the deforestation that led to the increasing use of coal and then oil and gas ever since.

    And while life is ideally as much of a meritocracy as possible (best exemplified in the commoner commenters here at CP), royalty is exactly the opposite, an accident of birth. How positively medieval.

    Also the ideal is egalitarianism as all our pre-civilization ancestors have come infinitely closer to being, including every other species from which we’ve evolved. There might be the leader of a tribe, pack or pride, but they don’t have billions of times as much as their poorest members, as our species has so cleverly arranged things.

    In fact I feel climate change is perhaps the main manifestation of our collective bad karma for treating our poorest so abysmally for the 10,000 years since agriculture began. The species we domesticated most was each other.

    And the protocol that one has to bow, avert one’s eyes and otherwise gasp in the presence of one of these accidents of birth? Puh-lease. I got yer pro-to-col right here. . .

  6. Michael Tucker says:

    “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.”

    So I guess the 1000 year celebration of the Norman Conquest is right-out.

  7. Tom Bennion says:


    Thanks for this. It turns out to be an interesting perspective which I will use in discussion with others.

    It makes me wonder whether there is not some means of showing a direct connection between present and future in these terms “every hour of the current BAU reduces life expectancy for young people today by xxx hours”. Is a rough kind of actuary table possible or has it been prepared anywhere?

    BTW, a NZ research organisation has estimated the emissions from the wedding at 6.767 million tonnes.

    Further Discussion here: 6.767 million tonnes.

  8. Tom Bennion says:

    Oops. An interesting further discussion by Ian Angus is here:


    A while back, in an article about a bizarre scheme to let people in Britain offset their carbon emissions by paying for birth control in Madagascar, I wrote:

    “I might take this a little more seriously if the money were used to reduce the birth rate among rich Brits. Just think how much lower England’s emissions would be if aristocrats and bank directors were limited to one spoiled child each. How many Bentleys and Jaguars could be taken off the road if the Royal Family stopped reproducing altogether?”

    Friday’s Royal Wedding confirms my judgement.

    … in one day the Royal family was responsible for pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than 67,700 people in Madagascar produce in an entire year.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    Some Brits hoped the royal wedding would boost their economy through the increased tourism. Wiki: “Tourism accounts for £96 billion of GDP (8.6% of the economy) as of 2009.”

    British tourism must come with whopping carbon footprint, but it’s usually counted against the nationality of the tourists, instead of the destination country.

    Maybe tourist destinations like Bali or the Caribbean or London could be re-branded as Fatal Attractions.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Richard Brenne gets it, I think. The ‘pack of pestiferous Prussian pauper princelings’ in John Norton’s immortal phrase, of the British Royal Family, are the living embodiment of inequality, unmerited privilege and vast discrepancies of wealth and power based on nothing but accident of birth. Hence the Right idolises them as a symbol of the injustice, inequality and rigid societal hierarchy that they seek to impose on humanity. For more or less similar reasons India, that faux ‘democracy’, is preferred by the West to China because the caste system of rigid, inescapable, discrimination and absolute privilege and total subservience, from birth, is one that Western elites immediately identify with as a social model for the future. I avoided the whole despicable farce by watching the football and playing music, very loudly.

  11. Richard Brenne says:

    If meritocracy could somehow marry hierarchy, I’d nominate Mulga as the King of the Right-on, Righteous Rant. They just keep on getting better and better. Amazing!

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Thanks, Richard, but that should be ‘Left-eous’ Rant, pullease!

  13. Joan Savage says:

    The media blitz of the royal wedding proved a somewhat diversionary lead-in to the very substantive material on climate change forecasts from the UK’s Met Office and Hadley Centre.

    A somewhat inconvenient cross-over news item from February:

    – Wed Feb 9, 11:08 am ET

    BRUSSELS – Prince Charles lashed out Wednesday at climate change skeptics, saying they are playing “a reckless game of roulette” with the planet’s future.

  14. Robert In New Orleans says:

    What inquiring minds want to know, is Princess Beatrices Cthulhu Hat a cause of or an effect of Global Warming?

  15. Tom says:

    I love charts with a lots of data as the average temp chart above shows. Please note the those three extreme temp drops. One in 1700, 1800 and finally that one last year 2010. !700 went to an average of 43 degrees, 1800 was 45 and we should have expected that the recent drop in 2010 should have been close or around 45 degrees. Instead we see a temp of 47 degree. This is almost 2 degree above what we should have expected that is something around 45 degrees. So does this chart suggests that a 2 degree tempt ure rise is hear already.

    Some questions that this data is suggesting if the 2 degree is upon us. Is a 2 degree rise possible this early in the forecast models. Most models state that 2050 might see a 2 degrees rise. What are the dire implications if a 2 degree model is here. Especially when we as a global community, are not nearly prepared to handle a 2 degree higher world. The last and most disheartening, how will politician spin a 2 degree increase that is hear today.