How climate change is destroying the Earth

A picture, they say, can be worth a thousand words. I was contacted recently by a group of volunteers who design and research material to help communicate climate change to the general public. They suggested the infographic below might be of interest to ToS readers, and I’m happy to include it below and let you decide whether or not it’s of interest. Infographics have become a very popular way of visually communicating complex messages.

I would take issue with a number of their stats, however. ’30 million people won’t have enough food by 2050′ is odd, given that hundreds of millions of people today don’t have enough food, a situation that will likely reach well into the billions by mid-century. It adds that ’100 million people will die from droughts, storms and diseases caused by climate change’, but unhelpfully doesn’t mention a time scale. On the other hand, their 100-year time scale for projected extinction of the polar bear seems extremely optimist. Sometimes, in trying to make a message easy to grasp, the danger is of over-simplification, but for all that, it’s a useful graphic.

The comparison of Greenland ice sheet loss to the volume of Mount Everest is a highly memorably analogy. I was glad to see them finger the grotesque mismatch between the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists on the reality and gravity of global warming versus the 72% of ‘skeptical’ output from (US) media organisations.

Witnessing this skepticism even creep into Ireland’s Paper of Record is a cause of concern. Just last month, the Irish Times’s Science Editor was able (in an unsigned report from the AAAS conference in Boston) to insert the following, quite astonishing statement: ”More evidence is, however, needed to prove that our warming climate is being caused by human activity”. To call this wrong doesn’t do justice to the word ‘wrong’.

When challenged in that paper’s letters page, Dick Ahlstrom offered the following clarification:

“The wording of the report unfortunately does not make clear what I intended to say. I had sought to clarify whether it was correct to say any specific storm such as Sandy was caused directly by climate change as a result of human activity. I asked the scientists at the briefing if they would confirm this, but they cautioned against making such a claim. While it is clear and unambiguous that the incidence of severe storms has risen markedly, it was not possible to connect a specific storm event with human activity”.

If the above sounds like a simple case of a slip of the pen, then Ahlstrom’s ‘clarification’ hardly helped. The “wording of the report” is the bit the journalist writes and his choice of words was in fact quite unambiguous. Sometimes a headline is added by a sub-editor that may alter the meaning of a piece, but this was clearly not the case here. Oddly, Ahlstrom ran into a similar kerfuffle last May with another quite amazing (for a science journalist in a broadsheet newspaper) headline: ‘Latest statistics show no evidence global warming is taking place’.

He rushed online to clarify that this had misrepresented his piece (in this case, a fair complaint) but within the body of said article Ahlstrom’s choice of language clearly supported the tone of the headline. Barry McMullin of DCU challenged him online, by pointing out the journalist’s language, including: “Yet there is no evidence in these figures to prove that global warming is at play.” Then there was: “People may seek evidence that climate change is under way but they won’t find it here.”. And then: “… 30 years is far too short a period to be able to say whether a temperature trend is under way.” 

McMullin expressed his puzzlement thus: “So, in summary, the story repeatedly mentions “climate change”, which strongly suggests that it does somehow bear on that subject; but all it actually (logically) says is that this data is not relevant to the study of climate change. If that is literally so, why mention climate change at all?”

Another online contributor, Michelle Rodgers, cut to the chase: “You have consistently ignored the issue of climate change, while all other media feature it, your Environment section never seems to cover climate change, and now when you finally do mention it you come out with a headline like this that flies in the face of all the evidence. It’s so disappointing.”

I have long been puzzled at how little coverage climate change, the world’s most pressing ‘science’ story, has received on the IT’s science page in recent years (the not-so-honorable exception being columnist William Reville, who repeatedly, egregiously and unapologetically misrepresented climate science, which he appeared to regard as some vast Green/communist/athiest/leftie conspiracy). It is therefore even more regrettable that when it is covered, in the year 2013 a line flatly denying the overwhelming scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change can find its way into a “news” report.

And now, after getting that off my chest, here’s the infographic, which comes courtesy of  LearnStuff.com

ThinkOrSwim is a blog focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
This entry was posted in Global Warming, Media, Sustainability. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Deirdre Joyce

    Like the infographic – what is its websource or can you post the link and contact details of the voluntary organisation who created it. Thanks

  • Cathyart

    Hi John,

    I’m finding the piechart that was adopted at the UN Rio summit last year has a much clearer role in thinking about the holist roots of the earth’s problems, and getting beyond just the focus of climate change… You might be interested in the post/images here http://ecoartfilm.com/2013/03/08/lets-be-clear-the-anthropocene-is-the-age-of-the-sociopath/

    regards
    Cathy

  • http://twitter.com/think_or_swim John Gibbons

    Hi Deirdre, the source of the graphic is LearnStuff.com. The direct link to the relevant page on their site is:
    http://www.learnstuff.com/climate-change/

  • http://twitter.com/think_or_swim John Gibbons

    Hi Cathy, yes, very much enjoyed your post, and thanks for alerting me. Followed one of the links to the quite excellent one-pager: ‘Age of the Sociopath’ from Derrick Jensen:
    http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/age_of_the_sociopath/

    Agree entirely that climate change is but one large thread in the noose of crises that is throttling the entire biosphere. The more I read, the more I’m exposed to the topic, the more apparent it has become to me that ‘fixing’ climate change is utterly beyond us, as is ‘saving the planet’. I very much doubt we can save ourselves as a species, let alone the rest of life on Earth, even if we did actually want to.