Why are we at Media Lens utterly terrified by climate collapse while other people we know are mildly concerned, blithely indifferent or cockily contrarian?
The simple answer is that we are doing this full-time and ‘doing this’ includes reading the unfiltered reports and thoughts of top climate scientists on social media all day, every day.
Whenever we take a break from social media, the tendrils of the corporate body-snatchers again start to insinuate themselves. We are soothed by entertainment, by infotainment, by presstitute prestidigitation normalising the unthinkable. Despite a mountain of evidence, we are assured that the crisis is under the management of fundamentally decent, rational leaders. Yes, dear reader, our sense of crisis also abates.
There are two key responses to news of the latest climate disasters:
‘It’s bad, but not that bad. It’s manageable and we can carry on pretty much as normal.’
An alternative take:
‘No, it is that bad. This is just the ball starting to roll – it will gather more and more and more momentum, and it won’t stop. We need drastic change now!‘
The second of these is inarguably correct. The first is the underlying message delivered by state-corporate media that have an existential vested interest in the status quo, in discouraging us from seeking serious change. And this is exactly why the level of public alarm does not yet reflect the terrifying, rollercoaster reality depicted in the soaring and crashing graphs measuring temperatures and ice coverage.
Professor Bill McGuire, Emeritus Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London, tweeted last month:
‘I hope to God I am wrong, but to me, it is looking increasingly as if we have reached some sort of tipping point, with the global temperature, sea-surface temperature, ice loss, and other parameters, all going through the roof.’
McGuire was responding to reports headlined by CNN thus:
‘Four alarming charts that show just how extreme the climate is right now’
The report noted:
‘We’re only halfway through 2023 and so many climate records are being broken, some scientists are sounding the alarm, fearing it could be a sign of a planet warming much more rapidly than expected.’
The ‘four alarming charts’ showed that global air temperatures have risen to record levels in 2023. Oceans are also heating up to record levels and show no sign of stopping. Antarctic sea ice is at record lows. And atmospheric carbon dioxide levels hit a new record high in 2023. But many of these records are not merely being broken, they are being obliterated. Brian McNoldy, an expert in hurricanes and sea level rise at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School, captured it exactly:
‘I know there are a million people sharing temperature anomaly charts and maps lately, but there’s a good reason for that. This is totally bonkers and people who look at this stuff routinely can’t believe their eyes. Something very weird is happening.’
At around the same time, nearly 110 million Americans in the United States were reported to be living in an area the US weather service flagged as ‘experiencing extreme heat’, with at least 100 people having died as a result in Mexico where temperatures came close to 50C. So far this year, the overall heat-related deaths in Mexico are almost triple the figures in 2022.
Professor McGuire tweeted of this crisis:
‘Unfortunately, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.’
CNN notes that some scientists ‘have said while the records are alarming, they are not unexpected due to both the continued rise of planet-heating pollution and the arrival of the natural climate phenomenon El Niño, which has a global heating effect’.
Ryan Stauffer, a NASA scientist studying air pollution and ozone, tweeted an extraordinary map of the United States with huge swathes of territory impacted by extreme heat while other massive areas are suffering from poor air quality thanks to 500 Canadian wildfires, half of which are still out of control. The fires have burned 8 million hectares of land, almost the size of Austria, releasing 160 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. The area destroyed is greater than the combined area burned in 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2022, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Indeed, the area is 11 times the Canadian average for the same period over previous years.
‘What a map. Welcome to the new pyrocene?’
Three major US cities, Chicago, Detroit and Washington DC, were ranked as the top three worst places in the world for air quality. According to the air tracking service IQAir, all three cities’ air being classified as ‘unhealthy’. Atmospheric scientist, Matthew Cappucci commented:
‘D.C. and much of the U.S. will be facing intermittent smoke all summer long – probably until October.’
In Texas, a vast heat dome killing at least 12 people has sent demand for power to a record high as homes and businesses turned up the air conditioning. Under a heat dome, wind patterns trap high pressure in a particular area stretching 5 to 10 miles in altitude and across hundreds or thousands of miles horizontally. These wind patterns are generated by the jet stream, a band of fast-moving air high in the atmosphere, which usually moves in a wavelike pattern. The Financial Times reports:
‘When the waves become larger, they can move more slowly and eventually become stationary, leading to hot or cold air becoming trapped.’
Michael Mann, a Professor of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania, said that climate change was bringing more persistent ‘stuck’ summer jet stream patterns, leading to hot sinking air becoming trapped over one region.
On Democracy Now! science writer Susan Joy Hassol warned that a collapse of Texas’s overstrained electric grid under the heat dome would result in ‘widespread death’:
‘The Texas grid appears to be very vulnerable to a heat event like this because it doesn’t have the capacity to bring in power from other places. And this heat dome is really expanding. They say 50 million people are already exposed to dangerous heat by this heat dome.’
Hassol’s warning recalls comments made in March 2022, when it was widely reported that both poles of the planet had experienced very extreme heat dome events. While the Arctic heat wave saw temperatures an astonishing 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) above normal, temperatures in Antarctica were 34 degrees C (93.2 degrees F) above normal. Professor Jeffrey Kargel, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona, commented:
‘It seems to be a new weather phenomenon, and it is not included in current climate models. If it happened twice in two years, I’ll say it will happen again, and again, in various parts of the globe.’
As though echoing Hassol, Kargel added that we must ask what would happen if a similar event struck Houston, Texas, say, in the middle of summer, when the normal high is 95 degrees F:
‘Okay, let’s just consider the 2021 event… The epicenter of the 2021 event was in Lytton, BC, where the worst day reached a temperature 44 degrees F (24.4 degrees C) warmer than the normal high temperature for late June. Just do simple addition: 95 + 44 = 139 F [59.4 degrees C] … Considering Houston’s normal humidity, I’ll venture a guess: step outdoors in that, even in the shade, and you’ll be dead in a few minutes.’
‘Now, with temperatures possibly attaining the 130’s in Houston, I’ll take it as a given that the electrical grid will collapse. So, no cooling of buildings. There will be some thermal inertia which keeps building interiors cooler than the outside daytime high, but will very many people survive high humidity and indoors temperature say, even in the low 120’s F?
‘How many people would die if the heat dome spanned from Houston to Atlanta? Or Charleston, South Carolina to Boston? Or New Delhi to Ho Chi Minh City?’
Happy British Sunbathers Anticipate Another ‘Sizzler’
Meanwhile, in Britain, the UK has just had the hottest June on record, the Met Office confirmed. The average monthly temperature of 15.8C (60.4F) exceeded the previous highest average June temperature recorded by 0.9C. Previously, heat records were broken by tiny fractions of a degree – almost one degree is an enormous jump.
Worse may soon be on the way. Over standard pictures of happy sunbathers in deckchairs on Bournemouth beach, a Daily Mirror headline read:
‘UK facing scorching “heat dome” with the chance of a 40C hot weather blast in just weeks’
The report noted that ‘global temperatures are breaking records – and are likely to continue breaking records’. Jim Dale, British Weather Services’ senior meteorological consultant, said:
‘… there’s… every chance we’ll break the 35C mark in the second week of July and August. That’s a 50/50 chance.
‘The 40C degrees is more likely in August than in July. But there’s everything to play for as far as the summer is concerned.’
The Mirror noted that the first two weeks of August were the most likely time to see a repeat of last year’s 40 degree C event that the paper described jovially as a ‘sizzler’.
Responding to our comment on the Mirror’s upbeat focus on happy sunbathers, a tweeter replied:
‘Happy working-class people enjoying the summer sunshine. Can’t be having that, can we @medialens?’
To put that comment and the term ‘sizzler’ in perspective, Juley Fulcher, worker health and safety advocate for progressive non-profit Public Citizen, estimates that heat exposure is responsible for as many as 2,000 worker fatalities in the US each year and as many as 170,000 injuries – many of them arising from indoor work in restaurants and warehouses, as well as outside jobs. Fulcher said:
‘It’s a huge problem. Action is long overdue.’
Last November, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, the World Health Organisation’s Regional Director for Europe, commented of Europe:
‘Based on country data submitted so far, it is estimated that at least 15,000 people died specifically due to the heat in 2022. Among those, nearly 4,000 deaths in Spain, more than 1,000 in Portugal, more than 3,200 in the United Kingdom, and around 4,500 deaths in Germany were reported by health authorities during the 3 months of summer.
‘This estimate is expected to increase as more countries report on excess deaths due to heat.’
Professional journalists aside, many people are increasingly concerned about climate collapse for a simple, very good reason. A shocking new survey by the Society of Actuaries Research Institute has found that 53% of Americans reported that extreme weather events – including hurricanes, tornadoes, heatwaves, wildfires and flooding – have adversely affected their health. Moreover, more than half of the respondents reported negative impacts on their property (51%), communities (58%) and feelings of general safety (65%) from extreme weather events.
42% have experienced short-term injury or illness
23% report complications to an existing chronic condition
15% have suffered a long-term injury or a new chronic condition.
Meanwhile, in 2022 alone, five oil companies - ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, and TotalEnergies - more than doubled their profits to an all-time historic record of $200 billion.
How bad is the current situation? Two years ago, Bill McGuire wrote a deeply honest and moving open letter to his climate scientist colleagues. It could not be clearer from his comments, that climate scientists are not telling the truth (and not in the way the climate deniers mean!):
‘In truth, the reason you have never liked to stick your head above the parapet is for fear of being shot at by your peers. As a fellow scientist I understand that – I really do. There is nothing worse than being ridiculed within your own community. It can, I know, mean loss of prestige, a squeeze on funding, and a closing down of opportunities for advancement. I understand, therefore, why you continue to play down anything that might draw attention, why you lie low, tow [sic – toe] the party line.
‘I know, too, what you really think and feel about climate change, because I have talked to many of you in private, and the response – without exception – has been that the true situation is far worse than you are prepared to admit in public. So, behind the facade, I know that you are torn between speaking out and holding back, that you are as desperate as anyone for the measures to be taken that the science demands. Most of all, I know that you fear, as much as anybody else, for your children’s future in the world of climate chaos they will be forced to inhabit.’
It’s not just climate scientists. We need everyone to start speaking out, to expose the corporate media illusion of normality, to demand action immediately.