The popular science magazine Scientific American has been in print since 1845, as a weekly until 1921, and since then as a monthly.
The magazine had never commented on U.S. presidential politics until 2016 when it criticized Donald Trump for his “anti-science” attitude and rhetoric. In 2020, the magazine endorsed Joe Biden for president, citing Trump’s rejection of scientific evidence, especially in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Its editorial said: “Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.”
Yes, the magazine does not do things lightly. And in its latest issue, the magazine published an opinion piece by senior editor Mark Fischetti headlined: “We Are Living In a Climate Emergency and We’re Going to Say So.” The magazine declared it was joining a global initiative by news outlets to use the term “climate emergency” instead of “climate change.”
From Scientific American:
An emergency is a serious situation that requires immediate action. When someone calls 911 because they can’t breathe, that’s an emergency. When someone stumbles on the sidewalk because their chest is pounding and their lips are turning blue, that’s an emergency. Both people require help right away. Multiply those individuals by millions of people who have similar symptoms, and it constitutes the biggest global health emergency in a century: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now consider the following scenarios: A hurricane blasts Florida. A California dam bursts because floods have piled water high up behind it. A sudden, record-setting cold snap cuts power to the entire state of Texas. These are also emergencies that require immediate action. Multiply these situations worldwide, and you have the biggest environmental emergency to beset the earth in millennia: climate change.
Given the circumstances, Scientific American has agreed with major news outlets worldwide to start using the term “climate emergency” in its coverage of climate change.
Of course, being a science magazine, the opinion piece went on to provide the “solid scientific ground” on which it based its decision.
It cited an article published in its January issue about a study entitled “World Scientists Warning of a Climate Emergency” in which more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries signed a report that said bold action is needed to combat the climate emergency now facing the world. The report now has been signed by 13,802 scientists from 156 countries.
The January article said::
“The adverse effects of climate change are much more severe than expected and now threaten both the biosphere and humanity…. Every effort must be made to reduce emissions and increase removal of atmospheric carbon in order to restore the melting Arctic and end the deadly cycle of damage that the current climate is delivering.”
The story also noted that as of January 2021, “1,859 jurisdictions in 33 countries have issued climate emergency declarations covering more than 820 million people.”
The opinion piece concluded by noting that “journalism should reflect what science says: the climate emergency is here.”
In declaring its new policy, Scientific American endorsed a global journalism initiative coordinated by Covering Climate Now.
More than 400 news outlets are supporting the initiative. The particpants include: Columbia Journalism Review, The Nation, The Guardian, Noticias Telemundo, Al Jazeera, Asahi Shimbun and La Repubblica:
The statement endorsed by the participants in Covering Climate Now reads:
The planet is heating up way too fast. It’s time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here.
This is a statement of science, not politics. Thousands of scientists—including James Hansen, the NASA scientist who put the problem on the public agenda in 1988, and David King and Hans Schellnhuber, former science advisers to the British and German governments, respectively — have said humanity faces a “climate emergency.”
Why “emergency”? Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires and ice melt of 2020 routine and could “render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable,” warned the January Scientific American article.
The media’s response to COVID-19 provides a useful model. Guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks and social distancing, for example).
Of course, there are major roadblocks in this country to taking the bold action needed to deal with the climate emergency — namely a major political party which denies that climate change even exists.