Citing grave threat, Scientific American replaces ‘climate change’ with ‘climate emergency’

Scientific American magazine announced Monday that it would stop using the term “climate change” in articles about man-made global warming and substitute “climate emergency” instead.

“Journalism should reflect what science says: the climate emergency is here,” Scientific American senior editor Mark Fischetti said in a Monday post about the magazine’s decision.

To make his point, Fischetti pointed to the mounting number of weather-related disasters that most scientists agree stem from climate change.

“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,” Fischetti wrote. “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.”

The oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., Scientific American is not alone it its decision to highlight what it sees as an emergency requiring immediate action. It joined the Columbia Journalism Review, the Nation, the Guardian, Noticias Telemundo, Al Jazeera, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun and Italy’s La Repubblica in releasing a statement about the change in language.

“The planet is heating up way too fast. It’s time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here,” the statement said, adding, “Why ’emergency’? Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately.”

The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is seen in this undated NASA image. (NASA handout via Reuters)

The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. (NASA handout via Reuters)

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that, despite the pandemic, which curtailed travel and economic activity, carbon dioxide and methane levels in the Earth’s atmosphere continued to rise, reaching their highest levels in the past 3.6 million years. The last time CO2 was at its current levels, global sea levels were 78 feet higher than they are today and the average global temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter.

Scientists have been warning that the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere caused by human activity has already warmed global temperatures by 2 degrees Fahrenheit and is fast melting the polar ice caps.

A study published on Friday in Science magazine found that the massive ice shelf stemming from Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is even more unstable than previously thought, thanks to warming water melting the ice that connects it to land. A collapse of this single ice shelf would translate into a global sea level rise of up to 3 feet, the study concluded.

If global warming isn’t dramatically slowed and global average temperatures do rise by 7.2 degrees (4 degrees Celsius), over one-third of the entire Antarctic ice shelf will be at risk of collapse, said a second study conducted by researchers at the University of Reading, submerging whole countries and states like Florida and setting off the largest migration in human history.

But sea level rise is just one of several threats facing mankind if global temperatures continue to rise, as the statement from Scientific American and the other media outlets made clear.

“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,'” the statement said, quoting from an article in, where else, Scientific American.

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