There was a quiet change this week in the tone of climate coverage. Long siloed, the conversation took on at least a temporary new urgency and insistence after a UN report predicting dire effects as soon as 2040 — just 22 years from now.
I asked Axios science editor Andrew Freedman, who has covered the issue since the early 2000s, if he agreed there's been a shift. After putting his toddler to bed, Andrew tapped out these fascinating insights about Sunday night's UN report:
- "Initially, I didn't think this would get the blanket coverage that it did. Cynically, I figured many reporters would dismiss it as 'scientists call for totally unrealistic thing to happen.'"
- "However, as I read the report last weekend to prepare Axios' coverage, I sensed the urgency with which these scientists approached their work, and the message they intended to send — that the warming impacts we thought we'd see at higher amounts of warming, we're already seeing."
- "Time's up: It's take action now, or pay for it later."
- "Unfortunately, I think some stories went too far, and conveyed a 'Time's up: It's act now or we all die' sort of message, which isn't accurate and is utterly immobilizing."
Why it matters, from Andrew ... "If there was any doubt that this should be story #1, it was laid to rest by the combination of this report and the events of this week: An astonishingly strong hurricane, which ravaged the Gulf Coast, was forming at the same time scientists held a press conference in Incheon, South Korea, to release the findings."
- "Some publications have recognized this more than others: Climate change is not just a political story. It's not a he said/she said thing anymore — the science is too clear, the impacts too obvious, the serious impacts as well as deployable solutions too imminent."
- "Now it's a business story, a human interest story, a legal story and increasingly a technology one as well."
Andrew told me that he's a bit surprised by how much coverage the report got, since it said something not entirely new, but definitely more urgent. It lit a bigger fire than he thought it would.
- "Many climate experts tend to think, perhaps for sanity's sake, that we can't really be so stupid a species as to drive straight off the climate cliff. Yet so far, that's the direction we've been heading. This report was like a quick pit stop along that road, with everyone at a roadside diner warning us to turn around."
Go deeper: In a new story, Andrew talked with three scientists who have gravitas in terms of their research work, but are also skilled at humanizing the problem.