Just Look Up!: The Sixth IPCC Report, Polar Temperature Spikes, and the Slap Seen Around the World

Updated: Apr 13

This is the second in a series of six blog posts about media literacy and the climate emergency. See the first post here.

Don’t Look Up, the Oscar-nominated Netflix film warning of the dangers of an impending planetary crisis, was repeatedly criticized because its satire of US politics and media was seen as a heavy handed and melodramatic caricature. But the spectacle of Will Smith’s live TV assault on Chris Rock during the 94th Academy Awards ceremony and how it obscured alarming climate news, demonstrates that reality is more than sufficient to supply an over-the-top parody of itself.

Graph depicting rising temperature in the Artic
via The Economist

As The Slap Seen Around the World saturated the media, there was little notice of two major climate news items that should have been blaring with all the bells and whistles of a breaking news alert. First is the unbelievable spike in temperature in the poles, in which the Arctic reached 50°F and Antarctica 70°F above normal.

The second is the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is its bleakest yet. As stated by UN Secretary General António Guterres, “Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering, and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” During the week of the report’s release, a series of actions by Scientist Rebellion, in which climate scientists engaged in civil disobedience to draw attention to the dire conditions of the climate, also were ignored by mainstream media.

Correspondingly, the news is dominated by Russia’s war on Ukraine. But this needs to be framed within the larger problem of the climate crisis. Many argue that this war is the latest in a series of fossil fuel wars that wouldn’t exist had we already transitioned into decentralized renewable energy infrastructures.

The IPCC report summarizes many dangers that impact all of us, requiring an all-hands-on-deck approach from educators and schools. It’s now a certainty that no region in the world will be unimpacted by the climate emergency; half the global population is highly vulnerable; major ecosystems are losing their capacity to absorb CO2; and we have three years to peak our emissions until we cut them drastically.

But of interest to media literacy, this is the first IPCC report to cite misinformation as a major hurdle to climate action.

Quoting the North America section of the report (Chapter 14, p. 3):

“Addressing these risks have been made more urgent by delays due to misinformation about climate science that has sowed uncertainty, and impeded recognition of risk (high confidence)”;

“Despite scientific certainty of the anthropogenic influence on climate change, misinformation and politicization of climate change science has created polarization in public and policy domains in North America, particularly in the US, limiting climate action (high confidence).”

"Climate Science Basics"
via 350

In a future post I will outline what media literacy can do to address climate misinformation, but clearly the IPCC is calling media literacy folks to jump into the mix.

For the record, it’s necessary to state clearly why the climate crisis touches all aspects of society. 350.org’s summary of climate emergency science offers a succinct overview. Here I supplement it with my own comments (350.org’s wording in italics):

· It’s warming. The UN Climate Programme reports: “Climate change is real and human activities are the main cause. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere is directly linked to the average global temperature on Earth. The concentration has been rising steadily, and mean global temperatures along with it, since the time of the Industrial Revolution. The most abundant greenhouse gas, accounting for about two-thirds of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), is largely the product of burning fossil fuels.” To prevent warming beyond 1.5°C, we need to reduce emissions by 7.6% every year from this year to 2030. The status quo puts us on a course for a rise to at least 4°C, which will wipe out living conditions for civilization.

· It’s us. When we say “us,” it’s important that we contextualize the term. The myth of the Anthropocene blames equally all humans for the climate emergency, but it’s caused by a minority of the world’s population and is the direct result of the dominant global economic system. The most vulnerable populations in the world who contributed the least CO2 emissions are the greatest victims, leading to planetary ecological apartheid. What we need is climate justice.

· We’re sure. Climate change is not a belief—it’s scientific fact. A review of scientific journal articles demonstrates that, “Greater than 99% consensus on human caused climate change in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.”

· It’s bad. Across the world we are experiencing record-breaking extreme heat, ocean warming/acidification, accelerated storms, sea level rise/melting ice, and loss of habitat and migration for human and nonhuman alike. See: “The climate disaster is here.”

· We can fix it. You don’t have to face it alone. We have solved global environmental problems in the past, such as the ozone hole. The good news is that we know what we must do: keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition from fossil fuel culture to a decarbonized economy.

Tweet from @ClimateBen
via @ClimateBen on Twitter

Discussing how to get media to cover the climate crisis will be the topic of a future post in this series, as well as how media literacy can respond. As noted in at tweet by lit teacher Ben See, the short version is this: “State & corporate media are owned, influenced, & controlled by groups & individuals who risk losing their wealth & power if humans choose the right response to this ecological emergency: we must reassess & replace the global growth economy.”

The slap we should really pay attention to is the one we are getting from an unstable climate. It’s time to look up!


This post’s soundtrack is The Clash’s “London Calling.” Play loudly.

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