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Scientific American to Use 'Climate Emergency' in Magazine's Future Coverage

"This idea is not a journalistic fancy," writes a senior editor. "We are on solid scientific ground."

A law enforcement officer watches flames launch into the air as fire continues to spread at the Bear Fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

A law enforcement officer watches flames launch into the air as fire continues to spread at the Bear Fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

After over 175 years of publishing, Scientific American made a major editorial announcement on Monday: the historic U.S. magazine will officially adopt the term "climate emergency" for its coverage of the human-caused crisis.

The move came as part of a new initiative led by Covering Climate Now, a global consortium of media outlets dedicated to improving climate coverage. SciAm was one of the nine initial signatories of the Climate Emergency Statement.

Common Dreams is a member of the consortium, has signed on to the new statement, and has been using the term climate emergency in our reporting for several years.

Mark Fischetti, a senior editor at Scientific American, detailed the decision on the outlet's website Monday. He wrote:

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.

"This idea is not a journalistic fancy. We are on solid scientific ground," Fischetti added, citing a climate emergency declaration from over 13,800 global scientists.

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That declaration, as Common Dreams previously reported, initially came in late 2019—but has garnered additional support since—and was spearheaded by William J. Ripple of Oregon State University's Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society.

"Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all rising," Ripple said at the time. "All of these rapid changes highlight the urgent need for action."

Ripple and other scientists who launched the effort wrote for Scientific American in January that "as we move into 2021 and beyond, we need a massive-scale mobilization to address the climate crisis, including much more progress on the six steps of climate change mitigation." They outlined various priorities for energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy, and population.

Fischetti highlighted another pair of lines from the piece by Ripple and his colleagues:

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.

Echoing the new Climate Emergency Statement, Fischetti concluded that "journalism should reflect what science says: the climate emergency is here."

Scientific American's new policy comes months after another major move. Last September, SciAm's editors gave President Joe Biden the first-ever presidential endorsement in the magazine's long history, warning that "the 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death."

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