Projected collapse of crucial Antarctic current met with media silence

Science doesn’t guide U.S. corporate media, which were virtually silent on the landmark study.

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SOURCEFAIR

On the heels of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (3/20/23), which featured scientists running out of ways to emphasize how urgently deep cuts in fossil fuel use are needed, a troubling new climate study has emerged. Published in the prominent peer-reviewed science journal Nature (3/29/23), the study found that a little-studied deep ocean circulation system is slowing dramatically, and could collapse this century. One IPCC author not involved in the study declared it “headline news.” Unfortunately, science doesn’t guide U.S. corporate media, which were virtually silent on the landmark study.

The authors modeled the effects of Antarctic meltwater on deep ocean currents crucial to marine ecosystems. Similar to the more well-studied Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) that the Gulf Stream is a part of, and which is also known to be dangerously weakening, the Antarctic overturning circulation has major planetary impacts. It pushes nutrient-dense water from the ocean floor up toward the surface, where those nutrients support marine life. The Nature study, which also refers to the current as the Antarctic Bottom Water, found that this circulation system is projected to slow down 42% by 2050, with a total collapse “this century,” according to study co-author Matthew England (CNN.com, 3/29/23).

CNN: Crucial Antarctic ocean circulation heading for collapse if planet-warming pollution remains high, scientists warn

CNN (3/29/23) was the only major U.S. media outlet we could find covering the news that a crucial Antarctic ocean current could collapse in this century.

This is indeed “headline news,” with major impacts on the sustainability of marine ecosystems and the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, accelerating climate change. And this deep warming could cause further ice melt, which isn’t incorporated into the study’s models—meaning this could all happen even faster than their model predicts.

Yet FAIR could find no record of any U.S. newspaper even mentioning the Nature study in the week since it came out—let alone giving it the front-page coverage it inarguably deserves. Nor did we find mentions on national T.V. news programs, aside from CNN anchor Michael Holmes interviewing England for the network’s 3 a.m. airing of CNN Newsroom (4/1/23). Aside from science- and environment-focused news outlets (Conversation, 3/29/23; Grist, 4/3/23, picked up by Salon, 4/3/23), almost no major U.S.-based web outlets offered reports either, with the exception, again, of CNN.com (3/29/23), which ran a creditable article by Australian-based journalist Hilary Whiteman.

Toronto-based wire service Reuters (3/29/23), the London Guardian (3/29/23) and BBC (3/30/23) also published articles.

Climate activist Bill McKibben (Crucial Years, 4/2/23) argued that Donald Trump’s arrest, which dominated headlines the day the Nature study came out, was far less remarkable as news goes. “Him ending up in trouble for tax evasion to cover up an affair with a porn star seems unlikely only in its details,” McKibben wrote, while the Antarctic story was “one of the most important installments in the most important saga of our time, the rapid decline of the planet’s physical health.”

Last year, FAIR (4/21/22) found that after paying brief lip service to that year’s IPCC report, T.V. news networks virtually ignored the climate crisis for the next six weeks—when they had a chance to pay lip service to the crisis again on Earth Day. Perhaps the Nature study came too soon after the IPCC report, and corporate media had had their fill of news requiring viewers to question the grip the fossil fuel industry—a major news advertiser—has on politics. In any case, the shocking lack of coverage of Nature‘s devastating study demonstrates, once again, that corporate media’s commitment to a livable planet comes nowhere close to matching the urgency of the situation.

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