The scientific arm of the United Nations issued an urgent report on climate change this week that highlighted the human influence on the environment and projected a warmer future unless drastic measures to curb fossil-fuel emissions are taken. News organizations rang the alarm bells, with headlines that described the report’s findings as “devastating,” a “‘code red for humanity’,” and depicting “a fast-warming world where ‘nobody is safe.’”
While the report shows that manmade, negative effects of climate change are now undeniable, the news isn’t all bad, says Matthew Nisbet, professor of communication, public policy, and urban affairs at Northeastern. “I actually have a very positive outlook on this report,” says Nisbet, who studies scientific communication and is the editor-in-chief of the journal Environmental Communication.
Nisbet says the attention-grabbing headlines and social media posts are designed to do just that: grab our attention. But a closer read of the report—issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the U.N.—reveals some promising improvements over the last several years.
The latest report estimates that the long-term temperature rise expected as the result of doubling the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—a calculation that’s known as “equilibrium climate sensitivity”—is slightly cooler than scientists predicted in their 2018 report.