An Ocean-sized Reminder of the Climate Emergency

The latest in climate reporting, including our media analysis, professional opportunities, and the week's essential climate news.

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Laypersons call it the Gulf Stream. It’s the current of relatively warm ocean water that flows from the Gulf of Mexico across the Atlantic ocean to Europe. And it’s a big part of why the British Isles and the rest of Europe enjoy the temperate climates they do, even though their land masses are as far north as icy Newfoundland, Canada. Without the Gulf Stream, it’s questionable whether northern Europe would ever have supported as many human inhabitants as it does.

This week, The GuardianCBS News, and other Covering Climate Now partners reported that the Gulf Stream—or, as it’s technically known, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation—is the weakest it’s been in more than a millennium, with climate change the likely cause. The Gulf Stream could weaken even further, experts say, if humanity fails to counter global heating by reigning in emissions. Such additional weakening will lead to punishing extreme weather in Europe and worsening sea level rise on the US East Coast. Decades down the line, it could even lead to a “tipping point” that tosses global weather systems into chaos.

But climate breakdown like this is not a foregone conclusion. As CBS’s Jeff Berardelli writes, “The decisions we make now in terms of how quickly we transition away from fossil fuels will determine the outcome.”

Nevertheless, for climate reporters, this news is a harrowing reminder that the climate emergency is a story that’s unfolding all around us, on a planetary scale, even as a majority of our climate coverage focuses on politicians, businesses, activists, and other power players. It’s also why, at Covering Climate Now, we call the climate emergency the story of our time, and a story that deserves the attention of every beat in every newsroom.

New and Recent From CCNow

REMINDER: April Joint Coverage Week. Per our announcement in February, CCNow’s next joint coverage week is set for April 12-22, in the lead up to Earth Day and President Biden’s global climate summit. Our theme of coverage is “Living Through the Climate Emergency.” In addition to reporting the science that calls today’s circumstances a climate emergency, we encourage partners to run human-centered stories drawn from every beat in the newsroom. To help journalists prepare, we’ve created a new reporting guide, which unpacks what we mean when we say that climate is a story for every beat. Stay tuned for more details!

**Already know your plans for the coverage week? We’re putting together a preview of the week and would love to know what you’re working on! By March 10, email And don’t worry if you prefer to send ideas later; we’ll distribute further previews before the week kicks off. Thank you!**

Talking Shop Recap. Our Talking Shop webinar last week focused on how to boost your climate reporting confidence, no matter what beat you’re on. With great panelists from Time, CBS News, HuffPost, and Climate Matters in the Newsroom, we covered the basics on the science, politics, and economics of climate change, and we talked ideas for how to tell human-centered stories that will engage audiences. Check out highlights and a recording of the event here…

ICYMI. Last week, Andrew McCormick, CCNow’s deputy director, wrote about how journalists can counter and call out climate disinformation, which is sure to increase now that meaningful climate action is finally under discussion in Washington. The piece, like all Climate Beat columns, is available for republication by CCNow partners.

Some of the Week’s Essential Climate Coverage

  • If the weakening Gulf Stream doesn’t convince you humanity faces a climate emergency, how about the fact that our planet is on track for roughly 70 feet of sea level rise? Not anytime soon, luckily. But the last time there was as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as there is today, about 2.9 million years ago, seas were 70 feet higher—enough to submerge virtually every major coastal city on earth. For CCNow partner The Invading Sea, Professor Harold R. Wanless of the University of Miami, a giant in the field of geological sciences, writes that the only way out “is to stop burning fossil fuels … and remove most of the extra carbon dioxide we have put in [the atmosphere].”
  • The UN climate chief, Patricia Espinosa, says emissions reductions plans submitted to the UN so far, by more than 75 countries, are nowhere near as ambitious as they need to be for the world to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, Reuters reports. “It is incredible to think that just when nations are facing a (climate) emergency that could eventually end human life on this planet … many are sticking to their business-as-usual approach,” Espinosa said.
  • In better news, in 2020, renewable energy sources in the US generated more electricity than coal for the first time ever. As Inside Climate News reports, “The continuing rise of wind and solar power, combined with the steady performance of hydroelectric power, was enough for renewable energy sources to surge ahead of coal,” per new figures from the Energy Information Administration.
  • From The Guardian, a smart rundown of Deb Haaland’s Senate confirmation hearing, which in many ways became a “proxy fight” over fossil fuels. Haaland, who is Biden’s nominee for Interior Secretary and widely viewed as a champion of climate action, stayed largely above the fray but faced harsh questions from Republicans with deep industry ties—a preview of fights to come as the US weighs a transition away from fossil fuels.
  • In the past twelve years, fracking has radically altered Pennsylvania’s rural landscapes. In an excellent four-part series called “Fractured,” based on a two-year scientific study, Environmental Health News investigates the sweeping human impacts of the controversial extraction technique. They found frightened families, upended lives, and chronically dirty air and drinking water, with some chemical concentrations as high as 91 times the US average.

Republication Recommendations

The following stories deserve special attention and consideration for republication and/or rebroadcast by CCNow partners:

For partners: to submit stories for sharing, please use this Google Form. As always, instructions for republishing and the full list of stories available for republication can be found in our Sharing Library.

Odds and Ends

MIT Journalism Fellowship applications open. The inaugural MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative’s Journalism Fellowship, hosted by the MIT ESI Here & Real project, is accepting applications through April 4, 2021. The four-month Fellowship supports freelance or staff journalists associated with US newsrooms in developing a high-impact news project that connects local perspectives, values, and priorities with climate change science and solutions. Learn more about the program and apply here…

Floodlight. Emily Holden, former environmental correspondent at The Guardian, has launched Floodlight, which describes itself as a “nonprofit environmental news collaborative,” which will “partner with local journalists and The Guardian to co-publish investigations about the corporate and ideological interests holding back climate action.” Floodlight’s first story, produced with The Texas Observer and San Antonio Report, centers on Austin, Texas, where the city’s bold climate action plan was scuttled by political maneuvering from the local gas company. Read more about the debut story and the thinking that led Holden to create Floodlight here…