Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Sunday, May 12, 2013

400 ppm: time for a communication tipping point

Image from Celsias

The round number of 400 ppm of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has no special physical significance. The dreaded atmospheric "tipping point" that will lead us to climate catastrophe could have been passed already, or perhaps it could be somewhere at a higher concentration that we'll reach in the future.

But 400 ppm could herald a different tipping point - one that has to do with the perception of the urgency of the climate problem. A communication tipping point.

Perhaps, the low point in climate consciousness was reached last year, when the US presidential elections went through without climate change even being mentioned in the debate. Think about that: is there any way to sink deeper than that? But things are changing. The writing is on the wall: the Web is bubbling up with sites, blogs, forums, videos. There is a general understanding that if we still have a chance to avoid disaster, we must catch it now. Even the blog you are reading, "the frog that jumped out" is a result of this new perception. And that's going to have effects.

The "communication sphere" is a complex system that is subjected to tipping points just as many physical systems. So far, it has remained precariously balanced on a situation where organized denial has been able to block the consciousness of the danger we face from diffusing in the communication space. But, if we reach the tipping point, the communication system will undergo a transition that will change everything. It will bring back the climate problem to its rightful place in the list of priorities we have: the most worrisome, dangerous, terrible threat that humankind has ever faced in historical times. The number "400" could be the mark of this communication tipping point.

Recognizing that a problem exists is the first step to solving it. A small push in the right direction may be just what we need to pass to the next stage. So, let's all push together!


  1. I really like the idea of "communication tipping points" for the communication sphere (or complex system) and maybe (hopefully) the number 400 will be one of those points ! Carrying the analogy a bit further what kind of positive feedback loops could we expect to see develop in the communications sphere or complex system and are there any ways to consciously bring them along or augment them or "spread them" throughout the broader "communication system"? (which as we know has many components of many kinds in many places)

  2. An additional comment:

    It also is important (I think) not to forget about "the evil twin" of atmospheric CO2 which is the CO2 which has dissolved and continues to dissolve in the oceans creating carbonic acid and raising ocean acidity. First in the colder waters of the Arctic but gradually everywhere else too. An important conference has just taken place in Bergen, Norway on this topic. The website for the conference is: and a very good article describing what took place there is here:

    The conference explains in sequence recent research in the Arctic region of a) the chemical effects b) the biological effects and c) the socio-economic well as the policy responses needed to maintain or augment the resiliency of various ecosystems (e.g. by not overfishing them) to better adapt to the increasing acidification of ocean waters.

    Another important thing to keep in mind regarding ever increasing ppm's of CO2 in the atmosphere is that the oceans have thus far absorbed about 50% of the CO2 emitted by man. But the rate of absorption is decreasing as concentrations of CO2 in ocean waters rise. This is also very likely to affect the rate of rise of ppms of CO2 in the atmosphere. It could be possible (I am sure someone must have calculated this) that even if the amount of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere stays constant or decreases in the future that the net amount left in the atmosphere after partial absorption by the oceans is going to rise anyway. All of this points to "no more time to waste".

  3. I'm not very confident in a communication tipping point concerning climate change. In modern (commercial) communication, information is a product, a commodity. It has to be sold to the customers, naming readers and, mainly, advertisers.

    Mainstream media depend heavily on advertising, say more than 80% on average. And a big portion of this ads come from big companies, most of them energy, transport, and so on. And financial and banking. Financial companies, contrary to industrial companies, sell long term expectations, and they cannot allow people to think the future won't be better, say, more profitable.

    You need the permission of your advertisers to tell the truth to your readers, listeners or watchers (providing they want to know; remember we are in a market). I think you will never get it.

    So the communication system is locked in a state of 'soft' denial. Any repeated disgression will always end being strongly punished.

  4. I think we are facing a global emergency and we need a global emergency response. (urgently) And if we (collectively) don't organize one, then we may as well stop talking and writing and blogging and just wait for the end. The link below spells out a possible response in general terms and also includes a couple of very good presentations made at the U.N. New York last month summarizing where we now stand. (one by Ian Dunlop and another one by Tapio Kanninen)

    "Chapter six to seven: To turn things around, what kind of organization do we need?

    ...A major part of the book takes a look at what is needed, organizationally and structurally, if the worst-case projections, or some of them, come to pass. This is a vital subject that has not received attention. Most books on global sustainability and the future of the planet are silent on structural issues. The conclusions in chapters four, six and seven are that neither the present UN system, the G-20, nor other existing intergovernmental institutions have developed systematic and credible mechanisms to respond effectively to a global emergency.
    .......Once the magnitude of the crisis is accepted by governments—which still takes a long time—an inclusive process should be initiated to completely revise the UN Charter. But as we also have to take immediate emergency measures, it is urgent to institute a sophisticated, inclusive and transparent network of local, regional and global crisis and sustainability centers to deal with the crisis in all of its aspects. A somewhat similar independent network has been created in the area of deadly conflicts and crises by the International Crisis Group (ICG)."

    And all I can add to the above is... I AGREE. But as always, the devil will be in the implementation details. And so far at least, that devil has been winning.

  5. I think this idea of communication tipping points is at least something... we have to educate people as to what climate change really is... most people do not have a clue and do not believe it is happening or why it is happening... or even if they do, they do not understand anything about it... tipping points etc... they think we have time and they think they can keep living the life we have now...