On Dec. 18, 2018, SLATE reported that the fourth most cited news story of the year was the apocalyptic climate change story of “Hothouse Earth,” based on a study published in August 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The second most cited story, according to SLATE, was that lies spread much faster than the truth.[1]

I read the “Hothouse Earth” paper (formally known as “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”[2]) with concern.  I was so concerned I wrote a paper about it entitled “Perceptions of Hothouse Earth: Science as Advertorial”[3] questioning whether this paper is simply an unmarked advertorial for commercial interests in carbon pricing and cap and trade, intended to scare the public into compliance.

The first item that caught my attention in “Hothouse…” was the term Anthropocene.  Just weeks before the publication of “Hothouse” on July 19, 2018, the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) had issued a new stratigraphic chart, identifying the present time to be that of the Meghalayan Stage/Age.[4] The term “Anthropocene” was nowhere to be seen.

The “Hothouse/Trajectories” authors defined the Anthropocene as “…human impacts on essential planetary processes have become so profound that they have driven the Earth out of the Holocene epoch.” (Steffen et al 2018).

This has been a widespread claim by climate activists for many years. People had waited for the release of the IUGS report to validate the “Anthropocene” impact on earth.  Most assumed it would be a period identified from 1950 forward.  The use of the term “Anthropocene” squarely puts the finger of guilt on YOU humans, for…. well, everything! It’s a combination of the term Holocene (the present geologic epoch) with the term anthropogenic – “relating to, or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature” (Merriam-Webster).  Thus, in one word – Anthropocene – you are allegedly responsible for profound changes to earth.  It’s YOUR fault. What a powerful, one-word psychological tool to drive compliance on climate change and energy policies.

But what if it doesn’t exist – the Anthropocene? Then you are free.

In tweets following the release of the IUGS stratigraphic chart, the IUGS said that no one had even submitted the term “Anthropocene” to the IUGS for consideration. I found it very odd that one of the co-authors of “Hothouse” sits on the Anthropocene working group of the IUGS, yet the large and impressive group of “Hothouse” authors apparently didn’t know it was not a ‘thing’ at the world authority that “sets the global standards for the fundamental scale for expressing the history of the Earth.”  The “Hothouse” authors still plowed ahead with this term, using repetitive hot, tipping point hyperbolic language throughout a scientific paper.

The IUGS tweeted that the term “Anthropocene” has more meaning sociologically than stratigraphically.

So “Hothouse Earth” was really a sociological paper.  It was published under a PNAS category that requires a fee. I call that an advertorial.  And it was the third most cited paper in the press in 2018, based on SLATE’s review. By contrast, the IUGS story of the Meghalayan didn’t even make the top ten.

As SLATE also noted, the second most cited story was that lies spread much faster than the truth.

Michelle Stirling is the Communications Manager for Friends of Science Society. This op-ed expresses her personal views. Stirling is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the AAAS.


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  • Michelle Stirling

    Michelle Stirling is the Communications Manager for Friends of Science Society and a CFACT Contributor