The recent COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, put climate change at the top of the news, and the spotlight offers an extraordinary opportunity to educate and effectively engage the public in urgently needed solutions. As nations commit to climate action, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and media outlets should make a pledge of their own — to commit to include Fahrenheit in addition to Celsius in all public information and news reporting on climate change meant for American audiences.

This is not some kind of jingoistic, America-first request — rather it is a plea to make climate research and reporting more understandable to more people. Climate researchers typically report temperature data in degrees Celsius, and U.S. journalists and media outlets do not regularly convert the data to degrees Fahrenheit. Why not? News stories about the U.S. economy are reported in dollars, not euros or yen. And readers would find it strange to see distances reported in kilometers instead of miles. Climate reporting should be standardized to include Fahrenheit.

The United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report 2021, released last week, warns the world is “on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.” Unfortunately, a nationwide public opinion survey conducted Oct. 26-27 by Public Policy Polling indicates most Americans are unfamiliar with Celsius or do not understand how to convert to Fahrenheit. Less than one-third (31 percent) of voters correctly pick the equivalent degrees in Fahrenheit for a 2-degree Celsius increase in average global temperature.

With climate change, every fraction of a degree matters. The consensus emerging from the United Nations Climate Change Conference is that commitments made so far will not be enough to alter projected warming. A rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius converts to an increase of nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine your child with a temperature of 104 degrees. That’s the emergency we face with a planet on track for a 5-degree rise in temperature.

We already are experiencing the effects of extreme heat waves, drought, wildfires and sea-level rise. It will take an extraordinary global effort to avoid increasingly devastating impacts, like massive crop failures, the collapse of polar ice sheets, the loss of countless plant and animal species and habitable land for millions of people. Our failure to reduce emissions and limit warming will radically alter life for all of us and exacerbate inequality. For too many, Celsius underplays the problem we’re facing. It’s past time for a change.

The good news is more than two-thirds of voters (68 percent) say climate change is happening, while only 25 percent say, “Climate change isn’t really happening, or if it is, it is part of a natural cycle, not man-made.”

An overwhelming majority of American voters (85 percent) want media and news outlets to use either Fahrenheit only or both Celsius and Fahrenheit when reporting on global temperature and climate change. And this is a rare issue that crosses the political divide. Fully 82 percent of Biden supporters and 88 percent of Trump supporters agree that American media should be using either Fahrenheit only or both Celsius and Fahrenheit when reporting.

Climate change is the issue of our time. Researchers and reporters have an obligation to make the data as accessible as possible to American readers as we rise to the challenge ahead.

Andrew Ungerleider is a Santa Fe-based eco-preneur and founder of Earthstone International and its sister company, Growstone Inc.

(8) comments

Khal Spencer

This is the silliest thing I have read in this paper in a long time. Scientists talk in Celsius or Kelvin. Or eV, I suppose. If a reader cannot convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit (a Celsius degree is 1.8 Fahrenheit degrees), there is an excellent chance the rest of the article will be lost on them as well. Not to mention, that our school system has failed once again.

David Ford

But Khal to some that is exactly the point that it will be lost on them, kind of like listening to Charlie Brown's mom talking. When we grow up with Fahrenheit, feet and inches, and miles that is what we know and are very familiar with, just like those who grow up with Celcius, meters, and kilometers are similarly. Having lived around the world in a military family I was fortunate to have been exposed to both but still revert to the American standards because it is very familiar and as such easy for me.

No harm in putting both in any article relevant to a world audience since both audiences are pretty much entrenched in their ways. Plus it may very well keep those who started the article to read to the end. Can't hurt.

Khal Spencer

Maybe. Seems to me it is simpler to stay with one standard and make it consistent with the IPCC publications.

Khal Spencer

We are the only first world holdout that still uses F instead of C (other nations are the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Belize and Palau), but those of us who wanted to convert to the metric system lost the battle to change that a long time ago; the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 is as relevant today as it was before it was written.

https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/us-use-fahrenheit.htm

David Ford

I would agree and yes the history behind it is pretty interesting. And as the article notes it drives scientists crazy (my wife on of them), like why water freezes at 32 instead of zero [beam]. On Metrics though I liked one post I read, it is easier to say a gallon of milk than 4 liters (probably why gas is sold by the liter in the rest of the world), and to say cut one inch off when getting a haircut rather than 2.54 cm. Per Master Google, the first recognition was the Metric Act of 1866 for legal reasons as well as others and signed by Andrew Johnson.

It would be a sloooooow process to convert to both and would take decades and generations (if our country is still here), but it has started as we are seeing it more and more often in many different arenas, but it won't happen overnight.

Khal Spencer

For Americans, I guess we do have to post both, since tradition is stronger than a legal attempt to change it.

What I see as one outcome is confusion, with one media outlet using one standard and another media outlet another. And as Mike says below, occasional obfuscation.

I'm as guilty as anyone of being entrenched in the Fahrenheit system, being as ancient as I am, and having to do the painful conversion in my head if I don't have a handy calculator around. At my age, I would hate to have to convert to kilometers per liter. But when it comes to talking about science, I think we should be training the future generations to be "bilingual", so to speak, and slowly convert the country, assuming as you do there still is one, to the Rest of the World standard.

Mike Johnson

Well said Khal. Ridiculous reasoning here, and typical for a non-scientist. What he really wants is a higher, more shocking number for something that has become political and not scientific anymore, to evoke public panic and concern more effectively. I saw this occur as reporters started using gallons for oil spills, when the industry standard is barrels, to make the number much large and more shocking to the scientifically ignorant and uneducated populace, to of course instill more fear and panic. Maybe this guy should consider Kelvin, it is a common scientific measure I have used frequently in laboratory experiments and research. In using Kelvin he could report shockingly high number for daily temperatures, like when it gets over 90 degrees F, the breathless reporters could say, "OMG, today's high was 305 degrees K....."

Khal Spencer

Or we can do electron volts. The temperature at the Santa Fe Airport right now is 0.0245 eV!

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