Perceptions of Hothouse Earth: Science As Advertorial

20 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2018

Date Written: September 2, 2018


The publication of “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” (Steffen et al 2018) in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) led to numerous headline stories around the world touting an impending crisis due to human industrial emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from fossil fuel use deemed to potentially cause an unliveable “Hothouse Earth,” a phrase first coined by Arrhenius in 1903. The paper and subsequent news articles refer to tipping points and catastrophic outcomes, all based on computer models and speculative projections, all focussed on a distant time that is “tens to hundreds of thousands of years” in the future. This paper is a critical review of Steffen et al (2018) from a social science, psychological and advertising perspective. The author also touches on ethical questions, international editorial guidelines, and potential conflict of interest in paid-for or invited “Perspectives” science commentaries which appear to be the equivalent of advertorials, though not marked as such. The author questions if this falls under US Trade Commission advertising guidelines.

Keywords: Earth System trajectories, climate change, Anthropocene, tipping elements, advertorials

Suggested Citation

Stirling, Michelle, Perceptions of Hothouse Earth: Science As Advertorial (September 2, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

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