UPDATE: The feckless gold digger weighs in here with a chorus of usual suspects. It is quite humorous to watch.
Guest post by Thomas Fuller
At the conclusion of the last ice age, there was a surplus of ice on many parts of the planet. Nature took care of most of that over the next few thousand years, melting most of it, and sometimes it got pretty dramatic. The resulting legends have become part of the mythology of many cultures, from Gilgamesh to Noah, as dramatic release of pent up ice and/or water flooded lands and drove people before it relentlessly.
Sea level rose 110 meters in 8,000 years. It’s risen a couple of meters in the 6,000 years since then. It is now rising at somewhere between 2 and 3 millimeters a year. (We think. It’s very tough to measure, because the earth is changing its levels and the sea gets pushed around by the wind, getting quite a bit higher in some places than others. And when the change is that small, it’s tough to be sure.)
It is the most effective way to get people’s attention about global warming, and it has been used, overused and abused since 1988. It’s one thing to worry about the cuddly cubs of polar bears, and we can watch with (very) detached sympathy as farmers struggle under drought, but show us a picture of a modern city with water above the window line and we will pay attention.
Wikipedia, which doesn’t always play fair when climate issues are discussed, has the chart everyone needs to see to provide perspective on sea level rise. Titled ‘Post Glacial Sea Level Rise, it shows a dramatic rise in sea levels that stopped dead 6,000 years ago and a very flat line since. You could balance a glass of water on the last 6,000 years of that graph.
This hasn’t stopped the marketing gurus from trying to play to our ancestral horror stories and modern fears of flooding. Because there’s still enough ice left in Antarctica and Greenland to cause dramatic sea level rises, all they have to do is say that global warming will melt that ice and we’re in trouble. And so they do.
Again, we are forced to separate the hype from the science. Remember that the IPCC projects sea level rise this century of 18-59 cm, unless dramatic loss of Greenland and/or Antarctic ice occurs. That’s from their AR4 report. They thus wash their hands and ask what is truth? From the minute that AR4 was published, a string of papers, conferences, publicity events (such as parliamentary cabinet meetings held underwater) have been screaming from the headlines and news reports, drumming into us the message that dramatic loss of Greenland and/or Antarctic ice will in fact occur.
But just as with other aspects of their publicity push, they have to contradict their own scientific findings and theories to make this case.
As the climate has warmed over the past 130 years or so, the margins at the ends of both Greenland’s and Antarctica’s ice caps have melted a bit. Climate theory predicts that increased precipitation in the much larger middle of these ice caps will be in the form of snow, which will turn into ice and counterbalance some, most or all of the melt around the edges. It would take millenia to melt it all, and the IPCC thinks that even with the world continuing business as usual, that our emissions will peak around the end of this century, shortly after the population peaks. Emissions will then decline.
But, in a scenario that many will find sadly familiar, those with a political agenda have grabbed on to some straws, such as the GRACE studies we looked at yesterday, and are busy hyping possible mechanical changes to the ice sheets (which do happen) and are simultaneously trying to blame those mechanical changes on global warming. They hijacked the science and spun it. (It’s not the scientists–not in this case.)
The upshot is that spear carriers for the activist side of climate politics are still going on about dramatic sea level rise. They’ve responded grudgingly to criticism and are not as quick to say it will happen soon, but they’re afraid to acknowledge that what they fear would actually take millenia and would need continuous warming for the entire period for it to come to pass.
They can’t give up on the images that have the most visceral impact. They will dance around the details for days, using rhetorical tactics and resorting to whatever level of insults are necessary to change the subject–as I know from personal experience on dismal wailing sites such as Deltoid and Only In It For The Gold, which could make a fortune selling sackloth and ashes online.
The bulk of Greenland’s ice cap sits in a basin that the ice itself helped to create. It isn’t going anywhere. Nor is the vast majority of ice in Antarctica, although the thin peninsula that points to South America has been judged to be at grave risk in studies that date back to the 1930s–long before global warming was of much concern.
The need for exaggerated images such as those of flooded American cities has caused as much anti-scientific double talk as the Hockey Stick chart, which is really saying a lot. And with more of their symbols getting picked off one by one, thanks to the work of people like Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre, they are holding on to this one for dear life.
When journals like Nature ponder what they call an anti-scientific backlash and aim it at the conservatives in the United States, they really should preface their remarks with a frank examination of how science has been abused in both practice and communication, and analyse how those trumpeting the modern call of Doom have started this reaction.
As a liberal Democrat who believes in moderate global warming, I feel a bit left out. But I think Nature is just looking for an easy target and throwing mud at it, hoping some of it will stick. I will be on the other side of the fence come election time, but not because of that.
Thomas Fuller http://www.redbubble.com/people/hfuller