A layman’s view of the strange period of history we are living through
Guest post by Caleb Shaw
During hot spells in the summer I often find it refreshing to click onto Anthony’s “Sea Ice Page,” and to sit back and simply watch ice melt. It is an escape from my busy, sweaty routine, as long as I avoid the “Sea Ice Posts” where people become anxious, political, and somewhat insulting, about the serene topic of ice melting. However by September there is no way to avoid the furor generated by melting ice. It reaches a crescendo.
I used to like the September Panic because I often could hijack a thread by bringing up the subject of Vikings. I’d rather talk about Vikings floating around during the MWP, than a bunch of bergs floating around and melting today.
The September Panic also entertained me because I used to learn about all sorts of things I didn’t know about. The debate always involved people clobbering each other with facts, and hitting each other over the head with links. In the process you’d learn all sorts of fascinating trivia about Norwegian fishermen in the 1920’s, and arctic explorers in the 1800’s, and even some science.
For example, fresh water floats on top of saltier water, unless it is the Gulf Stream, which is saltier water floating on top of fresher water because it is warmer, until it gets colder.
This science crosses your eyes, in a pleasant manner, and leads inevitably to discussions about thermohaline circulation, which is fascinating, because so little is known about it.
It also leads to discussions about how the freezing of salt water creates floating ice that is turned into fresh water by extracting brine, which forms “brincicles” as it dribbles down through the ice at temperatures far below zero and enters the warmer sea beneath. This in turn leads to discussions involving the fact that, with such large amounts of brine sinking, surface water must come from someplace to replace it, and in some cases this surface water is cold, while in other cases it is warm.
The fact the replacing waters can be warmer leads to discussions about the northernmost branches of the Gulf Stream, and how these branches meander north and south. This in turn leads to talk of the unpredictable nature of meandering, the further downstream you move from the original point where the meandering starts, and this, (if you are lucky,) will lead you to Chaos Theory and Strange Attractors.
(In the case of the Mississippi River, the subject of meandering leads you to the Delta, plus the topics of Engineers, New Orleans, and Murphy’s Law.) (In the case of psychology, the meanderings of the human mind leads to the conclusion humans are utterly unpredictable, unless they are psychologists, in which case they obey Smurphy’s Law, which states a psychologist will succumb to whatever ailment he is expert in.)
In conclusion, the September Panic can be a source of fascinating thought, providing you are willing to drift like a berg and wind up miles off topic.
I’ve been through this all before, during the Great Meltdown of 2007, and its September Panic. Those were great times, for in the period 2006-2007 the so-called “consensus” put forward a great propaganda effort, including the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” and won Oscars, Peace Prizes, and a sound thrashing from Skeptics.
Congress debunked Mann’s “hockey stick” in 2006, an English Judge rebuked Al Gore for falsehoods in his movie in 2007, and also in 2007 Hansen had to back off his “adjustments” due to the work of McIntyre at Climate Audit. When Rush Limbaugh mentioned McIntyre’s victory, Climate Audit was overwhelmed by traffic, which was one reason the existence of WUWT came to be known by me, and many others.
In essence the “consensus” experienced a debacle in 2007, for its attempts at propaganda drew so much attention that all its flaws stood naked in a glaring spotlight, and ordinary people began to understand the emperor had no clothes.
All this happened before the 2007 ice-extent hit its record low, and added a quality of desperation to that year’s September Panic. Desperate for proof, Alarmists felt the low ice-extent proved Al Gore was right, and the IPCC was right, but, by using such dubious and refutable sources, they effectively were putting their heads on a chopping block. Or climbing out on a limb. Or swimming like fish in a barrel. (Take your pick.)
At this point a new word, a word most people had never used or even heard before, became quite common in the climate debates, and the word was “obfuscation.” (It would be interesting to compare how often that word was used in 2007 with how often it was used in 2005.)
The Alarmist’s obfuscation has now persisted for five years, which means that the melt-down of 2012 is a bit boring. It is a case of “been there, done that.” No longer do I often learn things I didn’t know about. One hears the same, tired, old arguments from 2007, and one knows it is hardly worth replying, because Alarmists are not interested in the vast and awesome complexity of a chaotic scientific reality, preferring the simplicity of a “belief,” which they grip with white knuckles.
About the only interesting and new approach on the part of Alarmists is their attempt to misuse psychology, and to make it a way of marginalizing and ostracizing those who point out their mistakes. Though appalling, this is interesting because it seems a perfect example of Smurfy’s Law.
Formerly the definition of “Liberal” was “generous,” and one thing that old-time Liberals were very generous about was giving minority viewpoints a fair hearing. In any discussion of Dams, Deserts and Droughts, they would hear the views of ordinary engineers, meteorologists, and hydrologists, but also insist upon hearing the views of extraordinary Native American rain-dancers. They desired “diversity,” and had contempt towards those who would not consider, or at least be considerate towards, “alternative views.”
Strangely, this concept has now vanished among some who formerly wore the tag, “Liberal.” Gone is their desire for “diversity,” replaced with a fawning regard for the “consensus.” The very same people who sneered at convention when young are now guilty of being the very thing they sneered at: Blindly conventional.
In a way this is a normal part of maturing. Churchill stated something like, “Those who were not Liberal when young had no heart; those who do not become Conservative when older have no brain.”
However there is a significant difference between the ordinary process of maturing, and people who enact Smurphy’s Law. In the ordinary process of maturing there are some core values which endure the battering of youthful idealism, as it gets hammered into the tempered steel of maturity. As the poetry of William Blake is subtly altered from “Songs of Innocence” into “Songs of Experience,” the poetry remains poetry; the heart remains a heart. However, in the case of Smurphy’s Law, those core values either are completely abandoned, or were abandoned in the beginning. (After all, psychology attempts to measure the human spirit with calipers and thermometers, and sometimes has a hard time conceding things such as “heart” and “poetry” even exist.)
At the risk of being poetic rather than scientific, I’ll state that our youthful ideals are like sails that haul us against the wind of a world that can be stormy and can leave our sails in tatters. Our core values are like a keel that keeps us from capsizing, so that even if we lose our hearing like Beethoven did, we still can produce a Ninth Symphony. Without such a keel of core values we can flip-flop, and end up enacting Smurfy’s Law, and see ourselves opposing the very free speech we once stood for.
This, and not the bergs bobbing about in the arctic, is the real melt-down that has occurred, and which we have been witness to. The very people who once were most adamant about free speech are now vehemently opposed to it. The very people who were most open minded to the most bizarre alternative-lifestyles now have minds clamped tighter than clam’s, (certain that they themselves are oysters and hold pearls.)
What a joke. Those who once were Liberals now are not, while those who never wished to be called Liberal now are.
It is a great struggle we are involved with, (defending free speech and open-mindedness,) but it does get tiresome, which is why I occasionally use Anthony’s “Sea Ice Page,” to flee to the North Pole, where I can serenely watch the bergs bob about and melt.
It is a great relief to escape the nonsense of Smurfy’s Law for a time, and to instead consider that which is awe inspiring: Creation is an incredible place, a chaos that has no business being orderly, but is.
Everywhere you look there are marvels too complex for even the hugest computer to handle: The vast meanderings of the Gulf Stream; the mysterious, pulsing appearances and disappearances of huge amounts of water into and out-of Thermohaline Circulation, the metamorphosis of a ripple on a front into the vast circulation of a huge storm with an eye, and so forth, from the deepest depths to the upper atmosphere, and on through solar winds to the sun.
Of course, even when you think you have escaped the bother of petty politics for a while, you’re liable to get dragged back to reality, even when hiding up in the Arctic.
For example, the Cryosphere Today map will show open ocean, as you read a news item about a fifteen-by-eleven-mile pack of bergs, containing ice as much as eighty feet thick, closing down a drilling operation in that area of “open ocean.”
At this point I always feel I am being dragged kicking and screaming from the sublime to the ridiculous. I “don’t want to go there,” but I have to.
In a way it reminds me of being the father of teenagers. They might tell me they were heading down to the Public Library to study, but I would get to thinking that such study seemed a bit out of character, so after a half hour I’d go check the Public Library to see if they really were there.
It is a sad state of affairs when you cannot take scientists at their word, and have to go check up on them as if they were teenagers, however some have earned this disgrace: They cannot be trusted. And this besmirches other scientists, good and honorable men who are just trying to do their work, but who suddenly notice a layman like me scowling over their shoulder. (Ever try to work with someone hovering over your shoulder? Half of the time it makes your hammer hit your thumb.)
Unfortunately science has earned such scrutiny. I no longer trust that the Arctic Ocean is ice-free just because Cryrosphere Today maps it as ice-free. I double check, using perhaps the DMI sea-surface-temperature map:
And I am then puzzled by the fact this map shows sea-surface-temperatures below the freezing point of salt water for large areas the Cryosphere map shows it as open ocean.
So I say the heck with maps, and resort to my lying eyes. The North Pole Camera has drifted far south of the pole, into Fram Strait. You can tell where the camera is by using the Buoy Drift Track Map at
And this shows you that, according to various Cryosphere maps, the camera should either be showing half ice and half open water, or should show a nice view of fishes at the bottom of the sea. Instead it has a view of ice in all directions, with the summer’s melt-water pools freezing over, when the camera’s lens itself is not frosted over. When you check the site records you notice that, even though it has drifted south of 82 degrees north, temperatures have at times dipped below minus ten Celsius.
At this point you start to feel a bit like the father of a teenaged daughter who has discovered their child is not at the Library, who wonders where the heck the girl has gone.
One can continue on to the satellite view, which, if clouds are not in the way, shows the “open ocean” is remarkably dotted by white specks of ice.
Though one could perhaps then argue about whether the bergs amount to more-than or less-than 15%, and whether this means the water is officially defined as “open ocean” or not, such quibbling is a bit like discovering your teenaged daughter flirting at the ball field, and having her argue that the fact she has a book with her makes the ball field a “library.”
One simply has the feeling that truth is being stretched dangerously close to its limits.
Considering young scientists usually begin filled with idealistic zeal, and hunger and thirst for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it seems a wonder they can wind up stretching truth and resembling a psychologist suffering from Smurphy’s Law. How could they sell out to such a degree?
The reason for selling out is always the same: Money.
I can not say for certain that, when I was young and sleeping in my car, I would not have been tempted by a grant for 1.7 million dollars. Perhaps even Beethoven would have been tempted to make pizza, rather than the Ninth Symphony, if someone had offered him 1.7 million dollars. (One interesting short piano work of Beethoven’s is entitled, “Rage Over A Lost Penny.”) Money is the root of all evil, and when we see scientists swayed by their patrons we should perhaps say, “There but for the Grace of God go I.” (And also, “Blessed are the poor.”)
In any case, it seems we live in a time when some scientists are working under the thumbs of benefactors and patrons who desire results presented with a certain political “spin.” If it is possible to present data concerning the melt of the Arctic Ice Cap in a way that makes it look more extreme, because this may make a carbon tax more possible, the scientist will be under great pressure to do so.
The scientist is in essence working with a frowning boss scowling over his shoulder. The only way we can counter-balance this effect is to also look over his shoulder, and give the poor fellow the sense that “the whole world is watching.” This will likely make scientists miserable, and also make them yearn for the days when they were ignored and could work in peaceful obscurity, however it will also keep them honest, which is for the best for all, in the long run.
Even as we behave in this somewhat petty and parental manner, we should not forget what brought most of us to examine the clouds and seas and sunshine and storms in the first place: Our sense of wonder. Others may focus their thinking to the cramped line-items of musty, budgetary chicanery for a narrow political cause, if they so chose, however the vast truths of creation remains open for the rest of us to witness, and to wonder about, if we so chose.
For example, ice-melt in the arctic may be the sign of many different possible things, including the advent of the next ice age. Open water may not only lose heat to outer space, but might lead to arid regions having increased, glacier-creating snowfalls. There are all sorts of ideas and realities to discuss and wonder about, starting with the surprisingly early snows that just buried the sheep in Iceland.
This September, the farmers of Iceland have something real to panic about. And perhaps that is the most important thing about dealing with truth: To stay real.