Guest essay by Rolf E. Westgard
In his 2007 Noble Prize acceptance speech, former Vice President Al Gore warned that the “Arctic ice could be gone in as little as seven years.” Last week, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported:
“The North and South Poles are not melting.” In that report, oceanographer Ted Maksym noted that polar ice “is much more stable than climate scientists once predicted and could even be much thicker than previously thought.”
That Woods Hole study was confirmed by today’s NOAA Arctic radar map which shows the Arctic Ice Cap at more than 4,000,000 square miles, larger than on any December 28 in the past five years. Reaching the North Pole requires either a dog sled or a nuclear sub; Al Gore’s cruise ship will stay in the tropics. At the South Pole, Antarctic ice coverage is at the highest extent since radar measurement began 35 years ago.
NOAA’s Arctic Report Card; Update for 2014 provides similar data for the Earth’s other big ice sheet, Greenland. Data from the GRACE satellite and other sources has shown an annual average Greenland ice loss of more than 300 billion tons until 2013. That loss has now dropped sharply by 98% to 6 billion annual tons since mid 2013. A loss of 300 billion tons adds about one millimeter to sea level rise.
All this frigid data parallels the 17 year pause in global land and sea surface temperatures as reported by NASA, NOAA, the UK Climate Research Unit, and the University of Alabama Huntsville Remote Sensing Systems program. That pause is occurring despite our annual release of more than 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide(CO2) from burning fossil fuels, especially coal. Half of that CO2 release stays in the atmosphere. But CO2 remains a trace gas, as the atmosphere weighs several quadrillion tons, and a quadrillion is a million times a billion.
There are good reasons to limit coal burning, even if its CO2 emissions may be primarily plant food. Burning coal releases toxic products like mercury, sulfur, arsenic, soot, and unburned coal ash. But unfulfilled dire warnings coming from UN agencies about the effect of CO2 emissions are contributing to public skepticism about global warming. Global warming ranked 19th in a recent Pew Poll list of 20 issues which concerned the public.
In the most recent UN IPCC report, lead author Dr. Mark Howden said,
“There’s increasing evidence that climate change is also impacting on agriculture, particularly on some of the cereal crops such as wheat and maize. The negative impacts are greater and quicker than we previously thought.”
Farmers continue to ignore the IPCC. The US Department of Agriculture notes that world agricultural production set all-time records for all three major cereal crops in 2014, with rice output up 1.1 percent, wheat up 11.2 percent, and corn up a whopping 14.0 percent over 2013.
So hang on to that winter coat, our future as a tropical paradise may take awhile.