A new study claims ice will melt much faster in 80 years because we’ll reach a tipping point in 40 years if we don’t embrace the Green New Deal now, but what is the track record on other predictions for melting ice and global calamities in general? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not good, not good at all, making it no wonder why conservatives like myself don’t trust these studies.
A new study published in Nature predicts that the ice sheets covering the continent of Antarctica, you know that tremendous white swath around the south pole, could reach a “tipping point” by 2060, which would contribute to exponentially higher sea level rise by 2100. The study concludes, perhaps needless to say, that we must make dramatic changes to our lifestyle because future technology will not save us. If temperatures 40 years from now are on target to be just 1 degree Celsius higher 80 years from now, Antarctica will reach the point of no return and sea levels will rise 10 times faster 80 years from now. Therefore, we must act now.
One wonders how scientists are able to make these predictions with any level of precision. Apparently, the claim rests on two assumptions. First, ice loss in the Antarctic is accelerating. The authors of the new study cite a single study published in 2018, “Trends and connections across the Antarctic cryosphere.” The problem is that the study doesn’t quite reach the purported conclusion. Instead, it notes “The waxing and waning of Antarctic sea ice is one of Earth’s greatest seasonal habitat changes, and although the maximum extent of the sea ice has increased modestly since the 1970s, inter-annual variability is high, and there is evidence of longer-term decline in its extent.’ Read that again: The maximum extent has actually increased since the 1970s, but there is some “evidence” of a longer term decline. That’s science-speak for we have no idea what we’re talking about, but we want to reach a conclusion consistent with climate change.
Second, the new study relies on the fact that “Extensive regions of the AIS [Antarctic Ice Sheet] are grounded below sea level and susceptible to dynamical instabilities that are capable of producing very rapid retreat.” This is almost undoubtedly true, but equally meaningless. The question, of course, is what conditions would cause a very rapid retreat and how much of a retreat is possible given it will remain below freezing for the foreseeable future, more on that in a moment. I think we can say for surety that if the Earth was suddenly as hot as Venus, a rapid retreat would indeed occur. The Antarctic, however, has an average temperature in the interior of -57 degrees Celsius, -70.5 Fahrenheit. Antarctic water is also incredibly cold, from -.8 to 0 degrees Celsius, 31.2 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures are with the existing warming we’ve supposedly experienced already, meaning the current conditions are in no danger of rising above freezing and the impact of a 1-2 degree increase in global temperatures isn’t exactly obvious.
The study itself actually admits this truth, “These results demonstrate the possibility that rapid and unstoppable sea-level rise from Antarctica will be triggered if Paris Agreement targets are exceeded.” Note the very vague phrasing, “demonstrate the possibility.” This is not a very precise or meaningful conclusion. It’s possible Fox News will hire me to replace Tucker Carlson, Netflix will hire me to produce the three completed screenplays sitting on my Google Drive, or Tor Publishing will purchase my fantasy novel, hoping to make me into the next George R. R. Martin. These things are all possible, but do any of you actually think it’s going to happen anytime soon?
Of course, one should probably consider the track record of similar predictions. The sea ice in the arctic has been the subject of numerous prognostications for almost two decades with scares in 2008, 2009, and onward. Variously, the date for an ice free Arctic has been 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and onward to 2035. For example, in September of 2012, scientists declared that “Arctic Ocean sea ice coverage has shrunk to the lowest level since modern records began, smashing the previous record by 760,000 square kilometers (293,000 square miles). On September 16, the day on which, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the region’s sea ice appeared to end its summer retreat and begin its winter rebound, the total extent was 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) – slightly more than half the average minimum extent between 1979 and 2000.”
The situation was so alarming that one scientist, a professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University declared, “The final collapse…is now happening and will probably be complete by 2015/16.” Others were more circumspect such as Cecila Bitz from the University of Washington who said there was “50/50 chance” summer sea ice is gone entirely or almost at least mostly within a few decades “is about right.” Ultimately, the conclusion of scientists was things were not good either way. “It’s hard even for people like me to believe, to see that climate change is actually doing what our worst fears dictated,” Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University told The New York Times earlier in 2012. “It’s starting to give me chills, to tell you the truth.”
Fast forward eight years, the Arctic Sea ice in August 2020 was higher than 2012, meaning it had grown, not continued to decline. The intervening years showed much more ice, as in hundreds of thousands of square kilometers, as soon as 2013 and 2014. This hasn’t prevented the continued predictions. The latest date for the ice to be gone entirely is 2035. Of course, the ice grows back in the winter, making it difficult to determine precisely what the concern about the decline actually is. Don’t believe me? Here’s National Geographic reporting on the summer ice last year: “Each year, Arctic sea ice expands as the sea surface freezes during the long, dark winter. At its maximum in March, the ice covers nearly the entire Arctic Ocean, almost 6 million square miles. It melts back during summer, reaching its lowest point in September. In July during the 1980s, the ice covered an average of about 3.8 million square miles, roughly the area of the U.S. or Canada. This July, sea ice covered only about 2.8 million square miles.”
It’s important to note that there has been little variation in the amount of ice in the winter. In fact, in 2012, the year of the lowest ice ever in August, the ice that winter was the same as the median from 1981 to 2010. Meaning what difference does it make what happens in the summer if the winter repeats the same process regardless of how low it goes? Perhaps needless to say, this remains entirely unexplained. Essentially we’re studying the melting of ice that then freezes back up again, every year. There’s no snow in my yard in the summer either, but there was for over a month last winter, seasonal variation that reverts back every season isn’t climate change.
Ultimately, we might give more credence to these claims if the extent of sea ice was the only doomsday prediction that didn’t pan out. Instead, the track record of similar claims is nothing if not poor. In 1976, they were predicting massive famines by 1975. In 1969, pollution was going to end the world by 1989. 1970 saw an ice age by 2000, and then another famine scare, water rationing in the US by 1974 and food rationing by 1980. In 1971 and 1972, they were back to another ice age, this time by 2070. Interestingly, a letter to President Nixon from Brown University noted the “increased frequency and amplitude of extreme weather anomalies such as those bringing floods, snowstorms, killing frosts, etc.,” pretty much the same as today.
Nor did the ice age scare end there, it was repeated in 1974, 1976, and 1978 along with the depletion of the ozone layer as the “Great Peril to Life.” By 1980, they were onto acid rain killing life in lakes. In 1988, we were talking about massive regional droughts and the modern global warming scare began with warnings about warm, hot summers. Articles at the time centered on heat in Washington DC; the only problem is the number of hot days in the area peaked in 1911 and has actually been on a downward trend through at least 2017. 1988 was when the sea level rise fear really kicked in, including claims that the Maldives would be completely underwater in 30 years. It’s still there. In the same regard, United Nations officials warned that “Rising seas could obliterate nations” by 2000. In 1989, Jim Hansen, a leading climate scientist who first warned Congress about “greenhouse gases” claimed the West Side Highway in New York would be underwater by 2019. Hint: It’s still there as well.
In 2000, they started targeting snow: As in, Britain would not have any snow at all, literally saying “children won’t know what snow is.” In 2002, it was back to famine. In 2004, back to the climate, this time Britain was going to be “Siberian” in less than 20 years; there’s still a few years left on it, but I think we all know it’s not going to happen. Shortly thereafter, the meme that there was some deadline to save the planet started picking up. Prince Charles said 96 months to save the world. The UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said only 50 days. In 2014, the French Foreign Minister claimed 500 days, and so it goes.
Of course, not a single one of these predictions has come close to true. Perhaps even worse, one should note the obvious political subtext in the latest scare that the Antarctic will start melting fast in 80 years. I’m sure it’s completely coincidental that a supposedly scientific study endorses a purely political goal: The only way to stop it is the Green New Deal or something like it that slashes emissions right now whatever the cost. If, like me, you aren’t concerned about climate change in the least, that’s probably because you have faith in humanity’s ability to innovate out of just about every supposed catastrophe.
The obvious solution to global warming is to capture the carbon from the atmosphere, and I have no doubt that, should we need to do such a thing, we certainly will. Part of my confidence is because plants have already been doing it for billions of years; in fact, we owe our existence to the fact that plants capture carbon dioxide and use it to produce oxygen as without oxygen there are no animals. It is inconceivable to me that we can’t come up with some means to do the same, but now they are planting the seed that such a breakthrough wouldn’t be enough. We must enact more progressive policies and pipe dreams right now, or else.
If any liberal ever wonders why conservatives like myself don’t trust the experts anymore, this is it. Not only do they continually make dire predictions that don’t pan out (speaking of which, how come no study ever says all is well, keep calm and carry on?), but they insist that only their prescribed policy positions can solve the problem. Nothing in life is ever so convenient.