Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Global warming: the deniers may be shrinking in numbers, but they're keeping the volume up...

It was no doubt naive on my part to imagine that fewer and fewer people could seriously still be denying the reality of climate change. You know, I thought it might be the Trumps of this world who know no better, but few others. The overwhelming consensus building up among scientists, and the constantly growing frequency of damaging weather events that all seem to point in the same direction, seemed to make denial untenable.

Well, I was wrong. Or, if I was right, I had underestimated the sheer vociferousness of the dwindling band left. They seem more than capable of making up in sheer volume for their shrinking numbers.

I’d made a couple of references on Twitter to the way the floods in England seemed to provide additional evidence for global warming’s grip. And I found the deniers coming down on my head like a torrent of brimstone.

One of the best responses pointed me at a post by NASA concerning the ice cap at the Antarctic. This, it seems, has been growing, not shrinking.

Let me repeat that. There’s more ice and snow at the Antarctic than there has been for ages. So I could stuff that in my pipe and smoke it, because it certainly refutes the notion of global warming, doesn’t it?

Antarctic sea ice at its greatest extent recorded, in 2014
The previous maximum is shown in red
Well, no, actually. My correspondent didn’t just put up the picture, he pointed me at the whole article. And I read it. Here’s how it starts:

Sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached a new record high extent this year, covering more of the southern oceans than it has since scientists began a long-term satellite record to map sea ice extent in the late 1970s. The upward trend in the Antarctic, however, is only about a third of the magnitude of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

The new Antarctic sea ice record reflects the diversity and complexity of Earth’s environments, said NASA researchers. Claire Parkinson, a senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has referred to changes in sea ice coverage as a microcosm of global climate change. Just as the temperatures in some regions of the planet are colder than average, even in our warming world, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing and bucking the overall trend of ice loss.

“The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming. Sea ice as a whole is decreasing as expected, but just like with global warming, not every location with sea ice will have a downward trend in ice extent,” Parkinson said.

So the phenomenon of Antarctic ice growth is (a) too little to compensate for ice loss in the Arctic, and (b) a local event compatible with global warming overall.

Local cooling within global warming? Most of us have got used to this paradox. It seems the deniers struggle with it.

What’s more, the article is from 2014. A year on, NASA reported, “2015 Antarctic maximum sea ice extent breaks streak of record highs.” My denier was quoting last year’s news; this year’s lends itself even less well to his argument.

In fact, he decided to hammer his point with another NASA study on the sheer extent of the growth of the Antarctic ice cap. Again, the headline seems to strengthen his case: “Mass gains of Antarctic ice sheet greater than losses.” The devil, for him, was in the body of the article, when it quoted glaciologist Jay Zwally:

But it might only take a few decades for Antarctica’s growth to reverse, according to Zwally. “If the losses of the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica continue to increase at the same rate they’ve been increasing for the last two decades, the losses will catch up with the long-term gain in East Antarctica in 20 or 30 years — I don’t think there will be enough snowfall increase to offset these losses.”

What this suggests, according to Zwally, is that the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was mistaken to think that Antarctic ice melt was adding to rising sea levels.

“The good news is that Antarctica is not currently contributing to sea level rise, but is taking 0.23 millimeters per year away,” Zwally said. “But this is also bad news. If the 0.27 millimeters per year of sea level rise attributed to Antarctica in the IPCC report is not really coming from Antarctica, there must be some other contribution to sea level rise that is not accounted for.”

My correspondent must have focused on the fact that the IPCC had got it wrong. He didn’t take into account that the error was on a matter of details. Overall, the picture is if anything more worrying: if the Antarctic isn’t contributing, then the effect of other causes of sea level rise must be even greater than we feared.

Now, I don’t want global warming to happen. I take no joy from the fact that reading the evidence thoroughly only confirms the bad news – after all, it is bad news. I wish we could deny what’s happening. Im simply amazed by the extent to which deniers are prepared to go to support their rejection of evidence.

It’s faith, and faith at its worst. It sees what it wants to see, and reads what it wants to read. And if it gets its way, it’ll lead the planet, blindfolded, into desperate straits.

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