Climate Reporting? Or: That’s Quite A Shelf You’ve Got There


So I was reading “Yahoo! News” and came across this piece:

It starts out with this gem of objective reporting:

“It’s been a summer of near biblical climatic havoc across the planet, with wildfires, heat and smog in Russia and killer floods in Asia.”  It seems to imply that these things have never happened before, and certainly not all at once in one area.  While it may be that this IS a unique year, the reporter makes no effort to see if it actually IS unique, or whether the 24×7 news reporting we have now (as opposed to when it may have happened 50 years ago and wasn’t world-wide news) is what actually makes it seem different.

The article continues to discuss the ice shelf that has broken off Greenland’s ice sheet.  “It’s so big that you can’t prevent it from drifting. You can’t stop it,” said Jon-Ove Methlie Hagen, a glaciologist at the University of Oslo.”  Mentioning the destruction the ice could cause (in two years, if it drifts down near Canada) it even dredges up the Titanic: “large chunks could reach the heavily trafficked waters where another Greenland iceberg sank the Titanic in 1912”.  I can just see the movie now – Jake Gyllenhaal and Bruce Willis are dispatched to stop the killer ice sheet! 

Continuing, it says “Few images can capture the world’s climate fears like a 100-square- mile (260-sqare-kilometer) chunk of ice breaking off Greenland’s vast ice sheet, a reservoir of freshwater that if it collapsed would raise global sea levels by a devastating 20 feet (6 meters).”  Um, that’s a good point – images.  Where are the facts?  Sure, there’s a giant ice sheet floating around (in the Arctic Circle right now) – where are the facts about the actual sheet?  Not the facts about the rest of Greenland (which are interesting, and possibly relevant, but mostly speculation).  Other than its size and that it broke off, there are merely speculations about what it COULD do.

Apparently Senator Markey has already got in the quip of the year: “The world’s newest ice island already is being used as a powerful emblem in the global warming debate, with U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts suggesting it could serve as a home for climate change skeptics.”  (He’s apparently not got the memo that it’s called “Climate Change” now.)  As a skeptic myself (of everything, let alone climate change) I can assure you that this sort of thing has happened before and probably will again.  I don’t need to live on the iceberg to know that.

Even if it hasn’t been that glaciers of this size have broken off since we’ve been recording history, I can assure you that much, much bigger iceflows have broken off in the past.  How do I know this?  This planet has had several ice ages!  Where did all the ice go from the ice ages?  Oh, yeah, into the sea.  Critics will automatically argue – well, back then, we didn’t have cities on the coast!  They’d be right.  Of course, what this means is that we may have to do something to protect those cities (NYers are familiar with flooding, and the Island has become “two separate islands” on at least one occasion since 1800), and that we can all do our best to reduce pollution (which is a justifiable end in itself without climate change scare tactics!) but to say that such things haven’t happened before is just silly.

Oh, wait, the article doesn’t say they haven’t happened before:  “While Greenland’s glaciers break off thousands of icebergs into Arctic waters every year, scientists say this ice island is the biggest in the northern hemisphere since 1962.”  So … this is not an entirely uncommon experience.  It’s happened before (yearly), but with something similar in size almost fifty years ago.  Hhhmmm… is that the reason that all the climate change charts I see use “Base Years” of 1970 – 2000?  Would it be that using base years prior to that might show that in the 60s there was warmer weather?  (I don’t know, I’m actually asking.)  My point here is that this has occurred, and in recent memory, at least on such a scale as to draw comparison.  Of course, buried at the bottom of the article, after all the sensationalism and images of floating frozen destruction is this gem:

“While experts say it’s difficult to directly tie the giant ice island to climate change because there are so many factors that affect glaciers in the area, the unusual event coincides with worrisome signs of warming in the Arctic.”

That’s newspaper speak for “we’re aware that correlation does not imply causality, and we’re covering our ass if you’ve read this far, or even if you haven’t”.