So, What if the Browns are Wrong?
Greenland Ice Melt May Be Faster Than Thought That headline is not from the New York Times or the Boston Globe or Rolling Stone or the Village Voice or any other bastion of liberal thought you might expect. Nor is it a press release from Al Gore or John Kerry, or even Ned Lamont. It is, rather, from a newspaper whose editors frequently dismiss the fact that the earth is warming unnaturally quickly—which any human being who has lived more than forty or fifty years has observed first-hand—as a crackpot theorem being used as political propaganda by drug-addled softies led by Al Gore and various Hollywood starlets. Indeed, this newspaper’s editors are so skeptical that global so-called warming is anything more than a politically-engineered scare-tactic designed to recapture Congress for the Democrats that they regularly host, on their op-ed page, scientists for the purposes of explaining why glaciers which suddenly decide to melt after five thousand years is an entirely normal event and not the harbinger of impending doom. Nevertheless, the newspaper in question reported the facts of the Greenland ice-melting case without so much as a single snide reference to Al Gore or the environment whack-jobs whose desire to protect what remaining species we have would spell almost certain doom for an entire generation of California real estate developers who are living the good life thanks to their God-given abilities to cut the tops off of worthless, lizard-infested hills along Interstate 5 and put up thousands of homes for speculators whose trips to Vegas would be endangered if the environmentalists were allowed to have their way: Greenland’s ice sheet is melting more rapidly than expected, according to data obtained from two National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellites that measure the gravitational pull of the earth’s rivers, mountains and glaciers. The finding, reported today in the journal Science, adds to concern that global warming may cause faster sea-level rises than predicted, potentially increasing risks to coastal cities and areas. According to the new satellite measurements, Greenland lost about 57 cubic miles of ice in 2005. That figure is more than double some previous annual estimates, and the rate of melting appears to be increasing, said Jianli Chen, a researcher at the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin, and the lead author of the study. Added to other recent observations, Greenland appears to be “losing ice significantly faster now than just a few years ago,” said Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona. While scientists have long predicted changes to the immense ice cap, “it is disquieting to see how fast they are taking place,” said Dr. Overpeck, who wasn’t involved in the Chen study. “Disquieting” may not be the right word for what R.E.M. referred to as “the end of the world as we know it.” Even after the usual qualifying statement that scientists disagree about the cause and effect of global warming, the article continued reporting the “disquieting” facts of the Greenland ice-melt: Scientists say it is important to understand the ice loss because Greenland holds enough snow and ice to raise sea levels by 20 feet, were all of it to melt. Current predictions are that sea levels will rise between a few inches and three feet in the next century. However, some researchers think those predictions may underestimate the effects of global warming and the speed of future sea-level increases. “I think what is happening in Greenland right now is not predicted by any of the models,” said Eric Rignot, a senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, who earlier this year reported estimates of Greenland ice loss similar to Dr. Chen’s. “Sea-level rise of one meter over one thousand years is a lot different than one meter over a hundred years,” Dr. Rignot said. Sea levels have been rising slowly since the end of the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago, as glaciers and snowpack have melted, and because warmer temperature causes ocean water to expand. Currently, the average height of the oceans is increasing by about 1/10th of an inch a year. The paper’s editors offered no commentary on this “disquieting” news. Not even so much as an anti-Gore dig.
Perhaps that has to do with the accumulating evidence of global warming’s accelerating impact on the real world, already reported in the same newspaper as recently as July 18 in “For Icy Greenland, Global Warming Has a Bright Side”: Stefan Magnusson lives at the foot of a giant, melting glacier. Some think he’s living on the brink of a cataclysm. He believes he’s on the cusp of creation. The 49-year-old reindeer rancher says a warming trend in Greenland over the past decade has caused the glacier on his farm to retreat 300 feet, revealing land that hasn’t seen the light of day for hundreds of years, if not more. Where ice once gripped the earth, he says, his reindeer now graze on wild thyme amid the purple blooms of Niviarsiaq flowers Lest you think this newspaper is presenting Mr. Magnusson’s cock-eyed optimism as the only prism with which to view the current warming trend, the newspaper reported a similar story, except from the point of view of the loser rather than the winner, in “Is Global Warming Killing the Polar Bears?” on December 14, 2005 (which I have quoted in a previous piece that drew much skeptical howling from the global-warming-is-a-statistical-aberration crowd): It may be the latest evidence of global warming: Polar bears are drowning. Scientists for the first time have documented multiple deaths of polar bears off Alaska, where they likely drowned after swimming long distances in the ocean amid the melting of the Arctic ice shelf. The bears spend most of their time hunting and raising their young on ice floes. In a quarter-century of aerial surveys of the Alaskan coastline before 2004, researchers from the U.S. Minerals Management Service said they typically spotted a lone polar bear swimming in the ocean far from ice about once every two years. Polar-bear drownings were so rare that they have never been documented in the surveys. But in September 2004, when the polar ice cap had retreated a record 160 miles north of the northern coast of Alaska, researchers counted 10 polar bears swimming as far as 60 miles offshore. Polar bears can swim long distances but have evolved to mainly swim between sheets of ice, scientists say. The newspaper in question which has reported such disquieting facts regarding global warming is none other than the Wall Street Journal.
And whatever the Journal’s editors think about the cause and effect of global warming, the central problem with the entire scientific debate over cause and effect is, in my view, as follows.If the greens are wrong, and if global warming is no more than a temporary and self-correcting blip well within the bounds of statistical fluctuations, and if we spend zillions of dollars attempting to mitigate and reverse a normal self-correcting blip in the weather, well, we’ve spent a bunch of money unnecessarily and crimped the lifestyles of a lot of real estate developers and land speculators, to boot.
But if the browns are wrong, and if global warming is in fact the product of more than 600 million motor vehicles screwing up the works, and yet we do nothing about it now, then our grandchildren will be dealing with issues of unfathomable catastrophe—literally, the end of the world as we now know it.
So I sure hope the browns are right, although after reading my Wall Street Journal about shrinking ice caps and dying polar bears and retreating glaciers and happy Greenland farmers, I wouldn’t bet on it myself.It’s a bet nobody, even the editors of the Wall Street Journal, can afford to lose.
Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up
© 2006 Jeff Matthews
The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.