Speaking in grave tones, the editors of the New York Times have informed us that global warming–of the man-made, catastrophic variety–is fomenting “startling changes in landscapes once thought immutable.” They cite several examples, including troublesome signs in Alaska, and now, a new study from three scientists that the Arctic’s largest ice shelf is “disintegrating” (note: the editors studiously avoid discussing the retraction of a front-page Times story in 2001 linking global warming with “open sea ice” in Antarctica).
Surely proof of man-induced global warming, right?
Not exactly: “It is not yet possible, [the three scientists] say, to tie the melting directly to rising atmospheric concentrations of so-called greenhouse gases, or to the human activities–chiefly the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil–that create these gases.”
End of story? No indeed, as these scientists, the Times reports, believe a “critical threshold” has been “breached,” with potentially severe consequences at some vague, though surely not too distant, point in the future.
FACT: The Times editorial creates the misleading impression that anecdotal evidence of glacier melting can be extrapolated globally. It can’t.
A 2002 study in the journal Progress in Physical Geography examined the ‘mass balance trends’ in 246 glaciers worldwide from 1946 to 1995. The author found that “there are several regions with highly negative mass balances in agreement with a public perception of ‘the glaciers are melting,’ but there are also regions with positive balances.”
This holds true even within continents. In Europe, “Alpine glaciers are generally shrinking, Scandinavian glaciers are growing, and glaciers in the Caucasus are close to equilibrium for 1980-95.” Globally, adding all the results together, “there is no obvious common or global trend of increasing glacier melt in recent years.”