Hard to be a prophet.

 Prophet Wannabee

I was looking into just who this Justin Gillis character is, the one on the left, who is sometimes referred to as “the most apocalyptic reporter” writing on climate change, and I was struck by the resemblance to this famous portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Not that I would compare the two…just pointing it out.  Maybe Justin is modeling himself on Ludwig, the tormented intellectual…

He had an article in the NYTimes the other day about a glacier in the Andes, and it was a perfect example of the junk-journalism that passes for substantive reporting in the Science Times on this topic.

The title, In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years, was misleading and alarmist.  It continues with the statement that the find is

…the latest indication that the recent spike in global temperatures has thrown the natural world out of balance.

No mention of what evidence there is for a ‘recent spike’ in temperature.  Perhaps he’s thinking of the recent article by Marcott et al that has made a splash and been pretty much discredited.  There was no evidence to support the idea that warming, let alone global warming brought on by burning of fossil fuels, brought on this condition.  Is it remarkable for ice that took nearly two thousand years to form to melt quickly from a glacier?  Also, the notion that the world is “in balance,” is an idea fraught with difficulties:  does that mean the world never changes? changes only a little?  changes slowly, but a lot?  Must not change? for every good change there is a bad change?

Meredith A. Kelly, a glacial geomorphologist at Dartmouth College who trained under Dr. Thompson but was not involved in the new paper, said his interpretation of the plant remains was reasonable.

Her own research on Quelccaya suggests that the margins of the glacier have melted quite rapidly at times in the past. But the melting now under way appears to be at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record since the end of the last ice age, she said.

That’s from the article.  So, fast melting has happened, and this one is pretty fast, but the cause?  No mention.  And why did it get so warm after the last ice age?

Most of the article is about the study of frozen plant remains that have been uncovered, and what they tell us about past climate and the growth and shrinkage of the ice mass – little to do with anthropogenic global warming.

There is a tid-bit about evidence that bad weather  may have contributed to poor harvests before the French Revolution, and been a contributing factor to the upheaval.  No mention of what sort of bad weather, but it was probably bad winters:  what does that have to do with warming?  He concludes with a mention that the melting of glaciers spells bad times ahead for Andean cities that depend on glacial melt for drinking water.

In the short run, the melting is producing an increase of water supplies and feeding population growth in major cities of the Andes, the experts said. But as the glaciers continue shrinking, trouble almost certainly looms.

Trouble looms!  Always…and how soon?  No mention.  How big are the glaciers?  And of course, there’s that headline.  Doom is around the corner and inevitable.

5 Responses to Hard to be a prophet.

  1. Ducky's here says:

    “Also, the notion that the world is “in balance,” is an idea fraught with difficulties … ”
    Amen, very useful observation.

    But we still have to consider whether intense carbon emission is going to throw things so far out of balance that the cycle will cause critical distortions that might have been made more manageable.

  2. troutsky says:

    I suspect he was referring to the carbon cycle, which is the BALANCE of the exchanges (incomes and losses) of carbon between the carbon reservoirs or between one specific loop of the carbon cycle (eg., atmosphere biosphere)

    Science reporting will always be “fraught” because they gotta sell papers, so you are not going to get every citation of every study in the NYT. But there is tons of scholastic work backing up the thesis and it is easy enough to find with an open, skeptical mind.

  3. Lichanos says:

    … we still have to consider whether intense carbon emission is going to throw things so far out of balance…

    By all means, let’s consider it. He has decided already.

    …I suspect he was referring to the carbon cycle…

    Very generous of you to ‘suspect’ this. I suspected that he meant what people usually mean when they use that phrase, i.e. change is disturbing and bad – “balance” means equilibrium and stasis.

    Gillis makes no scientific arguments, citations or not: he just throws out stuff knowing it will stick with some people. As for the carbon cycle, it is poorly understood and is not a major part of the global warming models. Too many details, too much uncertainty, too little data.

  4. troutsky says:

    OK, we all like mathematics with its proofs and certainty, it makes such a positive case for truth. But science, as you well know, is not math. Much messier business, right? There is actually a tremendous body of research out there regarding the carbon cycle and its relation to climate if you would care for some links? Happy to provide.

    As for equilibrium and change, I understand that there is a philosophical component to all this assignment of values ie good or bad (evil?) but a stable system like, say, the North Atlantic conveyor has made it possible for many cool species to thrive. That seems like something worth preserving, in a state of relative stasis, to the extent we can with just a little effort,… alright, small revolution. IMO.

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