How low can you go?


Whilst the usual suspects provide compelling demonstrations of just how the motivated rejection of science works in practice, my eyes remain fixed on the far north, where the Arctic melt season is drawing to a close. Above is the current (Sept 3rd) NSIDC sea ice extent graph, tracking well down into record territory. And here’s what the anomaly for August as a whole looks like:


Reactions to the record-breaking melt around the denialist echo chamber have been tracking my projections rather nicely. I’ll have a roundup when the final accounting of the new record minimum is done. For further reading, check out Fen Montaigne’s article on Arctic tipping points for e360, David Spratt’s summary of the state of play at Climate Code Red and a similar overview from New Scientist, Dana Nucitelli at Skeptical Science with the perfect image that demonstrates why the late 30s were not the same as today, and Gwynne Dyer on the possible consequences. For my views on the ice, the winter, peach trees and The Aviator, Alex Smith interviewed me for his Radio Ecoshock show – embedded below…

[Update 6/9/12] The NSIDC has released its Sea Ice News summary of the August melt:

Following the new record low recorded on August 26, Arctic sea ice extent continued to drop and is now below 4.00 million square kilometers (1.54 million square miles). Compared to September conditions in the 1980s and 1990s, this represents a 45% reduction in the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice. At least one more week likely remains in the melt season.

32 thoughts on “How low can you go?”

    1. I had a chat with Glenn last night. He’s got his gear set up in London at last, so we’re going to do a trial recording early next week, with the aim of getting the full show back online in the near future.

      1. As a regular listener of Radio Ecoshock I was pleased that Alex Smith was back for a new season. Nice suprise to hear your interview Gareth. Like David, I am looking forward to the Climate show returning.

  1. PS. To supplement the fact you link to the views of Gwyn Dyer.

    He is known primarily as a commentator on military affairs. He was a senior lecturer in War Studies at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the UK equivalent of West Point in the US. His perspective is a glimpse for us all into the views of the senior military leaders of many countries including the UK Canada the US all of NATO and others. These are the people who are his contacts. They are waking up to the fact that climate change will affect global security in a time frame they need to plan for now. His book, “Climate Wars” is worth reading.

    Regarding your discussion on the podcast with Smith about “what you don’t get” in most media reports of specific weather events is “the big picture of what’s happening to the climate system”:

    One big part of the reason why international progress on climate action is fairly non-existent is the lack of leadership coming from the US, obviously. A graphic example showing some of the big picture on why that is is shown in coverage of the recent Republican National Convention.

    As this video clip from Democracy Now shows, when Romney walked up to the podium to give his big speech, major US TV network coverage showed him each step of the way, until he stopped to share a moment with the Koch brothers, who happen to be the largest funders of climate science denial in the world, who also happen to head a group vowing to raise and spend $400 billion for the Republican cause in this campaign.

    At that point, the camera cut away. Anything must be more important than a Romney meet and greet with the Kochs. Viewers are shown some fluff – two young women – then a shot of the convention center from above. Only when the Kochs were safely out of camera range does the camera return to show what Romney is doing.

    The news is what the news isn’t.

    1. Well spotted. Indeed – just as with reading between the lines of a reference or testimonial – much of the news is actually in the bits “they” edit out – day after day!

  2. I usually avoid responding to such obvious trolls such as AndyS, but to address the wider Hot Topic community, did you all notice that AndyS has surpassed himself (and all trolls) here in this last comment.

    He has produced the epitomy of brevity in this last troll comment.


    And there is just no response you can make.

    I think this is amazing! He has “gone where no troll has gone before”.

    Has he been reading Joe Romm’s book on language intelligence/ rhetoric?

    To paraphrase Romm’s favourite war-time leader, Winston Churchill;

    “Nevah befoar, in the history of global warming blogging, have so few trolls, made so many troll-comments, using so few words ..”

  3. I usually avoid responding to such obvious trolls such as AndyS, but to address the wider Hot Topic community, did you all notice that AndyS has surpassed himself (and all trolls) here in this last comment.

    Indeed. Brevity is good

    So exactly what is Tom’s point?

    Is Tom saying that Antarctic flights are socially unacceptable?

    In NZ, we have the following:

    Scenic flights around Mt Cook
    Scenic flights around Christchurch
    Scenic flights around LakeTekapo
    Scenic flights around Lake Taupo

    Do I need to go on?
    Do you need more than 2 words from an “obvious troll”

    What exactly is your point “Mr February”?

      1. Andy it takes time to shift the moral compass of society.

        Burning through fossil carbon fuels for fun had no moral baggage attached through the majority of the last century, in fact it became a status symbol of wealth and power.

        In the face of what we are doing to the prospects of future generations with that exuberance moral questions attach themselves for very obvious reasons to any use of fossil fuels for fun, play and pleasure.
        In the face of our knowledge of the consequences of smoking and drug use, we have attached moral judgements to the use of tobacco and other drugs. Depending on the drugs in question, these moral judgements have became normative over the course of many decades. Some people adopted the new moral compass bearings sooner than others.
        What you observe around you today in regards to AGW and the pleasure use of fossil fuels is a similar shift. It will take a long while to become normative due to the obvious power and potential of fossil fuels. Not flying for fun or pleasure will be hard to do.
        That is why intelligent people think that the price of carbon should be “engineered” if necessary to simply enforce the reductions in the use of these fuels that we must undertake to safeguard the future.

        So, when will your moral compass swing?

          1. … or they use the speed train if they live in a country that thought ahead….

            China is planing an electric speed train connecting China to Europe

            Imagine Andy if you could zip on your Thorium reactor driven electric train system from Beijing to Paris…

            Or perhaps the power would come from a few solar arrays and wind farms plus flow cell storage batteries along the way….

            Of cause NZ is falling behind by allowing its existing pathetic rail network to deteriorate further, cementing our dependency on high carbon content transportation well into the future.

            There is a whole future out there Andy that you simply refuse to imagine and which would not involve your beloved fossil fuels.

            1. There is a whole future out there Andy that you simply refuse to imagine and which would not involve your beloved fossil fuels.

              I was just trying to understand the moralising over “fun” use of fossil fuels. I fully understand that there are alternatives, but things like high speed trains are only cost-effective when you have sufficient population to make the thing economically viable. I lived in Oslo for a year which has fantastic electric trams that can get to ski areas and climbing crags without any need for a car at all.

              Personally, I think its a shame that NZ has cut back on its rail network. It could do a lot with the existing rail tracks to the south of Christchurch, for example.

              I don’t imagine that I’ll ever do a scenic flight over Antarctica. I’d much rather actually step on the land and have an adventure trip.

              Nevertheless, I’d probably lay off the moralising because the number of people doing this kind of thing is so small as to be insignificant. That’s my view anyway

      2. Bogus argument. No-one would drive to Antarctica, even if it were possible, because it’s too bloody far away and takes too bloody long. and, it’s cold! Similarly, no one would drive to Europe for their annual holidays (remember, dear reader, this is an Antipodean blog!)

        Sailing, whether wind or diesel, expends comparatively little carbon, and yet comparatively few do it. Why? Because you’d have to make a commitment to do it, as you once had to make a commitment – in both financial and time resources – to travel the world in ‘the old days’ (i.e. pre-cheap flights. So before 1970, really!)

        And, I mean, you get in a bloody jumbo with a few hundred other Tourists – and I use the word fully-consciously – cruise down there in a pressurised, climate-controlled cabin sipping cab-sav or sinking tinnies at several hundred Kmh, overfly the icy wastes at a couple of 1000m elevation, and get home in time for tea to tell everyone you’ve ‘experienced’ Antarctica? It’s not even a bloody joke!

        And yet it’s so little different to ‘I went to Bali’; meaning I again covered a distance I’d never travel if I had to make any significant effort to do it, expending great gobs of carbon in just a few hours along the way, stayed in a western hotel with some nicely acculturated (towards my values, mind!) locals smiling at me and serving me drinks, hung around at the bar for a while sinking Aussie beers with the other short-term expatriates, and ‘visited’ a few of the places the brochures reckoned I’d really have to see. And a very worthwhile ‘cultural experience’ that was!

        This ain’t ‘broadening the mind’, this is the expansion of colonial – indeed, imperial – decadence to the masses. This cannot end well…

        So, yet again, the slogan of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries – ‘Give me convenience, or give me Death!’ is what’s screwing the planet. Completely.

        1. No-one would drive to Antarctica, even if it were possible, because it’s too bloody far away and takes too bloody long. and, it’s cold

          and the sea is in the way, of course

          1. It’s certainly a perfect example of both narcissism and decadence. You can’t expect to get yourself a pyramid built any more, but you can fly to the space station. Why not just buy a cherry-red eco-tec* V6 ute to outwardly manifest your magnificence like everyone-else does, and use the spare change you would otherwise have spent on the space-ticket setting up a useful memorial to yourself? (Useful in the sense that it benefits somebody or something back here among the hoi polloi on Earth.)

            I predict the first major clutch of deaths will put a serious crimp in the whole exercise, though.

            *’cause you’re really, y’know, environmentally aware, and all that shit.

            1. I seem to recall James Lovelock booking himself on a space trip with Virgin Galactic but I didn’t hear any more of that

  4. For me this is the best comic clip on our approach to air travel and other technology:

    I like what Thomas says. And my experience is that alternatives only emerge when you force yourself to step away from the current high carbon approach to doing things and try something else. For example, south and north island day trains have world class carriages with power at every seat. You can get through in a good days work on them – without distractions. Food by Wishbone. Internet access is intermittent, but survivable.

    Offering to lecture at distant universities via skype on short notice is an emerging source of revenue. Voice and basic video is very good into universities. Need some work on screen content sharing though. Takes up a lot of bandwidth.

    1. “So all we need is the Antarctica flyover as a virtual experience and we are there! If you think about it, peering out a window at 30,000 feet could be pretty easily replicated in a suitable simulator.”

      Not only that but the chances of crashing are reduced, and if in the unlikely event you do crash, you can just walk away.

      I was speaking to a Professor of Pathology last night who thinks this whole CO2 thing is crap. He claimed he had read alot of scientific papers on the subject and this was why he thought global warming was just a new religion rather than anything substantiated by science, In other words a highly respected Professor of Pathology was willing to lie to support his position.

      I thought it was interesting that someone who should know better can show compassion to individuals from a medical perspective, but be totally indifferent to the whole of human civilisation including his own children and grandchildren and completely switch off to the real world around him.

      We must let these people know that they are going to have a fight on their hands if they continue to keep their heads buried in the sand, particularly since if we are going to have a decent shot preventing the worst we need to start soon, or it will all be too little too late.

  5. I’m interested in what the effect on the planetary energy imbalance is and will be, as a result of Arctic sea-ice change altering the planetary albedo. People are quoting Wadhams from a BBC interview, but his is a back of the envelope calculation.

    Stephen Hudson of the Norwegian Polar Institute has been doing some work, published in JGR, i.e. Estimating the Global Radiative Impact of the Sea-Ice-Albedo Feedback in the Arctic which came up with “the observed loss of sea ice in the Arctic between 1979 and 2007 is approximately 0.1 W/m2” . This is a factor that seems to have been left out of calculations such as the recent Hansen calculated planetary energy imbalance of about ~0.6 W/m2 (he estimates it will prove to be 0.75 W/m2 if averaged over a full solar cycle). Hansen has a sea ice term in there but its the heat the sea ice absorbs in its phase change from ice to water.

    Hudson cautions: “the potential for changes in cloud cover as a result of the changes in sea ice makes the evaluation of the actual forcing that may be realized quite uncertain, since such changes could overwhelm the forcing caused by the sea-ice loss itself….”

    According to an August 17 2011 press release posted on the Norwegian Polar Institute website Hudson says, if you consider an Arctic Ocean that is ice-free for one month in summer and has less ice than today for the rest of the year: “my calculations show that the warming driven by the disappearance of the ice corresponds to 0.3 W/m2, if you spread it evenly over the whole planet. If you do not consider the cloud cover… the effect is nearly 0.6 W/m2”.

    Hansen points out that he can assume one half of the driver of ice age/interglacial oscillations is GHG change, the other half albedo change and get a good result in his modelling. The reason he is very confident now that he knows what the planetary energy imbalance is at the moment is the Argo float data.

    There are no Argo floats in the Arctic ocean.

  6. Hansen is appearing at the Greenpeace UK event Sept 19 in London entitled “Why are rapid changes in the Arctic and Antarctica a matter of global concern?”

    Perhaps he’ll give his take on albedo change there.

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