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Baked Alaska

by Donald Prothero, Aug 24 2011

Last week I returned from an amazing Skeptic Society cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage. During the cruise, we held a conference with 200 other Skeptics on “Glaciers and the Science of Climate Change,” with presentations by scientific experts on glaciers and climate. On day 3, we witnessed the glaciers melting away before our very eyes. At Glacier Bay National Park, we saw tons of ice calving away from Margerie and Johns Hopkins glaciers, causing huge booms to echo across the fjord. As our resident expert Dr. Bruce Molnia of the USGS pointed out during his presentation, over 95% of the glaciers of Alaska are stagnant or shrinking, and we saw several examples of these. Molnia has been studying Alaska’s glaciers for decades, and he showed stunning images of how much they have retreated in just the past century (such as the images of the retreat of Muir Glacier below, shot in 1941  and in 2004). If you recall the images of the vanished glacier’s in An Inconvenient Truth, some of those were from Molnia’s research. We billed the trip as “See ‘em before they vanish” but in the case of most of the glaciers, it’s already too late. If my 6- and 8-year-old sons repeat this trip decades later as grown men, there will be almost no glaciers to see at all.

Muir Glacier

Naturally, the conference focused on the scientific evidence about glacier retreat and global climate change. Our moderator Michael Shermer challenged us to show us the evidence that climate change is real and anthropogenic, and our speakers did so in spades. Much of this evidence was outlined in Chapter 10 of my new book Catatastrophes!, so I will not repeat all of it here. But some of the key points that came up again and again in the conference were:

1. The community of scientists who actually do climate research has long ago reached a consensus that anthropogenic global warming is real, and their consensus is about 95–99% depending upon the study (Oreskes, 2004; Doran and Kendall Zimmerman, 2009; Anderegg, 2010). This is as much agreement as you’ll see in science, comparable to scientific consensus about evolution or quantum physics or relativity. As I pointed out in previous posts, there are cranks who challenge the ideas of relativity or quantum physics, or creationists who deny evolution, but they do not represent the overwhelming scientific  consensus.

2. The planet’s climate is clearly changing in a way that cannot be explained by simple climate cycles or warming since the Little Ice Age or any other cause. One only need look at the unprecedented disappearance of the world’s glaciers, ice caps, and permafrost, the temperature records from multiple sources all over the world, and many other lines of evidence to show that the planet is warming faster with higher levels of carbon dioxide than any time in the past 650,000 years at minimum (based on the EPICA ice core from Antarctica), and probably since the Ice Ages began over 2.5 million years ago. The fact that the North Pole is now ice-free open water in summer for the first time in 2 million years is shocking in and of itself. Where will Santa go?

3. Many people agree that climate is changing, but are not sure that humans are to blame. If they want proof, they can examine the huge array of data directly point to humans causing global warming. We can directly measure the amount of carbon dioxide humans are producing, and it tracks exactly with the amount of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Through carbon isotope analysis, we can show that this carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is coming directly from our burning of fossil fuels, not from natural sources. We have satellites measuring the heat released from the planet and can actually see the atmosphere get warmer, and pinpoint its sources to human activities. The most crucial proof emerged only the past few years: climate models of the greenhouse effect predict that there should be warming in the stratosphere, but cooling in the troposphere, and that’s exactly what our space probes have measured. Finally, we can rule out any other culprits: solar heat has been decreasing since 1940, not increasing, and there are no measurable increases in cosmic radiation, methane, volcanic gases, or any other potential cause. Face it—it’s our problem.

4. As Oreskes and Conway demonstrated in their 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, and I expanded upon in my book Catastrophes!, the “doubt” about anthropogenic global warming was not some sort of minority opinion among real climate scientists. Instead, a number of leaked memos show that it was entirely a PR campaign cooked up by energy lobby (mostly oil and coal producers) and the right-wing and libertarian institutes (especially the Marshall Institute and Heartland Institute) to blunt the political forces that were taking anthropogenic global warming seriously. They resorted to the same tactics as other kinds of reality deniers, such as the Holocaust deniers or the creationists: citing studies out of context to mean the opposite of what was actually said (the whole “climategate” kerfuffle over their misreading of stolen emails); generating phony “lists of scientists who doubt” evolution or global warming (these lists are composed almost entirely of people with no academic credentials in climate change research or evolutionary biology, so their “dissent” is immaterial); taking small pieces of data out of context to deliberately misrepresent the actual record (for example, the claim that “climate has been cooling since 1998″ is based on a tiny downward wiggle from 1998-2001, while the overall trend is hotter, and the hottest global average temperatures on record have come from the past 3 years); pointing to small differences between labs or individual scientists that they can’t get their story straight (but as the 2007 IPCC report and the previous studies showed, the consensus is virtually unanimous among working climate scientists). Even more striking, the deniers of both evolution and climate change are largely overlapping audiences, now that it is virtually a creed among the GOP and Fox News, and creationist websites like the Discovery Institute site now feature as much climate denialism as they do evolution denialism. (Just last week Texas Gov. Rick Perry stridently topped all the other GOP presidental candidates in denying global warming, accusing scientists of cheating and exaggerating to make themselves rich. This kind of shoot-the-messenger demagoguery is laughable. Most research scientists I know made big sacrifices of many years in grad school to earn their degrees, only to receive a paltry academic’s salary which is much less than they should receive for so much education in comparison to lawyer, doctors—or politicians and oil geologists. None of the scientists I know are motivated primarily by money—they do it because they love their field of research, and want to find out what is happening with climate, not line their pockets).

All of this was grist for a lively discussion during the cruise seminars. Fortunately, we were able to point to some encouraging trends. The entire debate over global warming in the U.S. is largely a rear-guard action and irrelevant to where the political winds are blowing now. Most of the rest of the world’s nations accepts the reality. The fact that even Kyoto holdouts like China, India, and the U.S. agreed to the basic science of global warming in the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit is a big step forward. (Unfortunately, our political gridlock has also meant that other countries, especially China, are pushing hard to develop the next green technology, and leaving us behind). It is not just the liberals and environmentalists who are taking climate change seriously. Historically conservative institutions (big corporations, the insurance companies, emergency management agencies, the U.S. military, and even some oil companies) are already planning on how to deal with global warming. These organizations have no political axe to grind or party affiliation, but they must plan for a future that is clear to climate scientists and most people around the world, even if it is clouded in the U.S. by political ideology.

Some people may still try to deny scientific reality, but big businesses like oil and insurance, and conservative institutions like the military, cannot afford to be blinded or deluded by ideology. They must plan for the real world that we will be seeing in the next few decades. They do not want to be caught unprepared and harmed by global climatic change when it threatens their survival. Neither can we as a society.


  • Oreskes, N. 2004. Beyond the Ivory Tower: The scientific consensus on climatic change. Science 306: 1686.
  • Doran, P., and M. Kendall Zimmerman. 2009. Examining the scientific consensus on climatic change. EOS 90 (3): 22.
  • Anderegg, W.R.L., Prall, J.W., Harold, J., and Schneider, S.H. 2010. Expert credibility on climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 107:12107–12109.

97 Responses to “Baked Alaska”

  1. Somite says:

    Shermer was playing devil’s advocate, right? Right!?

    • I believe so. As you know, he used to be a doubter but “came out” several years ago when enough scientists talked to him. I don’t know if he’s convinced it’s anthropogenic, although I placed the overwhelming evidence in front of the whole audience.
      It goes against the beliefs of a LOT of liberarians, you know….

      • Shane Brady says:

        Shermer, who was never a public skeptic of climate change so much as apathetic I think, has said he supports the idea of anthropogenic climate change.

        While I guess it would be impossible to have a post about this without politics, as a libertarian and someone who talks to a lot of libertarians about this, I can tell you the crux of the matter is not so much the science, as the distrust of the popular proposed political solutions. I think it’s probably the same with most climate change skeptics.

        I think the skeptical community in general has done a poor job of examining the proposed solutions, and often labels anyone who disagrees with certain politics as a “climate change skeptic”.

      • Beelzebud says:

        I find that the libertarian angle just boils down to “government bad, private sector good”, and expects anything to be done about climate change to be left up to the private sector. Is my perception wrong?

      • itzac says:

        One libertarian friend of mine has said that he “believe[s] solutions to climate change should come from the private sector.” (If that’s not verbatim, it’s pretty close). I’m sure I’ve heard Shermer say pretty much exactly the same thing.

        Most of the solutions so many libertarians are skeptical of have in fact been tried before and have worked marvelously. Cap-and-trade was used to deal with both acid rain emissions and CFCs. And taxing a behaviour as a disincentive is econ-101 stuff.

      • Somite says:

        I’ll bite. What would be a libertarian-approved solution to the problem of anthropogenic climate change?

      • I have no problem with the fact that there is a diversity of opinions of what to do about climate chcange, an issue we discussed at length in our panels and talks. But there ARE many libertarians who completely deny AGW exists, as well as the entire GOP and almost all the GOP presidential candidates. That is pure science denialism, not an open debate about possible solutions.

      • Max says:

        I bet it’s nuclear energy.

      • Canman says:

        The libertarian solution is economic growth, which will best help people deal with the bad effects of climate change. CO2 has already almost doubled and will almost certainly increase overseas. China is probably building new coal plants to power their windmill factories. Major cuts in US carbon output over the next 20 or so years are going to have a trivial affect on the total CO2 level.

        If cutting CO2 emissions was the top US priority, I would think building nuclear plants is the most cost effective thing our government could do.

        I fear that we are going to bankrupt ourselves buying windmills and won’t be able to afford the new whizz-bang fusion pack or whatever else comes along.

      • Somite says:

        Considering recent events nuclear should not be an option. My impression is that to make nuclear inherently safe would be so cost prohibitive, so much that the private sector would not fund the effort adequately. At that point wind and solar are competitive and orders of magnitude safer. Sadly it appears that unless plunder is involved libertarians don’t approve.

        The “improved economics for individuals to adapt” strategy is myopic and selfish. What happens to people without the resources? What you are proposing is a tax on quality of life rather than money. And what about ecosystems and animals that don’t share our artificial economy?

        This is where libertarianism always fail. It is myopic and instinctively against planning and cooperation. This is why libertarians will fight to not pay $100 in taxes and then lose half their wealth in a recession.

      • Canman says:

        Somite, for some perspective on nuclear power, you should check out the dustup between Guardian columnist George Manbiot and antinuclear activist Helen Caldicott.

        If you think wind and solar are the answer, the man whose arguments you have to beat, is Peter Huber. His article, “Bound to Burn” makes the most persuasive arguments I’ve heard on the subject. You might be able to nitpick some details, but like creationests pointing out fossil gaps, they don’t negate the total case.

        As for libertarianism and selfishness, I’d rather have a selfish bastard trying to corner a market than amassing power in some government agency.

      • Max says:

        George Monbiot told Helen Caldicott that UNSCEAR estimated a total of 43 deaths from Chernobyl, and then acted shocked when she said it’s a total cover-up. Monbiot appears to be a Chernobyl denier.

        Switching from coal to nuclear reminds me of fast food establishments yielding to pressure to stop using saturated fat like lard by switching to trans fat like margarine, which is even worse.

      • Canman says:

        If Helen Caldicott says there was a coverup, that makes this a conspiracy theory — something that I would expect people on a skeptic’s blog to look very critically at. Nuclear accidents are a topic that I think would be of great interest to many scientists and journalists. Is there a considerable number of them who share her views?

        I have heard a few interviews with HC. She is very strident and has an extreme dislike of anything nuclear. This does not make her wrong, but I suspect that a lot of what she says is exaggerated. The revelations that GM has uncovered, after looking into her claims, is making her look more and more like a fringe figure to me.

      • Max says:

        Helen Caldicott accepts Dr. Alexey Yablokov’s estimate of a million deaths from Chernobyl. Hearing that a UN committee estimated 43 deaths is like hearing that a UN committee estimated 43 deaths from the Armenian Genocide, so I can see how this would look like a cover-up. Caldicott’s mistake was to accept Monbiot’s claim at face value. He probably mistook deaths from radiation poisoning for total deaths from radiation exposure.

      • Canman says:

        The UNSCEAR report apparently only includes confirmed deaths and does not estimate low level radiation deaths because of uncertainties (and states so). GM used the “43 deaths” number in a heated television debate. He may have made one mistake, but Piltdown man does not disprove evolution. His columns about her bring up a lot of points, which seem very credible to me. HC’s response column in the Guardian is rather short and doesn’t seem to address these points.

      • Forty-three sounds like an understatement on confirmed deaths. That said, Caldicott is an anti-nuke hystericist, and 1 million sounds way overstated.

        While I don’t write blank checks to the nuke power industry, I’m not quite in the same camp as Max on it.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Oddly enough, Shermer himself states that the first time he started to take it seriously was when a group of evangelical christians said they believed the data. Scientists weren’t enough for him, but evangelical christians were. That has always struck me as beyond odd…

      • I’m not sure he was playing devil’s advocate. He may be a global warming accepter, but still a “minimalist,” like Lomborg, as to how much of it is anthropogenic. (Just as you point out, Donald.)

        Circumstantial evidence that he was NOT playing devil’s advocate? In “The Believing Brain,” he calls peak oil theories “conspiracy theories.”

  2. Nyar says:

    That sounds like a lot of fun; any idea how much carbon you released into the atmosphere in order to take this cruise?

    • tmac57 says:

      I see what you did there. But all snark aside,you do make a good point. We all have to accept that the actions we take that add to our carbon footprint,are part of the problem,and we should try to minimize unnecessary use of activities that cause greenhouse gases,unless we want to be seen as hipocrites.
      One of the biggest weapons in the arsenal of AGW deniers,is the finger pointing that they do at prominent spokespersons that speak out on AGW that are big contributors to the problem despite convictions.

      • When we planned the cruise, there were no cruise lines that were carbon neutral, as far as we could determine. So we made the choice to go on the ship (which would have sold out without our 200 people–it was overbooked by 31 cabins) and help 200 Skeptics get a better idea of the problem of climate change, on the expectation that this would compensate for some of the carbon footprint of the cruise line. I think we got a lot of motivated and informed people in the end…

      • tmac57 says:

        I understand,and sympathize with your dilemma.After all,I live in Texas,and would be very reluctant to give up my air conditioning, (especially after this summer!). But we can’t deny that our actions have consequences (well, we can deny it,but that won’t change the facts).
        The people who accept climate change,and all that that portends, should also be willing to accept that we will have to be the ones that lead the way with changes in our behaviors that support our convictions.Otherwise,we leave ourselves open to accusations of elitism and hypocrisy.

  3. @ Nyar

    the same carbon that would have been produced because it was a regular cruise that the conference took place during – the difference is that 200 of the 2000 passengers took the time to learn and understand about humanity’s impact on the planet

    and could then apply what they learned back home in our daily lives, workplaces and share the information with other people

    I also had 2 encounters with deniers on board the ship and was able to engage one of them in a civil conversation, the other after looking at one glacier and insisting that melting was totally natural – despite there being no way to determine that by simply looking at just one glacier – ran away from having a conversation rather than be made aware and understand that it’s a lot more complicated than he would like it to be in order to continue being as heavy a footprint as he wants to be.

    • Nyar says:

      Very convenient, you can have a large carbon footprint as long as you have a good excuse for it.

      “Our survival is being threatened! But look at the pretty pictures I took while taking a cruise that releases more carbon emissions than a long haul flight. Huh? No it’s totes ok cuz this carbon would have been released anyway. Stupid denier.”

      • Very convenient; you can have a large STUPIDITY footprint as long as you have a good excuse for it.

        There; fixed what you said.

        Meanwhile, De-Nyar being Nyar, we’re about to get another full fledged round of trollery, I suspect.

      • Nyar says:

        Others up thread have already acknowledged that I have a good point.

      • And others both up- and downthread have said you don’t.

        Besides, science isn’t a democracy. If you don’t accept that, you’re an even bigger troll than you’ve shown to date.

      • Nyar says:

        I am accepting the science, I was just pointing out that taking an unnecessary cruise adds to one’s carbon footprint. What part of that do you think is incorrect?

  4. Gr8GooglyMoogly says:

    Nyar – please tell us… What is it like to be perfect?

  5. Earl_of_Edmonds says:

    i too was on that cruise…great time had by all.

    Glacier Bay was by far and away one of the best moments of my life.

    sorry i missed the Society’s meetings onboard, maybe next time.

  6. Earl_of_Edmonds says:

    on a side note…when i read the title of the post and knowing DP was onboard too i thought he might be ripping HAL for their god awful idea of Baked Alaska.

    food on a cruise mostly sucks…the volume is grand but the quality is nothing more than Olive Garden.

    and yes i too wish there was a better way to tour the pacific than on a great polluter of the sea but such is the way of life.

  7. rslaman says:

    Dr. Prothero: I was on the Alaskan cruise and it was pointed out to me that the retreat of the Glacier Bay glacier from Icy Straight seems to have begun as early as 1760 to 1780 (Glacier Bay National Park brochure). This seems to be a little early for the burning of fossil fuels due to the Industrial Revolution to have had much impact on the glacier’s retreat. Understanding that there are many causes for a glacier to retreat (snow in, ice out), this just seems difficult to explain.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      You shoujld email Bruce Molnia ( and ask him. He’s the expert, and you saw how knowledgeable and accessible he was on our cruise. I’ll bet he will answer your question (I recall him discussing Glacier Bay in his talk, but I don’t remember the specifics now).

  8. MadScientist says:

    “… the North Pole is now ice-free open water in summer for the first time in 2 million years …”

    When did that happen, and can we expect it (almost) every year? If the thawing were regular I would have expected shipping companies to plead for access to the Northwest Passage.

    How do we know that the North Pole had not been clear of ice in the past 2M years?

    “We have satellites measuring the heat released from the planet and can actually see the atmosphere get warmer, and pinpoint its sources to human activities.”

    There are satellites, but we don’t really have good global coverage + spectral coverage; no instrument currently in space can really constrain the outward energy flux from the earth as a whole. The satellite instruments (such as AVHRR) are good for determining sea surface temperatures though (but not on cloudy days). Other instruments which probe atmospheric temperature only take a slice through part of the atmosphere and quite a few assumptions must be made about how the measurements represent the global conditions. Some of the numerous papers on the Pinatubo eruption would give the casual reader some idea of the issues involved.

    • It was first reported in 2000 when my former graduate advisor, Dr. Malcolm McKenna, flew over the North Pole and photographed it; it was front-page news in the NY Times. It has been reported each year since, and there has been a LOT of discussion about shipping, deep-sea mining, etc. in the Arctic Ocean now that such a large part of the Arctic Ocean is ice free in the summer. I’ve seen article in Time magazine, and other news that there are plans for “Northwest Passage” shipping lanes, etc. There are also sediment cores from beneath the Arctic Ice and from the adjacent oceans which show the Arctic Ice Cap has been around at least 2.5 m.y. and even during interglacials it remained frozen–EXCEPT for the current interglacial, which is now already warmer than at any time since the oldest ice core data we have (almost 800,000 years back in time).

  9. John says:

    Can someone explain to me why warming the planet is such a huge danger. Would things be better if we were cooling the planet? Or should our objective be to have no impact on the temperature? This last objective seems unrealistic.

    If you look at any period in Earth’s geologic history the temperature is either warming or cooling. Human activity may very well be causing it to warm faster than it would be warming ordinarily but I do not see that as the catastrophe that many environmentalists do.

    • It’s problematic because of this thing called “civilization” which didn’t exist when the last (naturally-caused) major climate change happened.

      Unless you’re prepared to go back to scavenger-gatherer existence, please tell me how you intend to rapidly move cities away from vulnerable coastlines, shift agricultural zones hundreds of miles, etc.

      • Nyar says:

        In our “civilization” and our civilization even, moving to another city or region is trivial. I think we will manage.

      • Nonsense. You’re comparing individuals moving themselves to society organizing large scale moves, first of all. Second, you didn’t even address shifting agriculture. (And those are just the two most obvious issues.) Otherwise, what Max said. (Not that you actually read stuff like this.)

      • Nyar says:

        Why would agriculture be unmovable? It is really just a matter of moving the equipment and maybe some workers. We transport equipment and people around all the time anyway so I don’t see the problem.

      • MadScientist says:

        Why do you think it’s trivial or that we’ll manage? Did you ever try to imagine how a city like New York or LA might be moved? No government even wants to deal with the relatively paltry number of political refugees from various African and Mid-East nations; how will a government move entire mega cities?

      • Nyar says:

        Because millions of people move every year and new structures are constantly being built and new areas developed. Climate change may happen quickly by geologic standards, but by human standards the change will so slow as to almost be imperceptible. Political changes producing refugees happen at lightning speed by contrast.

        Also it is unlikely that the entirety of L.A. or New York will have to be moved. Even in worse case scenarios only certain areas will need to evacuated. Even then, nothing is certain; New Orleans has been partially below sea level for decades but manages to stay unflooded in all but the most extreme circumstances.

        Also, why do think the government will have to move them? People will most likely start taking climate change into consideration in their everyday decisions. As the small incremental changes occur people will respond, some will leave areas that are no longer suitable for agriculture for example, others may not be able to insure houses built near the coast and therefore decide to build elsewhere, etc.

        When climate change happens it will not be like a Hollywood movie, it will be mostly boring.( actually that is like some movies, but you know what I mean )

      • MadScientist says:

        Sure the changes will not be sudden, but it still won’t be easy to move; the movie style instant huge catastrophes are only alarmist propaganda so we certainly shouldn’t expect them.

        How many crop failures does a farm need before the owners pack up and go? Will they be able to sell their property and buy new farmland? The same goes for cities as people abandon them. If a city is not going to be entirely abandoned, what is to be done with the infrastructure? Is it all simply left to rot away slowly as the ancient Mayan cities? Where do people move to? Looking at history, humans are attracted to other already large cities and governments tend to pile money for public works into large cities to the detriment of small towns.

        We’re already suffering food shortages; how do we deal with the situation as the shortages become more severe and more common? (The rapidly growing global population doesn’t help any either.) Even gradual changes would not be pleasant; worse still, people tend to ignore gradual changes until things are really bad.

      • Nyar says:

        Those are good questions but notice also that they are things that already happen regardless of climate change.

        No one is suggesting that Detroit is the victim of climate change but the city has lost half of its population in half a century. It might be a good place to look for answers to some of your questions about abandoning cities. As for the agriculture question, the southwest is littered with failed agricultural projects, take your pick.

    • Max says:

      Any rapid climate change is a huge danger because there’s not enough time to adapt to it.
      In Earth’s geologic history, rapid climate change has caused mass extinctions like the Great Dying.

    • MadScientist says:

      What catastrophe do you imagine environmentalists see?

      Too much warming is a bad thing; there’s probably nothing we can do about natural warming, but the point is to reduce the human contribution to warming before things go really bad due to our own activities. For now, while we have the ice sheets the global rate of warming may be slowed down; after all, it takes as much energy to melt ice at 0C as it does to raise the temperature of that same amount of water to 80C. With the ice sheets gone we can expect a further increase in air temperature near the surface due to CO2 alone; on top of that the ocean or land formerly underneath the ice will absorb much more energy and contribute a bit more warming at the poles. The warming global sea surface will stress a lot of marine microorganisms and ultimately have a negative effect on our already strained fish stocks. Warming in more shallow areas will destroy corals and add to the problems. On land the warming will affect many crops – some crops will no longer flower regularly in some regions. Moving enormous farms or changing crop are not such simple things because the profitability of a farm depends on the crops it can grow, and moving a farm means clearing arable areas elsewhere. Throughout the northern USA we can see other problems with warming – northern forests are being invaded and decimated by insects which would normally not venture that far north.

      • Another thing not yet mentioned: water. Many populations around the world depend on snowmelt for their fresh water. When the world no longer has snowcaps and icecaps and the water runs rapidly back to the ocean after raining on land, there will be HUGE freshwater shortages–as there were during greenhouse phases of the geologic past. All of this happening as the population continues to expand in regions least likely to support enough people or have enough water or crops. Yes, life continues after mass extinctions–but highly specialized species always vanish, and all that will remain is rats and cockroachces, not us.

      • John says:

        I hadn’t thought about the fresh water from glacial melts. Do you have any data on this? Like who is still relying on these for fresh water? I had assumed that those affected by this would mostly be in parts of Canada, Scandinavia and Russia and that these countries would have suitable technology for treating water.

        In regards to the rising sea level, the estimates I have seen are between 1 to 4 inches per century. While I see that this is not something can be ignored, it hardly seems catastrophic.

        Please note I am not claiming expertise on any of this. Just trying to make sense of things.

      • Somite says:

        Here is a good reference to start:

        The results reveal that hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are likely to be displaced by SLR within this century, and accompanying economic and ecological damage will be severe for many.

        I also recommend particularly the section that discusses the “it’s not that bad” fallacy.

    • Max says:

      Climate cycles drive civil war. Tropical conflicts double during El Niño years.
      “Republicans have been chipping away at U.S. intelligence involvement in climate change research since the 1990s.”

  10. oldebabe says:

    The pic of the difference in the glacier morphology was fantastic, and leaves no question that (at least) this glacier has retreated significantly over the years. Thanks.

    • There’s one other place, this on land, where you can compare pictures of such dramatic retreat. It’s the glaciers at the southern end of Jasper National Park in Canada, where a glacier that 75 years ago bordered the Icefields Parkway has retreated several hundred feet since then.

    • MadScientist says:

      Yes, it’s funny (though infuriating) when folks like Chris Monckton claim that glaciers are steady or growing but not receeding.

      • I’ve been to Banff and Jasper national parks in Canada (including to the Athabasca Glacier in the photos linked above), as well as Glacier and Rocky Mountain here in the U.S. I’ve seen plenty of glaciers in retreat.

        And, speaking of retreat, the rate at which animals are trying to escape global warming is increasing.

      • oldebabe says:

        Maybe he’s thinking of South America/Andes glaciers, particularly ones like the Perito Moreno, which DOES seem to be growing, or at least is steady.

      • Donald Prothero says:

        There are a handful of glaciers (less than 5% of the total) in Alaska and worldwide that are advancing. As Bruce Molnia pointed out in our Skeptics cruise, most of these are ones which have huge snowfield sources at very high elevations (so their source has not yet completely vanished). All the glaciers which have sources at lower elevations have much faster rates of ablation than they do of accumulation and are retreating.
        But even given this, Nature is still complex. Bruce showed us one system where two glaciers that emerge side-by-side from the SAME snowfield are doing the opposite thing–one advancing, one retreating. Like any complicated natural system, we don’t understand fully how every part of it works–but we DO understand that as a statistical average, more than 95% of the world’s glaciers are retreating, and Antarctic and Greenland ice caps are melting at record rates. That alone should be sufficient to realize how serious the issue has become.

  11. Trimegistus says:

    You guys must have missed the memo. Pointing out problems in Alaska is old and busted. You should have gone to Texas in search of environmental problems. Picking on Texas is the New Hotness!

    • Nyar says:

      You got that right! Texas is an interesting case, superstitious right wingers are praying to God to end the drought, while superstitious left wingers are thanking Gaia for smiting the unbelievers.

      • From trollery to loonery. Hear that on Faux News?

        Can’t speak for Tmac, but this left-liberal (in U.S. terms, at least) who lives in Texas is an unsuperstitious secularist who believes neither in Gaia nor Rick Perry’s god.

        Is superstition the excuse for your vomitorious spoutings, or something else?

      • Nyar says:

        Sorry Gadfly I forgot you don’t worship Gaia. You worship government. Mea culpa.

      • I worship neither.

        You, though, worship trollery and stupidity.

        Either pull your head out of your bunghole so you can say something intelligent, or else insert it more deeply so we don’t have to listen to you any more.

      • Beelzebud says:

        So there is a multitude of news articles about the governor of Texas holding a prayer rally to pray for rain, but yet I can’t seem to find anything about left-wingers thanking Gaia for smiting people. Do you have a source for this, or is it just how you “feel” the left-wing is reacting?

        More false equivalence. Where we compare some random postings to blogs (or whatever your source is for that claim), to the governor of a state, using state resources to promote his religion.

    • Beelzebud says:

      You need to realize that not every person bases all of their thoughts and actions around how it will affect right-wing hacks.

  12. abcdefg says:

    One aspect of CC which I don’t think is discussed a lot, particularly among the sceptics is ocean acidification, which can have very adverse effects on marine life if I understand correctly. Now we can all argue about uncertainities while modelling the climate and what not, but isn’t there a lot of solid evidence behind the ocean acidification as well? In which case, even if you don’t believe in the IPCC temperature forecasts you should still be concerned about CO2 emissions?

    • Donald Prothero says:

      Indeed! In fact, the effect of the oceans may be the biggest catastrophe of all, but most people tend to think of the oceans as remote and not crucial to their lives, whereas temperatures, flooding by high sea level, and other effects on land tend to be more attention-getting.

  13. Nestor says:

    Nice pic and a bit cherry picked too.

    Lamplugh, Reid, Margerie and Grand Pacific glaciers are all advancing at this time. And the nearby Brady Glacier has been advancing since 1794.

    • tmac57 says:

      Yeah,we shouldn’t worry about glaciers melting,when the real problem is the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps melting:

      “A new NASA-funded satellite study shows that the two biggest ice sheets on Earth – Greenland and Antarctica – are losing mass at an accelerating rate. This is the longest study ever conducted to analyze changing ice conditions at the poles, spanning nearly 20 years. Researchers concluded that the melting of ice caps has overtaken the melting of mountain glaciers to be the most dominant source of global sea level rise, much sooner than previous forecast models predicted.”

      So,let’s not worry our little heads about those “cherry picked” glaciers,we have bigger problems to be concerned with.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      If you read the article carefully, I cited the research that shows that over 95% of Alaska’s glaciers are retreating or dead and stagnating. Those handful of advancing glaciers you list are all unusual in some way (typically having sources at very high elevations at tidewater snouts) and are atypical of glaciers in Alaska or anywhere else in the world. YOU are the one cherry-picking the exceptions and making them sound like they negate the 95% that are NOT advancing!

      • tmac57 says:

        It’s a little like the executives and shareholders of Exxon wondering what all the talk about recession in the economy is all about.After all,their profits have never been better!

  14. Nestor says:

    And how much ice melt has there been ?

    Are you using the Harper Collins method of just claiming massive melt or real OBSERVED melt ?

    Poul Christoffersen, glaciologist at the Scott Polar Research Institute, said he and fellow researchers had examined the atlas and found that “a sizeable portion of the area mapped as ice-free in the Atlas is clearly still ice-covered”. He added that there was “to our knowledge no support for [the 15% ice reduction] claim in the published scientific literature.

    Has the melt in Greenland been more or less than the increase in Antarctica ?

    If you are going to work on global scale then please do so.

    • tmac57 says:

      Look at this NASA funded satellite study abstract:

      “In 2006, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets experienced a combined mass loss of 475 ± 158 Gt/yr, equivalent to 1.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr sea level rise. Notably, the acceleration in ice sheet loss over the last 18 years was 21.9 ± 1 Gt/yr 2 for Greenland and 14.5 ± 2 Gt/yr 2 for Antarctica, for a combined total of 36.3 ± 2 Gt/yr 2. This acceleration is 3 times larger than for mountain glaciers and ice caps (12 ± 6 Gt/yr 2). If this trend continues, ice sheets will be the dominant contributor to sea level rise in the 21st century. “

  15. Nestor says:

    “he Little Ice age reached its maximum extent here about 1750, when general melting began. Today’s advance or retreat of a glacier snout reflects many factors: snowfall rate, topography, and climate trends. Glacial retreat continues today on the bay’s east and southwest sides, but on its west side several glaciers are advancing.”


    • tmac57 says:

      From the Natl. Park Service Glacier Bay site:

      “What Does This Mean For Alaska’s Glaciers?

      Of the more than 100,000 glaciers in the state, 95% are currently thinning, stagnating, or retreating, and most of Glacier Bay’s glaciers follow this trend. However, there are a few exceptions. Due to heavy snowfall in the soaring Fairweather Mountains, Glacier Bay remains home to a few healthy and advancing glaciers, a rarity in today’s world.

      “Climate change challenges the very foundation of the National Park System and our ability to leave America’s natural and cultural heritage unimpaired for future generations” Jonathan Jarvis, NPS Director”

      I swear Nestor…you just can’t seem to get anything right.

      • Nestor says:

        Climate change no doubt does affect everything ( but that climate is variable a known fact.

        A massive glacial retreat world started after LIA

        ” NASA defines the term as a cold period between 1550 AD and 1850 AD and notes three particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850″

        why lump 3 very different things in to 1 # ” 95% are currently thinning, stagnating, or retreating” this is not meant as an attack just seems odd to me.

      • tmac57 says:

        The point is that there is a known warming trend.
        Again,from the NPS link:

        “Warming Alaska

        Warming is more pronounced at higher latitudes. Over the past 50 years Alaska’s annual average temperature has increased at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States’ average, and here in Southeast Alaska winters are 5 degrees warmer. Glacier Bay is expected to become warmer and drier over the next century. Widespread effects in Alaska include earlier spring snowmelt, reduced sea ice, shrinking glaciers, melting permafrost, bark beetle infestations, shoreline erosion, and more forest fires. “

  16. Nestor says:

    Correct a warming trend that started well before the industrial revolution, and one that has had ups and downs along the way
    see HMS Investigator (1848).

  17. Nestor says:

    The connection is: End of little ice age and world getting warmer but by the proxies used by non politically driven science still not as warm today as the medieval optimum.

    As to HMS Investigator (1848) The ship was found well inside the area of the north polar region that many people on the AGW side of the debate seem to represent(often) as being solid until recently which is quite untrue.

  18. Nestor says:

    Donald, if ice was there ship could not be, if it was never this warm then ice would have been there.. is that too hard to follow ?

    First using manns dishonest hockey stick is probably part of your world view, (switching from proxies to weather station data with out saying so because the proxies did not show the late 20th century clime he wanted)

    as far as the medical optimum not being nearly as warm as now..

    Seen any wine vineyards near London recently ?

    How is that farming season in Greenland ?

    A radiocarbon-dated box core in the Sargasso Sea shows that the sea surface temperature was approximately 1 °C (1.8 °F) cooler than today approximately 400 years ago (the Little Ice Age) and 1700 years ago, and approximately 1 °C warmer than today 1000 years ago (the Medieval Warm Period) Science 274 (5292): 1503–8.

    Temperatures derived from an 18O/16O profile through a stalagmite found in a New Zealand cave (40.67°S, 172.43°E) suggested the Medieval Warm Period to have occurred between AD 1050 and 1400 and to have been 0.75°C warmer than the Current Warm Period Wilson AT, Hendy CH, Reynolds CP (1979). “Short-term climate change and New Zealand temperatures during the last millennium”

    The MWP has also been evidenced in New Zealand by an 1100-year tree-ring record.

    Note* that New Zealand is not in Europe.

  19. Nestor says:

    more facts

    Glaciar Jorge Montt one of the main tidewater glaciers of the
    Southern Patagonian Icefield (SPI), has experienced the fastest frontal retreat observed in Patagonia during the past century, with a recession of 19.5 km between 1898
    5 and 2011. This record retreat uncovered trees overridden during the Little Ice Age (LIA)
    advance of the glacier. Samples of these trees were dated using radiocarbon methods, yielding burial ages between 460 and 250 cal yr BP. The dendrochronology and
    maps indicate that Glaciar Jorge Montt was at its present position before the beginning
    of the LIA, in concert with several other glaciers in Southern Patagonia, and reached
    10 its maximum advance position between 1650 and 1750 AD

    Note* this is also not in Europe

  20. Nestor says:


    My point was that the LIA was not a local phenomena.

    That the researcher made conclusory statement “The post-LIA retreat is most likely triggered by climatically induced changes during the 20th century” is just that conclusory.

    The data of the paper shows that pre LIA and present are very near one another thus, one could logically infer that the LIA caused the glacier to expand to what is being called “normal” by some in the AGW side even though it was only there due to LIA.