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This item was posted on January 27, 2010, and it was categorized as Arctic sea ice, Climate Change, Global Warming, Global warming skeptics, climate skeptics, drought.
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glacier-mass-balance

While a patently false prediction by the IPCC about Himalayan Glaciers reverberates politically, glaciers worldwide continue to lose mass at a rapid rate. Meanwhile, a multi-year drought tightens its grip on the American Southwest, and Arctic sea ice is near a record low extent (as graphics lower in this post illustrate).

As chattering climate partisans focus on new examples of scientists shooting themselves in the foot, the climate itself is going about its business, consistent with what would be expected in a warming world.

The latest climate-change political dustup, seized on by skeptics, was prompted by the statement from a Canadian scientist that its time for a house-cleaning and a changed approach at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Quoted in the Windsor Star, a Canadian newspaper, Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria, says “the IPCC needs a fundamental shift.”

The group is too big and unwieldy, Weaver argues, and it has become influenced by political advocacy. He calls for a change in approach, and possibly a change in leadership.

At the same time, climate skeptics don’t bother to quote what Weaver has to say about climate change itself. Here’s a relevant excerpt from the Star’s article:

Weaver says the vast majority of the science in the IPCC reports is valid, and that the glacier revelations —”one small thing,” in a 3,000 word document, as he calls it — shouldn’t be used to discredit other parts of the report.

“There is not a global conspiracy to drum up false evidence of global warming,” he says.

This new controversy comes in the wake of charges that the company of Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, pushed a false claim about the melting of Himalayan glaciers to win lucrative research grants in the United States and Europe. And over the weekend, a story in the Times Online reported that the IPCC falsely tied global warming to an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes.

It may well be true that Weaver is right about the IPCC. But  glaciers around the world don’t seem to care whether or not some scientists have exaggerated the rate of melting. As first reported by Juliette Jowit in the Guardian, the World Glacier Monitoring Service says that glaciers worldwide are continuing to melt at a rapid rate, and that many will likely be gone by the middle of this century.

“The new data continues the global trend in strong ice loss over the past few decades,” the monitoring service reports.

Here in the American West, and particularly in the Southwest, we continue to experience the impact of climate change. There’s no way to say for sure whether continuing drought conditions, as illustrated below, are a result of human activities. But they are consistent with predictions and scientists’ physical understanding of how a warming climate could lead to longer-lasting and more intense drought.

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Upper Colorado River Basin has been experiencing a protracted, multi-year drought that began back in October of 1999. As the chart below shows, in all but two years since 2000, inflow into Lake Powell, the giant reservoir on the Colorado River, has been below average (and from 2000 to 2004 it was only half of average):

drought-in-the-upper-colorado-river-basin-reclamation

Meanwhile, up in the Arctic, sea ice also continues to ignore the climate wars. As I write this post, the extent of Arctic sea ice is tracking pretty much at record lows.

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No doubt, the political debate over climate change will only intensify. Meanwhile, the natural world continues to try to tell us something.

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One Comment

  1. Raven
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    What we should be debating is the policies – not the science. e.g. is adaptation a more cost effective strategy?

    Unfortunately, the debate was hijacked long ago by people who decided what policies they wanted to impose and sought to use the ‘science’ as a way to bully people into accepting them. That is why the credibility of scientists has become such a focus today.

    It does not have to be that way. It should be possible to restart a conversation first acknowledging that the science cannnot dictate our policy choices because there are too many unknowns and that we, as a society, must decide how we will balance risk against the cost of hedging against that risk.

    Any conversation that starts with the premise that radical reductions in CO2 are the only available policy choice will end quickly because many people feel that no matter how much we might want to reduce CO2 emissions the reality is that cannot happen until we find C02 free energy sources that are cheaper than fossil fuels and do not require governments to artificially increase the price of energy.

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