Earth to Climate Contrarians: Quit Making Fools of Yourselves

Professor Bruce E. Johansen

Global Warming Graphic

A funny thing happened to the climate contrarians on their way to driving a stake through the heart of global warming last winter. It was the fifth warmest winter on the instrumental record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. The average global temperature for the winter was 54.09 degrees F.—1.08 above average.

While we here in the Nebraska were up to our ears in snow and ice (I broke an elbow on the stuff!), and as various climate contrarians (eyeing record snows in Washington, D.C.) were cheering on a new ice age, the winter of 2009-2010 (December 1 through March 1) was so tepid worldwide that harp seal pups in Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence were starving and drowning for lack of river ice.

Starving pups were abandoned on beaches along Prince Edward Island—victims of the lowest ice conditions in the 41 years that records have been kept. Off Newfoundland (another major seal hunting ground), ice by mid-March 2010 had formed only off the Northern Peninsula at a time when it usually extends along all of the island’s northeast coast. Observers from the “International Fund for Animal Welfare” reported in March that the Gulf of St. Lawrence—the annual birthing ground of hundreds of thousands of harp seals—is “essentially devoid of both ice and seals.”

The Pacific Northwest and Maine also had an unusually warm winter, but publicity for the unusual cold and snow across the eastern half of the United States, much of Europe and parts of Russia led climate contrarians to claim that global warming’s back had been broken.

The winter of 2009-2010—famously cold and snowy across much of the Midwest and Eastern United States—was mild and dry in Glacier National Park, which lost two more of two-dozen remaining glaciers in an area that 160 years ago contained 150 bodies of moving ice. A glacier is defined as at least 25 acres of moving ice. Nearby Spokane, Washington, had its lowest seasonal snowfall on record.

Ice Loss Spreads in Greenland

Someone should tell the shrinking glaciers of Greenland that a new ice age has dawned. They’re not getting with the program. Last year, ice loss continued to migrate north and west across Greenland, according to satellite-borne sensors. Migration of ice loss has nearly spread the length of coastal Greenland since 2005, enlarging an area in the island’s southeast that has been losing ice for many years.

The new analysis in 2010 describes “an on-going northward migration of increasing mass loss” along the western coast from the southern tip to the far north. The analysis, led by Shfaqat Abbas Khan of the National Space Institute of Denmark, was published late in March, 2010 in Geophysical Research Letters. The study surveyed ice loss between February 2003 and June 2009.

“When we look at the monthly values… the ice mass loss has been very dramatic along the northwest coast of Greenland,” said co-author John Wahr, a physicist at University of Colorado-Boulder. “This is a phenomenon that was undocumented before this study. Our speculation is that some of the big glaciers in this region are sliding downhill faster and dumping more ice in the ocean.”

Deluges and Droughts

With rising temperatures, the hydrological cycle becomes more extreme, provoking both droughts and deluges. The nonprofit group “Clean Air-Cool Planet” surveyed 60 years of National Weather Service rainfall reports and found that “extreme precipitation events” (more than an inch of rain or equivalent in one day) have become more common in nine Northeast states as temperatures have warmed.

This report was released as waters receded in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut from the worst floods in a century. In March, 2010, Providence, R.I., recorded 16.32 inches of rain—a new record for any month. Boston’s total rainfall for March was 14.83 inches, the second-wettest month since weather records began there in 1872. Central Park, New York City’s 10.68 inches was a record for March.

Climate-change contrarian Patrick Michaels of the “Cato Institute” dismissed the study as not indicative of trends outside that area. Beginning one day later, however, record rains killed more than 200 people in Rio de Janeiro, just after the ink had dried on the newspapers quoting Michaels’ “expertise.” The deluge was the heaviest ever recorded in the city, provoking deadly flash floods and landslides that washed away homes and submerged roads. About 11 inches of rain fell in 36 hours.

As record rains pounded some areas, the United Nations Development Program’s “2009 Arab Human Development Report” said that desertification now threatens about 2.87 million square kilometers of land (1.15 million square miles)—about a fifth of the Middle East and North Africa. A 2007 UN study spoke of an “environmental crisis of global proportions” that could uproot 50 million people from their homes by 2010, mostly in Africa.  

Michaels regularly exercises bragging rights as “state climatologist” of Virginia, which is rather akin to a ‘Kentucky Colonel’ or an Admiral in the ‘Nebraska Navy.’  The editors at the Wall Street Journal salute every time he runs his hokum up the flagpole.  Pat, please quit making a fool of yourself. (During the first week of April in the United States, 1,800 new record highs were set. This is one unusual ice age.)

Note: For those who can’t get enough of this debate, UNO Magazine (the former UNO Alum) is preparing a face-off between Robert Smith, chemistry professor and UNO’s best-known climate contrarian, and yours truly. Editor Anthony Flott has asked him to provide ten reasons why global warming is not a matter of serious concern, and I have been asked for ten reasons why it is. This smackdown will be available June 15.

Bruce E. Johansen is a professor of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and author of Hot Air and Hard Science: Dissecting the Global Warming Debate and the two-volume Encyclopedia of Global Warming Science and Technology.

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May 31st 2010

russ - Can the professor explain the global cooling trend during the decades after World War II when industry exploded? There were more factories, automobiles, aircraft, construction and just plain economic activity ever before in the history of the planet. The propaganda of the 70s posited the coming of a perilous ice age. The people who make fools of themselves are those who use the earth's natural climate cycles to promote their careers. They do it without accepting any kind of debate or other opinions. They simply call those with differing opinions "contrarians", "fools" or what-nots as they demonstrate their self supposed intellectual superiority. The title of "professor" is becoming as disdainful as "used car sales-person".