Collapse of Sound Science
By C.C. Kraemer April, 1, 2002
News that an ice shelf collapsed in Antarctica in early March was an "aha"
event for agenda-minded journalists and the environmental lobby. It was further
evidence, they said, that man is destroying the Earth. With grand urgency it
was reported that the Larsen B Ice Shelf left a "wakeup call" for
man when it broke apart. Scientists, ABCnews.com said, were "still shaken"
days later. They're now on an ice-shelf death watch, waiting for the next one
to plummet into the frigid waters.
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Most media accounts mentioned that the ice shelf was big - about the size of
some European countries. Reports indicated that the shelf was also heavy, from
500 billion tons to 720 billion tons, and was thick, about 650 feet deep. Some
even reported its age - more than 12,000 years old, give or take a millennium
or two - giving it status similar to that of the giant, ancient redwoods in
Now, these data are useful, but insufficient to help give the general public
a sense of what might have prompted the collapse. More importantly, such data
are largely irrelevant when it comes to questions of global warming and human-induced
climate change. And data that might help give some perspective on those questions
were conspicuously absent from news accounts of the collapse.
If non-agenda science has it right, Antarctica has been actually cooling since
the mid-1960s and parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have been thickening.
Moreover, the Earth goes through warming and chilling periods separate of man's
activities. For example, a recent feature in the journal Science
on a study of tree rings confirms this natural cycle. The study concluded that
temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period
of 800 to 1,000 years ago are similar to
the warming trend of the 20th century.
The hardcore environmentalists will find ways to rationalize the data, but it's
hard to prove that man was responsible for the warm climate a millennium ago.
No cars. No factories. No material objects of conspicuous consumption. Nothing
to mass produce the greenhouse gases that the environmentalists reckon trap
warm air near the Earth's surface.
Blaming It on the Man
Still, some climate experts remain quick to take exceedingly complex phenomena
with scores of variables such as climate and point a finger of blame at mankind
for any changes. Some don't make the claim directly, saying that our smokestack/tailpipe
culture may contribute to the recent warming period. The New
York Times reported that "many
experts said it was getting harder to find any other explanation."
Others aren't so coy. They simply said what the rest strongly implied. "There
is very strong reason to believe that in the last century on top of natural
changes there have been man-made additions,"
said David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey.
No Surprise Here
Despite their apparent surprise, the collapse of the Larsen B shelf was not
an unexpected event. Nor was it an unnatural, isolated incident. Author John
Daly, a global warming skeptic who's been on
to the hysterics since they were worrying about a new Ice Age in the 1970s,
explains it rather plainly: Ice shelves that grow out into open water must break
up eventually because of their contact with the warmer water farther from the
poles and the tidal stresses of the sea.
"An 'ice shelf' is simply a glacier
which reaches down all the way to the coast and then spills out over the sea,
pushing its way further and further from land, floating on the sea, until tidal
forces, water erosion from beneath, and sunlight from above, finally weaken
the floating mass and breaks it off,"
said Daly. "It's dramatic, happens on
a grand scale, but also very, very natural.
"It happens all the time."
The average person watching the news or reading the newspaper of record wouldn't
know that, though.
C.C. Kraemer is a
writer living in Los Angeles.
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