I am a global warming agnostic. A lot of people are completely convinced global warming is real. A lot of other people call themselves “skeptics,” but they are just as completely convinced that global warming is not real. I am biased towards that latter viewpoint, based on everything I have read and seen, but I am on the whole undecided, because there is also evidence that points the other way.
I thought it would be useful, then, to begin summarizing recent news about the environment and whether these events point towards or against the notion that the earth is warming and making lots of bad things happen. This will help me keep track of climate trends, and also help you form a more complete opinion in case you heard about some of these events but not all of them.
Note: I do not care about studies or computer models that suggest that the green Tibetan juice beetle could potentially decrease in size by 10% thanks to a slight increase in ocean acidity, or anything like that. I’m talking about actual things that are actually happening. Give me data! Let’s begin…
1. Healthy polar bear count in the north. Several years ago, researchers predicted that by now polar bears along the Hudson Bay would fall as low as 610 due to “warming temperatures that melt ice faster and ruin bears’ ability to hunt.” But after a recent aerial survey, the polar bear numbers in the region are now estimated within “a range of 717 bears to 1,430.” Does that smell like a warming globe? NO.
2. Emperor penguin count in Antarctica doubles. Researchers identified new colonies and increased their penguin count estimate from a 270,000-350,000 range to about 595,000. They still say “current research suggests that emperor penguin colonies will be seriously affected by climate change,” but there’s no sign of that yet. Does that smell like a warming globe? NO.
Oceans and Ice
3. Arctic sea ice. The northern ice cap has been one of the strongest evidences for a warming globe in recent years. The sea ice levels have been dropping since we began collecting satellite images 30-some years ago, and in 2007 the amount of ice dropped to a stunning new low in the summer. Since then, however, the summer lows have neither reached to lower records nor returned to pre-2007 years.
Right now, the northern sea ice extent is having its best April since 2001, and has almost returned to “average” levels not seen for many years. In 2010, the ice cap also had a strong spring – thought not as strong as this one – but the summer melt still left its minimum as one of the lowest ever. I’m very curious to see what happens this year. Does it smell like a warming globe? Right now it looks like NO but we’ll see what happens this summer.
4. Antarctic Ice. The southern ice cap is also having a very strong April. Unlike the undeniable Northern decline in recent decades (which most skeptics swear is part of a longer cycle), Antarctic sea ice has actually been increasing over the same time period. There has been recent news about a study concluding that warming ocean waters were causing Antarctic ice to melt from below, but that study was from 2003-2008. Four years after the study ended, southern ice levels are 700,000 square kilometers above average. The fancy “study” says the ice is melting from below; the daily surface data so far still shows an increase. If that changes I will gladly report it, but right now: Does that smell like a warming globe? NO.
5. Sea level Rise. Data has been flat for two years, but similar pauses have happened in the past. Overall trend still points to a rise, though it is not accelerating. Does that smell like a warming globe? Hard to say right now. We’ll have to see if the pause picks up to a new height.
6. U.S. had record heat in March. The average US temperature in March 2012 was 8.6 degrees F above average, breaking thousands of local records. Skeptics have plenty of reasons for doubting the official temperature stats (besides, it was barely higher than the old March 1910 record), but when the official temperature stats show a record across the country over a whole month, I confess that is fairly significant, and will say that, YES, it smells like a warming globe. But, speaking of a warming globe…
7. The earth had the coldest March since 1999. And for an even longer trend, the first three months of the year were the coolest since 1996. Wow! Whenever skeptics focus on some part of the earth suffering from intense cold, the warmists always say, “Well, part of the earth may be cold for awhile, but overall temperatures are increasing.” So when the U.S. has record heat for a month, shouldn’t we focus on the overall globe for the last three months where temperatures have been…. the coldest in 16 years? According to the official record? I don’t expect it to stay like that for the rest of the year, but by any objective analysis that has to more than override the evidence of the U.S. record March. Does this smell like a warming globe? NO.
8. The warmist explanation for the cool surface temperatures is that the heat is hiding in the ocean, where it will come back to haunt us! (Unsurprisingly, prominent skeptic Anthony Watts pokes holes in their data.) I guess I’ll say that YES, a continued increase in ocean heat content smells like global warming, but I’m not convinced that this data is robust and we’re not seeing any signs of the ocean getting warmer, from the lack of recent melting at the poles to the recent stalled sea level rise to the new forecast that says a cooler Atlantic could mean fewer hurricanes this year. So where is it? We shall wait and see…
9. Himalayan glaciers are growing. In other news, it was recently announced that some glaciers in the Himalayans are not shrinking but are actually growing. They say that this is expected in a complex world but that overall more glaciers are shrinking. If I see news about such shrinking glaciers, I will report it as well.
We are at a crossroads. There are a lot of global measurements which have pointed towards a warming planet in recent years, including surface temperature record, melting Arctic ice, and a rising sea level. These measurements were supposed to accelerate, but right now they have stopped getting worse altogether. These are short time periods, though, and they could certainly resume their marches at any time. If they do, that will smell more like global warming. If they don’t, it most certainly will not.
About three months from now I will look at the data again, such as what is happening with droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes, along with updates on the ice levels and temperature records, and any other interesting climate news that comes out by then. I’ve tried to take an objective look at the data while admitting that my bias probably shines through. If you think I’ve left misrepresented something or left something out, please let me know. And there’s my first global climate snapshot!