The shrinking Arctic ice cap

July 1, 2014 • 1:00 pm

If you’re not worried about global warming yet, read this new report by National Geographic Daily News on the melting of the Arctic icecaps.  It’s a special problem for the magazine, which is famous for its maps. How do you draw an icecap that keeps changing in the definitive atlas, National Geographic’s Atlas of the World?

Here’s their solution, as implemented in the alarming drawings below:

The multiyear ice—or older ice—is shown on the map as a large white mass; the maximum extent of sea ice—the pack ice that melts and refreezes with the seasons—is depicted as a line on the map, according to Rosemary Wardley, National Geographic’s senior GIS cartographer. In the 10th edition, which will be released September 30, the multiyear ice is much smaller in area than on previous maps. The 5th edition of the atlas, published in 1989, was the first to comprehensively map the Arctic.

Wardley and Valdés relied on two government resources that track Arctic ice data: NASA and the NSIDC. To map the multiyear ice, they took data from a 30-year study by NASA, published in 2012. “We wanted to have that comprehensive coverage,” Wardley said.

Well, look and weep: here’s the change in the last 18 years.


Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 6.32.13 AM


Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 6.32.42 AM

And, of course, the why:

As the ocean heats up due to global warming, Arctic sea ice has been locked in a downward spiral.Since the late 1970s, the ice has retreated by 12 percent per decade, worsening after 2007, according to NASA. May 2014 represented the third lowest extent of sea ice during that month in the satellite record,according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Ice loss is accelerated in the Arctic because of a phenomenon known as the feedback loop: Thin ice is less reflective than thick ice, allowing more sunlight to be absorbed by the ocean, which in turn weakens the ice and warms the ocean even more, NASA says.

Because thinner ice is flatter, it allows melt ponds to accumulate on the surface, reducing the reflectiveness of the ice and absorbing more heat. (See pictures of our melting world in National Geographicmagazine.)

“You hear reports all the time in the media about this,” Valdés said. “Until you have a hard-copy map in your hand, the message doesn’t really hit home.”

Some scientists argue that the map is a bit misleading (but not that it doesn’t reflect global warming); but you’ll have to go to the original article to read about that.

h/t: Amy

125 thoughts on “The shrinking Arctic ice cap

  1. Glad I live way above sea level.

    A former colleague is a hard-core denier (also a mega-church guy.)

    He says we are going into a cold period with hard winters.

    My reply to him: When:
    1. The glaciers start getting longer
    2. The sea ice starts to grow in extent and thickness
    3. Sea levels start to drop

    THEN, I’ll start to listen to his tale of cold.

    1. The classic example of some idiot who looks out of the window sees weather & extrapolates, where climate is the average of what everyone sees when the look out of the window.

      1. Actually, I have heard that the reduction in seawater salinity caused by the melting ice will trigger the major oceanic currents(ie the gulf stream) to stop circulating and the subsequent discontinuation of dissemination of warm to cold water (and vice versa) will eventually trigger a new ice age. But this is by far not my area of expertise. If only ice cores could talk…

    1. All those people who fly – guilty;
      all those who have lots of children – guilty;
      all those who drive – guilty;
      all those who buy new products before the old one is worn out – guilty…

      Actually it is impossible to live a carbon-free life when you are a carbon-based life form, but all those things above are not RIGHTS – they are privileges.

      Ben is right…

      1. Guilty of what? Poor choices?

        I think the legal system frowns on apportioning collective guilt, and for good reasons as it is iffy in most cases. (Though I still like to blame conservative religious people for not taking responsibility for their poor choices of myths supporting genocide et cetera.)

        The outcome is a system fault of democracies, because politicians has to balance interests. Too much foresight, and they are replaced with shortsighted politicians. It happens for peacemakers too.

        A variant of “the tragedy of the commons”, perhaps. (Though I’ve heard that it is an arguable model.)

      2. True, but it’s possible to tread much, much more gently than most people do.

        My roof is covered with solar panels, and I generate about half again as much electricity as I use. Plans to do something about an electric vehicle of some sort are now on the short list — with a conversion of a car older than I am nearly certain. I telecommute, and nearly all office workers can and should do likewise. (Yes, there are benefits for some to offices, but they’re not worth the destruction caused by burning all that gasoline. You can be sure this is true because no employer would even think to pay for employees to regularly commute if those costs were shifted to the employer.)

        And everybody alive could live an extravagant lifestyle if there were only a tenth as many people as there actually are. The problem is really overpopulation, with everything else being a cause or symptom of that fundamental problem.


        1. I actually think governments should reward companies with tax incentives if they have a certain percentage of employees working from home for a certain percentage of time. I’ve had to give up some of my telecommuting because of what I see as a “clash of values”.

          1. Even simpler: have a law requiring companies, all companies, to pay employees their regular (and overtime) salaries door-to-door and to reimburse their travel costs. Standardized models based on distance and typical commute times would be acceptable.

            Companies would stop having employees come in unless there’s a damned good reason. They’d start hiring people preferentially based on how close they live to work, meaning total commuting miles would drop. Urban sprawl would end.

            Never going to happen with a pair of arch-conservative pro-corporate parties in power, but a guy can dream, can’t he?


            1. Bah! I don’t want that because I have reasons for needing to commute and I can’t move for those reasons. However, I can easily work from home and if the government spent money on transit, I could work in a heck of a lot of other places via train. It’s this stupid 1950s infrastructure that causes me to have to drive.

              1. If it makes you feel better…as petroleum reserves continue to be depleted, oil prices will continue to rise. As they do, fewer people will be able to afford to drive a car, thereby increasing demands for public transit. The only question is whether society will be able to afford to build and run the transit by that point as well….


            2. I would say that the damage caused by commuting traffic is probably less than that caused by having large groups of people converging into relatively small areas crowded with large buildings that must be temperature controlled and otherwise supported by technologies and machinery that not only release enormous amounts of various pollutants, but have also taken away large areas of green plant life that had been producing oxygen and ‘cleaning’ the air. Add that to the heat produced by the buildings and the supporting infrastructure made mostly of concrete that both reflects solar radiation and absorbs the heat and then radiates it back into the environment when soil and/or green spaces are/were cool. The combination of lots of people, lots of buildings, lots of machinery, lots of vehicles and lots and lots of concrete not only releases greenhouse gases to pollute the atmosphere but also creates concentrated areas of extreme heat (hot spots) that are playing havoc with our weather currents. So, yeah, in the vernacular, we be fucked.

              1. Well, if we’re going to have as many humans as we do, then it’s better to concentrate them into small areas and thus leave larger tracts of wildlife undisturbed. You can either spread the poison everywhere and kill everything, or concentrate it in certain locations and just kill those spots.

                Much better, of course, would be an human population no more than a tenth its current size….


              2. I’m not sure that would be better. Even with a drastic reduction in population, I think it would be better to have us all dispersed. Leaving aside the disastrous affects on the weather caused by big city hot spots, clumping people together results in concentrations of accumulated waste and faster exhaustion of resources. In addition to germs, it also breeds envy, paranoia, greed, bad tempers and bloodshed. Not to mention keeping people from grouping too close together should certainly help reduce population growth.

    2. Well, more likely our grandchildren (if you are as old as I am) will be fucked. (somehow that really sounds perverted, doesn’t it?)

      I don’t think that this will cause our extinction, though it will likely be the end of what we think of as civilization. Homo sapiens have survived many climate changes already. I just hope I will not be among the survivors.

  2. I think it’s likely that people will survive this, however, many things will change. For instance, if the Greenland ice melt effs up the ocean currents in the Atlantic like some think it eventually might, big chunks of northern Europe may be become more like Iceland or Greenland.

    And who knows what else?

    Certainly big hunks of, for instance, Bangladesh and other low lying countries will become uninhabitable (short of incredibly massive engineering works).

    1. I wouldn’t be too sure.

      Yes, we could probably handle any one single catastrophe in isolation.

      But what we’re really looking at is many smaller pieces of a global double-whammy of pollution and resource exhaustion, with both fueled by overpopulation from exponential growth.

      If you were to look objectively at a similar situation in any other species, there’d be no doubt but that a catastrophic population crash is imminent. Maybe there’d be enough survivors to rebuild the population…but maybe not.

      Now, add in nuclear and biological weapons to the mix.

      Not a cause for hope at all.


        1. Some lessons from the article:

          1. Stop making too many human babies (≤2 children/family)

          2. Stop making human babies just to improve ‘US’ vs. ‘THEM’ statistics which leads to escalating violence and prolonged, unnecessary prejudices and unreasonable uncooperative behavior.

          1. …which all the more emphatically demonstrates the utter idiocy of the Supreme RATS decision in favor of Hobby Lobby yesterday.

            What we need is free, confidential (and ideally anonymous) no-questions asked access to any and all forms of birth control on demand by anybody at any time. Free condom dispensers alongside mailboxes, for starters, and any facility with staff legally capable of providing reproductive health services being required to do so — free prescriptions and devices and surgeries and all the rest, with the only restriction being medical contraindications.

            It’ll never happen, of course, but that’s about the only non-disastrous thing that might save us at this point.


            1. I don’t know, Ben. There is a theory that the overpopulation is more an overall, world-wide cultural thing. We take and don’t give back. We have, overall, more food than we need, hence the exponential growth in population. With this culture of takers comes some severe side effects such as crime, war, disease, hunger (ironically), and, as mentioned, over population. We hit 6 billion in the year 2000 after hitting 3 billion in 1960 and 1.5 billion in 1900. It’s likely we’ll reach 12 billion well before 2040. I don’t know if population control would work. It would have to be world wide and highly enforced, but even then, as long as we continue to produce food at such a high rate our numbers will grow. I’m no scientist and have seen only one paper on this, but I’ve read about it in the books by Daniel Quinn, which aren’t necessarily proof.

              1. I didn’t write that it would work, only that it was our best hope…and that’s ignoring the fact that my idea of universal free and easy access to birth control would even make it out of the starting block given our current political environment.

                One thing’s for sure, though: there’s a population crash in the not-so-terribly-distant future, whether we do it in a controlled manner or let nature take its course.


      1. I think that our best hope is actually a pandemic that will take global population back to 1900 levels or less, without a long period of resource exhaustion and mass-extinction, or the demographic complications of an increasingly aged population*. Better we all have an equal chance of dying in an unavoidable (but blameless) new viral plague, than the inequality, human evil and habitat destruction involved in widespread famine and war.

        *(A lot of people see this as an obstacle to doing anything about population, but it’s just the demographic transition that is happening anyway without anyone doing anything)

        1. I’ve thought about similar things. You can posit other catastrophes, such as global war with only limited nuclear exchanges, or crop failure on massive global scales, or combinations thereof. I just don’t know that advanced civilization could survive a 90%+ reduction in population, and I don’t think anything less will do. And imagine the political and military chaos resulting from global catastrophe, especially if some faction has the foresight to practice effective preventative measures.

          There’s no good way out, unless the gods smile upon us and rising living standards naturally cause a plateau and decline in population at the same time that we rapidly transition away from fossil fuels — and I just don’t see either of those happening anywhere near fast enough. Both processes are likely to take a century or three if they follow the pattern of history, and I very much doubt we’ve got more than a couple-few decades before it all comes to a boil.

          I’m starting to think this is the answer to the Fermi Paradox. No species is going to colonize the stars unless it grows exponentially, and there’s no way to bridge the environmental / economic / energy gap between planetary-scale civilization and space-faring civilization without catastrophic overextension of the planet’s resources. You’re not going to make it to the stars unless you grow, but that kind of growth is going to kill you before you can make it off the planet.


          1. Great idea concerning the Fermi Paradox. It is a reasonable explanation.

            Most catastrophes are likely to have a prolonged affect on the more technologically advanced people of the planet. Some fellow in the mountains of Peru who has never had water or electricity is likely to be least disturbed by global catastrophes.

            1. It can go the other way, too. If we’re not knocked back to sustenance levels, the rich will be in a better position to exploit the poor in all the ways they always have. If “it” is a pandemic, Western nations have much better health care and other forms of infrastructure to battle the illnesses than the developing world. And damned few people are self-sufficient hermits any more.

              At least part of what’s to come, I suspect, is a Greatest Depression, one that makes us long for the one of a century ago. In such a scenario, those with their financial houses in order will fare best. The super-rich may or may not be targets of French-Revolution-style violence. Those in the lower to upper middle classes who can hold onto their jobs, and especially those with no debt (including mortgage) and who live well below their means, will fare the best. If you don’t have bills to pay, you don’t have to worry about paying bills. Bonus points for some degree of self-sustainability, such as solar power on the roof, a significant portion of food grown in the garden, and skilled trades (such as plumbing) always in high demand locally.

              That, of course, leaves out the archetypal American who’s upside-down on the mortgage, has student loans bigger than some mortgages, leases a new car, has five-figure debt on a dozen credit cards, and at most a month of savings in the bank. Or, sadly, those who tried to do everything right but got soaked with medical bills at the same time as they lost a job, which accounts for a larger proportion of the debt-soaked American population than anybody likes to admit publicly.


          2. All this disaster talk is making me think about The Road. I think it was a pretty accurate depiction and it sort of scared me but I have a pathological need to watch various disaster movies for some morbid reason.

    2. I had read (somewhere!) that Europe is expected to get hotter and drier. Not sure about northern Europe.
      Every bit of news I hear on the subject of GW is always from bad to worse. Besides the feedback loop mentioned above, the increased exposure of formerly ice-locked land is melting the permafrost. As this very organically rich soil decays it releases methane. Lots of methane.

      1. All depends on what happens to the Gulf Stream. It that warm water current collapses then the storms hit Scotland…

    3. Could we handle a catastrophe the size of Bangladesh? Let’s say 150 million Muslims are on the move because their country is under water. Neighboring and nearby countries (India, Burma, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, China) don’t want them – they have enough of their own problems. What happens? I don’t see the problem of Muslim extremism going away as their co-religionists are dying with no help forthcoming.

    4. “I think it’s likely that people will survive this”

      Not many. Until globalization is completely efficient and enables much faster multinational policy coordination, global populations are going to have one foot heavily on the gas, and the other lightly on the brake. Short of a gigantic political breakthrough in the next decade or two, environmentalism and economic caution are simply underwhelming in their performances. It’s simply easier (if you’re economically short-sighted) to make a mess and leave it than to clean up.

      At this stage, and given an abysmal past performance, it seems the most likely scenario is going to be a dramatic population collapse as resources for food and drink get exhausted, polluted, and reduced geographically by dysfunctional weather patterns. The best we can hope for at present is that the crash won’t wipe out all of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, which are right in the climatic firing line. I’m not going to rule out the possibility of human extinction, either, even for the wealthy, though admittedly I’m less confident about this prediction.

      1. My only point being that I think humans will survive. The world won’t look like it does now, for sure; but unless someone unleashes nuclear war or there is a massive, resistant pandemic (or another large object collision, al a the K-T boundary), people will probably be around. Much reduced I would guess (one to several orders of magnitude).

        1. Fair enough. I thought you were being a bit optimistic, but it seems you were emphasizing that the human SPECIES would survive, rather than (as I thought you were) not appreciating the scale of the impending population reduction. I see I was mistaken to think so, and that we are actually in agreement.

      1. Farmland as well. And Siberia will attract settlers if Russia allows it. Not many other winners.

        As to human extinction — a false hope if you care for the greater biosphere. Human population crash beyond Black Death standards [mostly poor, of course] is conceivable if all the worst stresses come true. Beyond that I think only thermonuclear war, involving the big boys, not just India/Pakistan, would make extinction or near-extinction credible.

        1. It would take a long time before tundra would become farmland. It may just become a different type of desert. The wanting of the oil thought – that’s already begun. The Russians buzz Canadian air space all the time, forcing scrambling of f18s. It’s a pain in the ass but probably indicative of what’s in store. Last month there was a ridiculously titled article titled “Putin understands Canadian Arctic Sovereignty”. I read it and laughed because it was full of veiled threats that weren’t picked up upon. Then the increase in airspace violations started it. Hopefully it’s mostly because our current PM is a diplomatic nightmare and the worlds worst cold fish.

          1. I’d like to think that even Putin is smart enough to realize that a Russian attempt to invade Canada, especially for its oil, would result in immediate and unreserved response from the States. That would, essentially, be instant WWIII.


            1. Oh, I’m sure he does. Right now, it’s just regular bothering us. It’s been going on since 2007. I see losing Arctic Sovereignty as something that will go down slowly. Russia and America will want some of it. Canada is a close ally of America, a NATO member and one of the 5-eyes (thanks for taking that NSA fall for us America, you know Canada, UK, NZ & Australia probably benefited from that same intel) so Canada would make some sort of deal with America (and probably get screwed a bit in the process). Russia buzzing is just to be annoying in a way that costs little.

              Besides, Canadians used to do that to Russia during the Cold War on “beer runs” to Sweden in the Widow Maker.

          2. The tundra is the wrong kind of soil; one cannot simply move the wheat from Saskatchewan to NWT, say. (This is why those who say we may get *increased* agriculture are basically wrong: even if area of land temperature wise goes up, the soils will be wrong.)

              1. Acidity and microrganisms are all wrong, if I recall correctly. I mean, I imagine one *could* grow *some* wheat there, but it is the same reason one doesn’t grow much in (say) Quebec or Ontario.

              2. We grow a lot in Ontario. The whole niagara region is prime fruit growing and I live in an area that is prime agriculture land because of the type of soil here. There is a lot of stuff grown in Ontario so there really isn’t anything wrong with our soil.

    5. Seriously? You can’t make up stuff like you do. AGW is a change, it is serious for many species, so we need to look at what happens.

      – “if the Greenland ice melt effs up the ocean currents in the Atlantic like some think it eventually might”.

      That was as I understand it an open question for a long time.

      It may still be, but last I read on the subject they had understood that e.g. the Atlantic currents are a lot stabler historically and model wise than earlier believed. There is still a risk, but it was minuscule, and it won’t happen for centuries if it does. [I haven’t kept a bookmark. We need to google this.]

      – “pollution and resource exhaustion”.

      I think the global statistics are quite clear that both of those are going down, not up. (With the exception of CO2 and perhaps CH4 AGW pollution.)

      In the 60’s we wouldn’t have managed long without food production, say. The stocks are much larger today IIRC. Similar for metals, oils, coal, fissile material, what have you.

      [I haven’t kept bookmarks. We need to google this.]

      China, India et cetera is clearing up their pollution, not making it worse. Look at global city air improvement!

      – “There is little doubt that a population crash is imminent”.

      If it is, it is the first I’ve heard of it.

      A few decades ago, that was the fear.

      A decade ago, the reverse was the fear, the population drop after the peak was far faster than the rise so would have been problematic.

      Last I heard, UN projects a nice leveling off, since apparently people see a balance between cost and gain of procreation that suits. (I dunno why, but same as the world have become more peaceful due to education perhaps that factor too strikes a happy balance, e.g. people want same size societies as when they grew up.)

      I would say “every doubt”, based on best of breed models.

      – “our best hope is actually a pandemic”.

      See the recent fears of fast drops above. It would be a sardonic “hope” anyway.

      It remains our largest risk, I think, or at least medical researchers seem to say so. Urbanization will encompass everybody soon, better communications and more resources/capita making for travel.

      On the other hand, medicine is fast improving too. E.g. fact based medicine, fast labs/vaccine production methods et cetera.

      And again education is improving what people do. E.g. hand washing would be a quick remedy in most cases. And I recently read on the difference between traditional open cesspits in the India area and the covered (Islam tradition, in fact) re diseases – huge impact.

  3. Whether the drought in California is related to global warning, I can’t say. But the drought is serious for Californians. We encountered pictures such as these when we visited there recently of the 82% below average snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, on which they depend for much of their water:

  4. How come, with all this global warming, the sea levels aren’t rising?

    Why is carbon dioxide “pollution”:
    When it’s concentration in our lungs as we breathe out is 100 times its current level in the atmosphere?
    When everyday millions drink CO2 solutions that are 1000 times more concentrated than the ocean CO2 level?
    When higher levels of atmospheric CO2 (and greater warmth, of course) assist rather than impede plant growth?

    1. “How come, with all this global warming, the sea levels aren’t rising?”

      Er, they are, if you actually consult the experts. Who told you otherwise? Morner? Monckton?

      “Why is carbon dioxide “pollution”:”

      The key issue is its greenhouse gas status, i.e. its ability to retain heat in the atmosphere, similar to a greenhouse’s glass windows, hence the name. “Pollution” is not synonymous with “it will kill you directly in large doses”, like some kind of poison. As a result of your confusion, your next two questions are missing the point.

      “When higher levels of atmospheric CO2 (and greater warmth, of course) assist rather than impede plant growth?”

      Oh yes, and there’s no such thing as a point beyond which plants can’t absorb and lock any more CO2 out of the atmosphere. That’s why I drink two hundred gallons of water and eat twelve tons of beef a day. Because they assist rather than impede my growth.

      In less sarcastic language, your logic of “Plants need X and Y, therefore more of X and Y are good” is naive and uninformed. We’ve long since passed the point at which we could plausibly claim that plant CO2 intake could counterbalance CO2 emissions.

      1. I was about to answer each of Thh1859 questions until I read Reasonshark’s post. Thanks to him, I can put the time I would have spent to better use.

        I will add that in the last 100 years, the ocean, as measured in Maine, has risen approximately 7.5 inches. In 1912 sea level began rising at an average rate of 1.1 millimeters per year but in the last 20 years the rate has increased by an average of 4.5 mm per year.

      2. I agree with Roan – thanks for doing this. These trolls rely on not being responded to, because they know that we know that your response will have a vanishingly small chance of changing their behavior, i.e., of ending their pattern of spewing inane talking points. They count on us getting tired of having to respond.
        Almost of these guys have seen the responses to their so-called “questions” and, much like creationists, they have no intention of actually changing their minds no matter how many times the evidence is shoved in their faces. But on the off-chance that a young person is reading their drivel, it is good to seem them being refuted. The only other reasonable option is for JAC to delete their posts.

  5. It’s a pity we don’t have images going back 200 years. Even if we only went back a little over 100 years I’d like to see what the ice was like when Roald Amundsen navigated the so-called “Northwest Passage”. It’s not so easy to determine the primary cause of things when you’re dealing with systems which change quite remarkably over many decades.

    In other bad news, I don’t know if anyone has pinned down the cause of ‘lack of warming’ – I always suspected that perhaps the icy regions were absorbing more energy than people realized; after all it takes the same amount of energy to melt ice at 0C as it takes to heat water from 0C to 80C.

    1. Not sure what you mean by ‘lack of warming’. Perhaps ice is doing some of that, but the oceans actually absorb a tremendous amount of heat. If they release even a tiny fraction of what they normally store we would get real hot real fast.
      Temperatures are rising on the planet overall, but weather is a turbulent system with circulation between warm and cold areas. It has always been this way, only now the circulation patterns are shifting as the temperatures are rising in general. B/c of the shifting circulation patterns there are regions at the poles where glaciers are actually growing. It is the climate change denialists who will point the latter detail out, but of course they are conveniently missing the fact that ice is in general retreat.

    2. I had a quick Google, and found a lot of text and links at but no maps or images at the ‘Climate etc.’ bl*g, e.g. here.
      Proprietor of that site, Judith Curry, told Congress last year “In my assessment, the single most important actions that are needed with regards to climate science – particularly in context of assessments for policymakers – is explicit reflection on uncertainties, ambiguities and areas of ignorance (both known and unknown unknowns) and more openness for dissent.” – i.e. if not a denialist, she’s a ‘sceptic’ and denialist-enabler who thinks no action should be taken on what we already know.
      That may fully explain the absence of graphic content on the ‘historic variations in Arctic ice’ pages. Is it cynical to think that?

      1. @John Scanlon, FCD

        I’m glad you could translate whatever language Curry was using. And I thought Dolph Briscoe could “Do a Little Sidestep!”

    3. We do have images, back 150 years anyway. Look at the old photos of the glaciers of the Alps and those taken today. Dramatic and the same as the story in the Arctic and Antarctic.

    4. There is no “lack of warming.” More than 93% of the heat capacity of the biosphere is in the oceans, the evidence that sea level is rising is very strong as is the evidence that most of the sea level rise is due to thermal expansion – land ice melt is responsible for no more than 30% of sea lvel rise in the last decade, for example – that evidence is very strong too. The heat capacity (and therefore, thermal inertia) of the atmosphere is on the order of 2% of the biosphere. Cherry picking time windows to discuss the fictional “lack of warming” and reliance on the chaos of weather fluctuations is how deniers sell the “lack of warming”.

    5. If one reads the records of the explorers, one reads pretty clearly that they were lucky once or twice and then ran into repeated disasters trying to get across. They describe months and months of unnavigatable (by the ships at the time) ice and the disasters that befell the expeditions. Of course, it seems some were in human costs made much worse by ignoring safe clothing and a failure to adopt some local customs which would have worked better (e.g. eating meat raw and ensuring high-fat, low-salt foods).

  6. To slow human population growth, the best thing to do, according to the math, is to provide a culture where women have their first child later in life, say at 25 rather than 15. Secondly improve women and children’s health such that infant mortality goes way down. If you can count on your children living, you don’t need to produce more to replace them.

    1. An interesting experiment might be to prohibit children before 30. Then wait five generations, then 35, weight five generations, then 40, and so on. Would we genetically enhance longevity? This would also have an effect on population growth as not every member would have surviving offspring.

    2. I was recently looking for a source on the demographic effects of delayed reproduction, but didn’t find anything very specific. Can you recommend something to read, Jim?

    3. When I was in school, age at first reproduction was emphasized as one of the factors known to affect “little r.”

  7. I think before the overwhelming evidence, the deniers are going to have to accept global warming as a reality. But they still are going to keep saying it’s not manmade and therefore, there is nothing to do or regulate (as some of them already do).

  8. Ice of course requires heat to melt it. When the ice is gone, that heat will increasingly warm seawater and atmosphere and evaporate moisture into the air.

  9. I have been wondering how the republican party will be effected as this slo-mo global disaster unfolds over the next century. The optimist in me says they will go extinct. The pessimist in me says they will find a way to get rich on it, and blame the dems.

  10. Hello,

    Long time reader (thank you for everything) and generally a lurker. I’m “coming out” on this issue, though.

    I own a backcountry lodge in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. We mostly cater to alpine ski tourers. I’ve been in business for almost thirty years. In that time, I have seen incontrovertible evidence of global warming, and I’d have to be both blind and stupid to deny that it’s anthropogenic. In three decades, all the glaciers and icefields have retreated hugely (by kilometers!!!), but the most terrible thing is the thinning of the ice. That’s the part many people don’t see. They see that the ice has retreated, but the fact that it’s hundreds of meters thinner escapes them. Thinner ice speeds glacial ablation and the process just gets faster. It’s heartbreaking. I foresee that the alpine glaciers in southeastern BC will have disappeared in my daughter’s lifetime. Besides being bad for my business, this has huge consequences for water conservation and management. The slow release of glacial meltwater has been the backbone of many western ecosystems, not just the Interior Wetbelt forests of my area.

    I’m staggered that anyone could think that climate change denial is a valid point of view. It flies in the face of all the evidence. Though there may be a few short term beneficiaries (wineries in Thunder Bay! lemons on Vancouver Island!), the overall prognosis is bleak. The shrinking of polar ice, the disappearance of alpine glaciers, massive desertification and rising sea levels will have huge long term impacts on hundreds of millions (billions?) of people.

    Among denialists, “I’m all right, Jack, fuck you” seems to be the mindset. Our Prime Minister is certainly one of the “I’m all right” crowd. He has kids! Is he completely stupid?

    I despair.

    1. yesterday out prime minister just asked god to keep our true north strong and free on Twitter for Canada Day. So yes, he is stupid.

  11. While reading commenter’s catastrophic predictions I can’t help but imagine a future situation where the commenter’s at WEIT, struggling for resources to survive, reflect on the irony of how many times they’ve made fun of ‘gun-nut’, people of the earth, hillbilly, repubtards, who in all likelihood are out surviving everyone. Lol

    I’m not a ‘denier’, or religious, etc. I just happen to find it somewhat amusing that many of us can debase doomsday preppers, gun owners, etc. and then make serious predictions about future calamities where preparation, gun ownership and outdoors skills would be rather valuable.

    1. Doomsday prepping, like gun ownership, is a commercialised fad, a form of conspicuous consumption which is unlikely to do anything positive to preserve functioning societies when faecal matter meets propeller.

    2. Yay, as if we didn’t have enough shit to look forward to in the population crash. The nutters who contributed hugely to delaying our response to the problem will make it even worse when it comes. Hooray for humanity. Almost makes me want to join their crazed camp instead of help the others preserve something worthwhile in society.

      Also, what sick bastard lols at the idea of other commenters reflecting on the “irony” – look up that word, by the way – while getting gunned down and robbed by gun nuts?

      1. Oh cry. It was just a funny thought.

        And when I wrote “irony” I meant “irony”. You go look it up.

        1. It doesn’t work as irony. The most common criticisms commenters here have towards gun nuts is not that they’ll die off first in a crisis or that they are ill-equipped for “doomsday”, but that they recklessly endanger others due to their paranoia. The “doomsday” predictions aren’t even the same, as most gun nuts seem convinced the government is a threat and needs to be kept in check by a well-armed civilian militia, whereas global warming’s effects will be more like a bigger version of the Depression, but with several decades of hindsight. In any case, it will have most impact on Third World countries without the resources to meet it, though the First World will take a knock as well. In neither case do you want a lot of people with a “me first” attitude, a hostility towards government intervention, and guns on hand.

          On another note, I’m sorry that I was excessively profane in my earlier response, but your comment seemed both needlessly mocking and highly insensitive at the time. There’s no excuse for that “LOL”, though.

  12. I’m actually not so concerned by the Arctic ice cap going. It is too bad if one of the top predators goes as well, since it will wreak havoc among the ecologies.

    No, this year there have been independent reports of the West Antarctica ice sheet going, with no more anchors to block the ice.

    In a few millenniums that ice loss will amount to 6-ish meters of water. Ironically it isn’t the modern society that is responsible for the onset, if not the early agrarians burning the continental forests had something to do with it, it started 5 millenniums ago. Instead we are responsible for blocking the onset of the next ice age, which would eventually have reversed the loss.

    This week there was a report of the iconic Emperor penguins having problems with habitat changes from, you guessed it, ice loss. :-/

    1. Oops. I just realized that comes over as callous, since I forgot that some island nations are in dire straits from just 1 meter of sea rise. I forget the Arctic numbers, but I guess they would be thereabouts. :-/

      1. Sea ice melt doesn’t affect sea level directly because it floats (as of course you know), but as long as it’s there it acts as a brake on grounded glaciers. The Greenland Ice Sheet would give a 6 m rise if it all went, but (a) it won’t all go at once, and (b) the somewhat bigger West Antarctic one will be going at the same time.

        1. Yes, I was thinking of Greenland as part of the cap. My bad.

          So Greenland’s ice sheet is about as voluminous as the WA sheet!? No wonder I got confused about the figures and guessed a factor of 10 too low.

          I am heartened that it too will take its time to go though. Your suggestion that it can be seen as the same time horizon is reasonable, I will try to remember that.

          But now it is more like 10 m total. That covers a lot of coastal prime estate.

  13. As usual, it takes only a couple of seconds for a conversation on AGW to radiate to discussions of overpopulation, sea levels, over consumption, the greed of individuals and the need for and justice of human suffering.

    It seems impossible to keep our eyes on the ball. The most pressing issue – the one that controls all the others – and the one with a truly frighteningly small window of opportunity to correct – is getting GHG concentrations down and quickly. And the only way to do that is to build and deploy renewable energy infrastructure as fast as humanly possible. Fighting over carbon taxes is a colossal waste of time. We need to make fossil fuels obsolete by replacing them with electric alternatives that are much less expensive.

    And the only way that is going to happen quickly enough is as government projects. The only government entity with access to enough capital is the Federal government. The Department of Energy must become an energy utility. Thinking that rooftop solar or free enterprise is going to get the job done on time is what will doom our children.

    We have had twenty years of dithering, arguing with deniers about facts, laissez-faire renewable entrepreneurship, navel-gazing about overconsumption….. and virtually no construction of renewable systems. No discussion about what would be the most cost-effective way to proceed.(We don’t even know what it would cost if we could build what we need today!) No discussion about nationalization of electric utility systems.

    And we are almost out of time.

    1. I hope nuclear fusion gets off the ground within the next decade. Once it becomes viable, and the European nations adopt it and sell the technology, it would go some way to alleviating the damage caused by fossil fuel consumption.

      I do think you’re focusing way too much on this one factor, though. Overpopulation would still be a problem, because it requires habitat destruction to make way for crops and livestock, which in turn makes it harder for natural carbon sinks like forests to remove CO2 (not that we could afford to be complacent even if deforestation was occurring). There’s also the issue of removing existing CO2 from the atmosphere to reduce its levels, and at some point the global population growth rate is going to have to plateau, which will require widely available contraception and improved sex education.

      Moreover, sea levels are an issue because they reduce the available land for crops. There’s also soil erosion from current agricultural practices, pollution damaging available land, and political issues in places like Indonesia and the Middle East that really need to focus on their environmental problems.

      Long story short, you’re right we need to switch to renewable fuels and so on, but this problem is still too big to be solved by that alone. We need to focus on ALL the relevant factors.

      1. “even if deforestation was occurring”

        Sorry, I meant even if deforestation WASN’T occurring. And the global population growth rate is going to have to plateau AT LEAST.

        (Sorry I keep using CAPSLOCK, but I don’t know how to put italics and bold in).

        1. Reducing our population is a job that will take a century. We have about a decade to completely switch to renewables or are in dire straits for two millennia. There is a limited amount of political will. Which do you think we should concentrate on first – population or CO2?

        2. italics and bold: start with “”, followed by the text you want italicized or put in bold. To end the italicized or bolded text, put “”.

          1. The site still ate your HTML tags. I’ll give it a shot: “<i>text</i>” gives you italics. The same thing with a ‘b’ instead of ‘i’ gives you bold.

            1. OK, I’ll give it a go (thanks to you both, by the way, chrisbuckley80 and Timothy Hughbanks:

              Sorry, I meant even if deforestation wasn’t occurring. And the global population growth rate is going to have to plateau at least.

              1. Many more thanks to you. I have wondered how to format my posts for a long time. Don’t know why it never occurred to me to ask you all.

  14. Oh, look at all that Arctic Ocean continental shelf freshly exposed and ready for drilling for oil and gas.
    Sorry, but if people keep on buying it, we’re going to keep on drilling for it.

    1. Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll stop drilling when there’s nothing left to drill…which is coming sooner than anybody wants it to….


      1. I don’t see myself retiring through lack of things to drill. There’s still an entire un-touched continent. And Greenland and the rest of the circum-Arctic too.If people want to burn the carbon (rather than investing in the technologies their children or grandchildren are going to need), then we’ll supply their desires. and if someone comes along and says “CCS”, then we’ll apply exactly the same techniques of exploration to identify suitable disposal sites for the CO2, then put the wells in place to store the stuff. One way or the other, that’ll be me up to retirement age.
        While we’re on the subject : the geological community know the consequences of dumping petagrammes of carbon into the atmosphere in vanishingly short timescales. Massive global warming with a relaxation time of the order of 10^5 years. It’s not an experiment that needs repeating, as far as we’re concerned. I do hear AGW doubters all the time at work, but that’s exclusively (does swift head count – yes, exclusively) from Americans and particularly Louisianans (?).

        1. I wouldn’t be too terribly confident. We’ve pumped about half the oil there is, right? But we’re also pumping it faster than we ever have, with demand theoretically still growing. If demand were to decline at ~2.5%, we’d have enough oil left for a century or so. But if we try to increase production at ~2.5%, we suck the last drop out in a decade or so. Even if production remains flat, we suck the last drop before today’s newborns are old enough for college. And, of course, it’s only going to get harder and harder to suck — just look at what you’re doing today, drilling miles-deep wells with wellheads several miles below the surface of the ocean, compared with the days when you had to be careful with a pickaxe in Texas lest you let loose a gusher.

          Great work for the geologists like you whose job it is to find the oil, especially since the value of your services is only going to soar. But sooner rather than later, nobody’s going to be able to afford to pay what it’ll cost to drill…and that’s when the shit hits the fan.

          By the way, you do realize that industrial farming as we know it today is impossible without petroleum, right? No fertilizer, no pesticides, no fuel for the combines, no fuel to get the produce to market….

          My desperate hope?

          That we ramp up solar like there’s no tomorrow. It’s the only thing that can scale without pollution and resource exhaustion. Once we get to the point that there’s enough solar for the grid operators to fret about pumping too much power in, we’ll also “oh-by-the-way” have enough capacity to start manufacturing hydrocarbon fuels from atmospheric CO2. That’s an energy-intensive and expensive process, but economical at less than twice today’s petroleum prices. Those fuels can be used first during off-solar-peak-production hours for load leveling, and then as replacements for fossil fuels, and finally, once we have enough solar generation capacity, as you suggest, pumped back into the ground.

          I just don’t see much chance that anybody would be interested in making such an investment. I personally am, which is why the solar panels on my roof generate half again as much power as I use (because I’ll soon be using that excess to charge an electric vehicle). But even here in the Valley of the Sun it’s the oddballs plus the University who have solar roofs….


          1. Good points all. Here under grey northern skies, even the university hasn’t got much in the way of solar roofing (even on those buildings less than 50 years old where it might be permitted).
            I only have to keep going for another (calculates) 22 years until retirement. Like I said, I’m confident of remaining in work (and possibly with lucrative post-retirement consultations) until retirement.

            1. Yeah…barring either end of the spectrum — miracle fusion power breakthrough or complete societal collapse — I’d say your job is about as safe as they come. Even if we rapidly transition to solar the way I’d like us to (but don’t at all expect us to), there’ll still be demand for petroleum for at least the next couple decades. Assuming there’s any left to demand….



              1. In the 1950s, my father’s chemistry lecturers were telling him (an aspiring plastics chemist) that “oil is too good to burn”.
                That remains true. Long before we stop drilling for the stuff, people won”t be able to afford to burn it.

              2. Not just plastics; fertilizer for crops. A significant portion of our food calories come from oil. Hell, you’d be hard pressed to find an industrialized product these days without a significant oil component, even ignoring energy to manufacture and transport it. How do you build industrial machinery without plastics, and how do you build anything else without industrial machinery? And lubricants….

                There’s some exciting research being done into making feedstocks for plastics and the like from atmospheric CO2 using the same kinds of methods as for hydrocarbon fuels from atmospheric CO2. Again, it is (and always will be) energy-intensive and expensive compared to just pumping it out of the ground the way we’ve done…but still much cheaper than pumping oil from empty wells….


              3. All good points. Like I said, I anticipate retiring from the job of drilling holes in the ground, looking for oil.
                I don’t think (or anticipate) that it’ll be the sort of mass employer it is now – it might be down to 10^5 workers by then – but as a highly experienced specialist … secure employment. Unless I punch the wrong guy.

              4. Just watch out for “cost-saving measures” when you’re near retirement that rape your pension, etc., especially by forcing you to leave a year or three before you’d maximize contractual payouts.

                If so, that’s the time to punch the worng guy….


              5. I’m sure it’ll all be stolen. That’s what bankers and fiscal professionals are for, after all.

              6. I think that’s the idea — at least, from the perspective of the Board. Short of a truly independent audit (and who’s going to pay for that sort of thing?) there’s no way of knowing whether or not the Son of Bernie Madoff has already made away with the goods.

                At least for any such funds in the States, you can thank Congress for that. The response to the recent financial meltdown was to use taxpayer money to reimburse the thieves and to protect them from the burden of increased oversight. Just more proof that we really do have the best legislature money can buy!

                Considering the close ties between Wall Street and the City of London, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the situation is the same across the pond….


              7. Do not restrict that type of behavior to Big Oil or even to big business. I have watched my family and friends hit the 60 year-old marker and every one of them has been ‘laid-off’ with different excuses and in most ever field: energy, IT, transportation, marketing, accounting, construction, PR, whether working for Fortune 500 companies or small local businesses. These were loyal employees, some with the company for decades, smart, well-educated and with experience that had pulled many companies through the roughest patches of America’s economy. My sister was fired from the company she began and built herself. Older people are potentially more expensive to employ, especially with the new federal mandates concerning healthcare. I can also tell just how much fun it is trying to find a job after you are 60, especially with everything being handled electronically and no opportunity for a personal interview until the zillions of resumes can be culled through. If you don’t have a close friend or relative to make a wedge, it is nearly pointless.

              8. Too true. All the more reason why I’m glad I put in the long hours to pay off my mortgage well ahead of schedule, put the solar array on my roof, and am in the process of setting up independent income streams.

                “Investment advisors” sing the praises of a diversified investment portfolio. Many of the reasons they offer apply in spades to basic income and expenses as well. It’s not always feasible to diversify your income opportunities…but it should always be on your mind. Just as a pilot is always pondering, “If the engines died on me now, where would I try to land?” you should always be asking yourself, “If my job went tits-up, how would I pay the bills?” Do what you can to avoid the crisis in the first place — just as pilots do a pre-flight inspection to check for damage or contaminated fuel or whatever — but also do what you can to be ready if and when something goes worng despite all your best efforts to avoid disaster.

                …especially given the rough terrain that is the modern work climate for over-fifty employees….


              9. Hey, don’t you people go badmouthing Louisiana; I was born there! And you don’t have to drill for oil in Louisiana or East Texas. It used to squish up between our toes when we ran around barefoot.(No knickers in a twist, please; I’m quite aware that these things have changed like everything else. It was a joke.) But I am glad Ben has brought up our dependence on petrochemicals; most people haven’t a clue as to how much petroleum is in almost everything we use.

                On a slightly different subject, Ben, you seem to be often the ‘go to’ guy on a lot of this type of information. I have a question. Not long ago I walked through the room when my daughter was watching some documentary that I haven’t been unable to identify and only saw a brief part. In it a young woman was demonstrating a new ‘artificial plastic’ (ain’t that a term we never expected!) made from jellyfish. She poured a small amount of water into a cup, drank it, then ate the cup. If there is a development on the horizon that addressed the potentially dangerous population growth of jellies, did not have the hazardous need for drilling and refining petroleum AND reduced the use of the slow breakdown of most waste, this could almost ride in as a real miracle. Have you or anyone else heard anything about this?

              10. Have you or anyone else heard anything about this?

                I haven’t, though I know there’s lots of research in general into things that biodegrade quickly.

                But if we get to the point that the jellyfish take over the ocean, that’s it; game over. Human extinction, along with most other species. That sort of thing would be ecologically far worse than the meteor / comet that took out the dinosaurs.


              11. But if we turn them all into Tupperware and then eat the Tupperware, we win!

                Don’t know the nutritional value of jellyfish, but hopefully they won’t be too fattening.

  15. Yah, but, besides the meteorological, hydrological, ecological, and now cartographic evidence for anthropogenic global warming what else have you got?

  16. The tiny silver lining in this ominous cloud is all the fascinating discoveries found in the melting glaciers.

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