Do We Need To See Climate Change To Believe It?
James Balog says that 95% of the glaciers in the world (outside of Antarctica) are shrinking or retreating, and he has the photos to prove it. Balog runs the Extreme Ice Survey, which “uses time-lapse photography, conventional photography, and video to document the rapid changes now occurring on the Earth’s glacial ice.” Their tag line is “seeing is believing.”
They have some phenomenal videos, one of which is embedded below. While the videos are compelling, in the past I have been somewhat dismissive of the idea that using selected discreet observations can either prove or disprove climate change. It leads to too many “it was colder than ever in my town this January” type arguments, countered with “not where I live!” retorts.
My bias has always been to point to the science and models, which bring me to the Economist Magazine’s recent piece that attempts to demystify and present a balanced summary of the science: what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t know. For anyone serious about weighing the evidence and understanding the uncertainties, it provides a very thorough discussion of a complex issue…a very very complex issue. It is a welcome change to the typical cherry picking of data used to attack the science, and acknowledges and discusses the many issues brought up by climate skeptics.
The Economist’s conclusion is that “there are a lot of uncertanties in climate science, but that does not mean it is fundamentally wrong.” They also point to a variety of observations, which seem to reinforce the conclusions of climate science. Unfortunately, most of these observation are still relatively subtle – a bit of temperature rise, some elevation of CO2 concentrations, coral reef bleaching, migratory pattern changes. This leads to my concern that we are like the fabled frog in a pot of water on the stove: If the water heats slowly enough the frog will not sense the danger, and boil to death.
Balog sees ice as one of the most visible and dramatic sentinels of climate change – “a canary in the global coal mine”. The paradox is that if we wait to see more visible changes, it will be too late to act….and if we act, we may never see the changes.
And what about the frog? That’s just an urban myth: Frogs have enough common sense to jump out and save their own skin.