“SPECIAL REPORT: As their home melts, Greenlanders confront the fallout of climate change” shrieks NBC in a Sept. 17 email teaser (not available online) that warns that “Greenland is ‘ground zero’ for global warming, a place where the effects of rising temperatures and melting ice could have the most dire consequences. The shorter winters and longer summers have opened new waterways for fishing and tourism — but they’ve also endangered hunting, dogsledding and other traditional ways of life for the island’s 55,000 residents.” Oh really? Then why do long-term temperature records for Greenland show almost no warming in the last 60 years, or the last hundred?
There’s a famous story in Plutarch about Philip of Macedon the Great sending an ultimatum to the Spartans to surrender because “If I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city” to which the Spartans replied simply “If”. And NBC’s casual use of “As” in the phrase “As their home melts,” not even as a premise to be explored but as an assumption to be swallowed untasted, we reply that if their home is not melting, nothing you say about what happens as it does tells us anything except that you are either gullible or zealots.
The NBC story to which the teaser links of course draws on the wisdom of the ancestors about the dramatic unpleasant changes, including one elder who said a thunderstorm was scary because in the good old days “We maybe hear some thunder one time in 30 years.” NBC did not delve into the question of whether in fact Greenland gets a thunderstorm every three decades.
Instead reporter Denise Chow breathlessly recounted being stuck near a glacier when the helicopter didn’t arrive and recalling with relief that fellow scientist David Holland had brought “a shotgun - just in case he needed to fend off polar bears.” Hmmm. Not so much threatened as threatening, are they?
As it happens, the bears stayed away and Chow ended up having a lovely night camping in exotic Arctic scenery before a chopper whisked them away the next day and “I found myself missing the peace, solitude and absolute splendor of Helheim Glacier.” But it was still terrifying because the Helheim glacier is melting rapidly and “Holland’s team is trying to understand what’s driving the staggering ice melt. This summer alone, an estimated 440 billion tons of ice has been lost from Greenland’s ice sheet — and some scientists say it could be more.”
We know what’s driving the main melt. It’s called summer. It happens every year and then the ice sheet grows again in winter. As for the glacier, well, many are retreating, including in Alaska, due to the natural temperature rebound from the Little Ice Age that saw them shrink dramatically before 1900.
Perhaps these journalists are seeing what they expect to see and their editors want them to see not what is actually there. NBC also sent star anchor Lester Holt “to Alaska – where he spent part of his childhood -- to get a personal perspective of a climate in crisis. Scientists are warning that rising temperatures are having a significant impact on the state – including melting glaciers – which contributes to rising sea levels and warming oceans.” And Al Roker to Greenland to study… wait for it… “its record melt and heat wave.” Which he duly found, even though the data suggest that the widespread post-Victorian temperature rebound seems largely to have passed Greenland by. As we noted in August, its ice cap is about the same size today it was in 1850, and Greenland as a whole appears to have been cooling gently since the 1920s. Awkward.
Chow also failed for some reason to camp by Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier that has recently baffled scientists by growing instead of shrinking. Instead she had an excellent adventure and filed the usual story.