French President Emmanuel Macron, under pressure for not doing enough on climate, points at an Alpine glacier and goes oh no it’s melting but I will save you. Only he won’t, because the Mer de glace has been in retreat since roughly 1850. Something no journalist apparently bothered to Google before printing the horror story du jour about “irrefutable proof of global warming” as “France’s largest glacier… has shrunk dramatically in recent years”. Well yes. If by recent you mean back when Sherlock Holmes was battling Moriarty at the nearby Reichenbach Falls.
When we say Google we mean it. As in type “Mer de glace glacier” into that search engine and you’ll immediately get the Wikipedia article which, in its “History” section, declares that “In the 18th and 19th centuries the glacier descended all the way down to the hamlet of Les Bois, where it was known as Glacier des Bois” and attracted awestruck visitors including Turner, who painted it in 1816. “The position of its front end fluctuated over the years but its maximum extent was in the mid-19th century.”
Gosh. Really? Why then? Oh right. A glacier advances as the natural Little Ice Age succeeds the natural Medieval Warm Period then retreats as the late Victorian/20th century rebound occurs (and grows again in the late 1970s because shut up). As glaciers elsewhere have also been caught doing. So the conclusion of politicians and journalists is that it has never happened before and must be our fault.
A hyperventilating piece in Bloomberg back in 2015 showed where the “snout” had been in 1958, 1993 and 2008 (and where it would be in 2040). But not where it had been in 1900 or 1850. Let alone in 218 BC during the “Roman Warm Period” when it was probably a lot smaller than today and Hannibal may have seen no ice at all while crossing the Alps, or in 5000 BC when it may well not have existed.
Because of course, if it retreated further in the 1st half of the 20th century than in the 2nd half, the problem is not just why it slowed down. It’s why it was melting at all before big bad humans came along and caused warming to… um… continue.