Are you kidding us? The New York Times just declared that climate change is going to unleash millions of migrants, this time for sure, then they sent the polar bear spinning toward extinction due to climate change again. We hardly need to point out that these stories depend on the discredited RCP8.5 scenario. Even the Guardian has announced that it will no longer stick a sad polar bear picture on every other story about climate change without admitting that they weren’t endangered. We know the Times favours recycling, but the concept is supposed to apply to the newsprint, not the failed scare stories.
You might expect the Times to be a bit shy about retelling the spooky tale of the vanishing polar bear given how badly it ended the last few times, including the infamous starving bear photo. Or maybe not if you’re a regular reader and know they don’t embarrass easily.
It seems it’s hard to get rid of getting rid of polar bears. Commenting on “the recent push to keep polar bear extinction panic alive”, Susan Crockford quoted Spectator UK columnist Ross Clark saying “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could debate climate change for five minutes without hearing about polar bears or being subjected to footage of them perched precariously on a melting ice floe? But that is a little too much to expect.”
Certainly this story has the usual rhetorical frills, from the experts-say headline, accompanied by a parade of could-and-if in passages like “By century’s end, polar bears worldwide could become nearly extinct as a result of shrinking sea ice in the Arctic if climate change continues unabated, scientists said” as opposed to the more accurate if less chilling “some scientists said” or “six researchers out of the hundreds of thousands in the world tentatively suggested”.
This small number of researchers could be right, of course. We’re not the ones going on and on about a supposed consensus and its shut-your-mouth debate-ending quality. But it’s disingenuous to use the phrase “scientists said” implying a vast consensus where none exists.
In fact the story is highly speculative: “Nearly all of the 19 subpopulations of polar bears, from the Beaufort Sea off Alaska to the Siberian Arctic, would face being wiped out because the loss of sea ice would force the animals onto land and away from their food supplies for longer periods, the researchers said. Prolonged fasting, and reduced nursing of cubs by mothers, would lead to rapid declines in reproduction and survival.” If the sea ice vanishes and if polar bears, which are secretly just white grizzly bears (with different habits and physiology, but capable of interbreeding), turn out to be unable to hunt on land.
The thing is, the latter “if” is highly implausible because the polar bears survived the Holocene Climate Optimum, the Roman Warm Period and, what’s this, the Eemian Interglacial, the last one before ours, which was (a) some 1-2°C warmer than the Holocene without all that control-knob CO2 and in the Arctic some 2-4 °C warmer and (b) about 130,000-115,000 years ago whereas polar bears are thought to have split off from “brown bears” aka big scary grizzly bears with enormous claws and teeth at least 130,000 and more probably some 400,000 years ago.
Then there’s the sea ice issue. The warming since the Little Ice Age has not hurt polar bears, despite the oft-predicted disappearance of Arctic ice and Al Gore’s creative CGI; instead they have been flourishing (since humans stopped overhunting them) even though Arctic ice was at the high point of a cycle when satellite records began in 1979 and has been shrinking since in keeping with that cyclical pattern. And as Crockford also recently noted, these highly evolved animals and their highly evolved prey have a complex and dynamic relationship to the fluctuating conditions of Arctic sea ice that have existed since before they appeared on Earth. Which again is why they didn’t die out in previous periods of shrinking ice, whether you have in mind the Medieval Warm Period, the Holocene Climatic Optimum, the Eemian or simply “summer”.
Beyond all that, regular readers will also guess that the whole edifice is built on the usual scientific sand. As Crockford, again, commented, “this prediction of future polar bear devastation depends on using the so-called ‘business as usual’ RCP8.5 climate scenario, which has been roundly criticized in recent years as totally implausible, which even the BBC has mentioned.”
Neither did the climate-migration story embarrass the Times even though the UN very famously predicted 50 million climate refugees by 2010 and instead we saw nothing other than the usual pattern of refugees fleeing war, tyranny and the resulting famines rather than rising seas and temperatures. Not to worry. “Today, 1% of the world is a barely livable hot zone. By 2070, that portion could go up to 19%. Billions of people call this land home. Where will they go?” Then, apparently doing a brisk if sotto voce trade in xenophobia, they say “Your house”.
The story mentions Guatemalans fleeing crop failure due to a combination of drought and flooding, without noting that Guatemala has long faced poverty and bad weather and what’s changed is the increasing ease of migration. And here the Times does the usual bait-and-switch, saying “The odd weather phenomenon that many blame for the suffering here — the drought and sudden storm pattern known as El Niño — is expected to become more frequent as the planet warms….”
You see? It’s not something that has happened yet, just something that’s going to happen, experts say. And yet while the cause looms in the future, the effects are here today because in climate change stories, time can run backward if necessary to increase the ominous effect. And it gets worse: “As their land fails them, hundreds of millions of people from Central America to Sudan to the Mekong Delta will be forced to choose between flight or death. The result will almost certainly be the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen.” Yes, almost as certainly as the UN’s 50 million climate refugees by 2010.
Then we get the “climate never changes” thing: “For most of human history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. But as the planet warms, that band is suddenly shifting north. According to a pathbreaking recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined.”
Again, you see that it “is suddenly shifting” followed by “in the next 50 years.” But the idea that there’s been a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures during human history is absurd even if you only mean written history, which leaves out the last glaciation and the Holocene Climate Optimum but still includes the Minoan and Roman warm periods. But those were nothing: “A 2017 study in Science Advances found that by 2100, temperatures could rise to the point that just going outside for a few hours in some places, including parts of India and Eastern China, ‘will result in death even for the fittest of humans.’” It “found that” something might happen in the future, which means it didn’t “find” anything, it speculated.
The strange thing is that governments of prosperous temperate nations are desperate to attract migrants anyway. And have never had any trouble doing so as people flee not natural but man-made hardship for freedom and opportunity, heading to North America and the UK from lands as disparate in climate as Russia and India. There has never been a famine in a self-governing democratic system (even the Irish Potato Famine happened before Irish Home Rule) because people are adaptable.
As for climate-driven migration, it’s nothing new. But on the whole it involves people moving to warmer climes. Mind you they did not move to Florida in large numbers until they could crank up the AC when they got there. As many people in Guatemala would doubtless be more than happy to do if only the World Bank and other green imperialists were not working tirelessly to ensure that poor countries remain energy-poor so rich countries can feel smug about misery they don’t have to see.
In any case these tales of crop failure come amid, as we noted last week, record global food harvests. And in the fine print the Times admits that according to their computer models, fully 5% of their projected massive wave of migrants would be “driven primarily by climate”. The rest will come for work, liberty and perhaps a chance to see all those polar bears rumours of whose death have been greatly exaggerated.