Another day, another whack-a-mole alarmist scare. This time it’s “Exclusive: Glaciers vanishing at record rate in Alps following heatwaves”. And of course “Swiss glaciers melt faster than expected”, settled science on climate being forever surprised by actual events. And then there’s the Guardian’s bold “Decades of devastation ahead as global warming melts the Alps”. Oh wait. That one was in 2003. And it thundered “scientists now believe global warming is melting the Alps, threatening widespread devastation over the next two decades.” So we’ve been living through that “widespread devastation” for 20 years without noticing.
The melting of Swiss glaciers was actually a hot topic a year ago and is again this year. Thus the Swissinfo.ch piece on “faster than expected” exactly as predicted tells us:
“The volume of glaciers in Switzerland is decreasing every year – and faster than expected. Last year the glaciers in Switzerland lost 6% of their volume; this year it is 4%. This is the second biggest decline since measurements began. In all, 10% of Swiss glaciers’ ice volume disappeared over the past two years, the Swiss Commission for Cryosphere Observation of the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences reported on Thursday. The same amount of ice melted in 2022-2023 as during the 1960-1990 period.”
Boooo! Even if there are no penguins in that specific locale. But hang on a year or two.
In the first place, if weather is variable, there is always likely to be some place that is seeing unusually fast melting, just as somewhere else will see ice accumulating. As, dare we say, a few places will have a lot of wildfires and others surprisingly few… and the press will run in circles screaming and shouting only about the former. So we’d like to know what’s going on in, oh, say, the Austrian Alps, not to mention the Himalayas. Just for context, you understand.
In the second, if man-made climate heating kicked in about a decade ago, or two, or even three, what’s with Swiss glaciers losing so much volume between 1960 and 1990? Not to mention from 1860 to 1960. Was it (ulp) natural melting? So we’d also like to know how long Swiss glaciers have been retreating. It’s not, by any chance, several centuries as in Alaska, New Zealand, Montana, India and other places on the planet Earth, is it? Because if something’s been going on for 150 years or more, blaming it on something that’s been going on for 30 isn’t just insolent, it’s addled.
Euronews.green did say “Swiss glaciers have shrunk by half in 85 years” but only to holler “and the melt is speeding up”. But don’t ask a journalist whether they mean a greater total volume is melting or whether as the thing shrinks, the percentage lost to a given absolute amount is rising. They didn’t study math (that particular journalist has a “BA, Politics and International Relations” albeit from Cambridge, where she was also “open mic night officer on the Stockings Committee (a collective for women and non-binary comedians)”). Nor logic, since it didn’t dawn on them that losing half your ice starting in the early 1930s proves the opposite of what they think it does.
We might also ask these reporters why if the Alps were ice-free during the Roman Warm Period and the Holocene Climatic Optimum, then ferociously cold and hostile during the Little Ice Age, it’s a big surprise that the ice is melting now. But they would just find some expert who says to tell them there was no Roman Warm Period.
Possibly it would be nitpicking to ask why, if 2023 was hotter than the hottest thing ever, the rate of melting slowed. (Or to mention that a grisly NBC story about the remains of climbers emerging from the ice let slip that “Last year Switzerland’s glaciers registered their worst melt rate since records began more than a century ago, losing 6% of their remaining volume -- nearly double the previous record in 2003.” Why was 2003 the previous peak? Why not 2021? Not fluctuating, is it?)
We’re not looking for journalists to exercise independence of thought and research initiative at this point. We’re not that naïve. No indeed. Reuters hollers “Swiss glaciers lose 10% of volume in worst two years on record”. And you’ll never guess: “More than half of the glaciers in the Alps are in Switzerland where temperatures are rising by around twice the global average due to climate change.” Just like everywhere else.
CBS squawks “Swiss glaciers lose 10% of their volume in 2 years: “Very visible” evidence of climate’s “critical state”“. And the Toronto Star hisses “As thaw accelerates, Swiss glaciers have lost 10% of their volume in the past 2 years, experts say”. As thaw accelerates? But it was 6% last year and 4% this year.
Incidentally a Google search “glaciers growing 2023” returned items by the misleadingly named “Skeptical Science” alarmist site in the top two spots. (And further down a National Geographic piece from 2019 “A Greenland glacier is growing. That’s not good news” and no, in this area nothing ever is.) It’s the story, the only story, and it only has one moral, which is that the glaciers have been retreating for centuries because we’ve been warming the planet for decades.