Yesterday's post on the succinct and emphatic AAAS report, What We Know, on climate change elicits this thought: Is the whole thing a rehash of things already concluded by most scientists and circulated in the public by media? The answer is yes. Not that the report is a waste – it addresses the reality that a lot of Americans either don't believe we are changing climate much if at all, or that yes it's a problem but we have more important things to do right now than to fix the climate. Sure, some of us worry about it all the time, but not most of us.
But still. The AAAS report has lots of pop but not much new info. Perhaps it will however help the message to eventually get through. In the meantime, as the tracker's job is mainly to monitor how media handle science, enviro, health, and other such fields there is something we can do. We can put the report into context of what's in the news right now and in recent weeks.
Here is a hurried gathering of a few of the points that the What We Know panel made, and a few examples of media reports already in circulation on just those topics. The generalities in that report have, in many cases, concrete illustrations in contemporary general news media.
I. What We Know (page 5) : Does a particularly cold or snowy winter, such as the one the eastern United States experienced in 2013 and 14 …. call global warming into question? Example in the News:
- Alaska Dispatch (March 16) Yereth Rosen : In topsy-turvy 'polar vortex' winter, ice sparse in Arctic, abundant in Great Lakes ; While it's not the story's main point, it nonetheless explains that while the cold winter in the US is plenty real, it results in next to nil change in the overall heat content of the global weather system. Rosen quotes the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center to say that the recurrent blizzards largely follow southward excursions of the polar vortex. But it's not that the arctic just expanded. When that cold air moves south other, warmer air moves north. It's nearly a zero sum game. The portion of the arctic's frigid air leaking south sucked record warmth and low ice into Alaska even while America's right half shivered and fought snowdrifts. The lesson: Moving heat around on Earth's surface in unusual patterns does not refute a gradual, long term rise in average temperatures.
II. What We Know (p. 17) : Large-scale melting of both the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets include large-scale losses of ice, potentially leading to tens of feet of sea level rise. While most of these losses are projected as being unlikely to occur before 2100, we may pass the point where these losses will be set in motion in the coming decades, with at least a slight chance that we have already done so..
Examples in the News:
AP – Brian Kahn (Mar 16) New Greenland Ice Melt Fuels Sea Level Rise Concerns ; Says here, a big part of Greenland's ice cap that had been thought safe against melting, for awhile at least, has begun melting pretty fast anyway. Quote:
These new measurements show that the sleeping giant is awakening and suggest given likely continued Arctic warming that it's not going back to bed."
- Live Science (Feb 20) Becky Oskin: History Repeating Itself at Antarctica's Fastest-Melting Glacier ; Story (as does AAAS) does not say its curtains for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But reeks of foreboding. Quote" "Understanding how Pine Island Glacier beahved in the past fives us more of an idea of how it is likely to behave in the future." The glacier, one of the biggest in the region, has recently sped up dramatically.
III. What We Know (p. 18) Frozen methane in the shallow sheles of the Artci Ocean represents an unlikely but potentially strong feedback loop in a warming climate ;
Example in the News:
- ABC News (Feb. 20) Katie Silver: Methane microbe may speed up warming ; Researchers from Australia, the US, and Sweden discovered that thawing permafrost provides food that newly-discovered microbes can metabolically convert into even more methane than generally expected from warming. Quote: "This causes the temperature to rise adn more thawing to occur in a massive feedback loop. It's a really, really big problem." It is hard to say if the scientist meant it is a big problem to figure out what would happen, or what would happen is the really big problem. Either say, the story fits in the longshot-but-watch-out-if-it-happens category of gloomy science news.
IV: What We Know (p. 9) As the world has gotten otter, many of the world's plants and animals, on land and in the oceans, have begun moving toward the poles. Where possible, some terrestrial species are moving up mountainsides, and marine species or moving to deeper depths and higher latitudes.
Example in the News:
- Discovery News – Tim Wall: Whales Moving Into Thawed Arctic Ocean ; Hed says it all.
I could dig up more given more time, and I'd bet that anytime in the last ten years, had the same AAAS report come out, a rustle through recent news stories would find similar specific examples that illustrate the broad concerns raised in the report. The report is not new, but it is broad. News stories tend to report new events but are narrow. Done in good faith such things work together.