Thursday, March 19, 2009

We will all be long, long gone

[Hello, all. As my signature suggests, my name is Brian and I'll be an occasional contributor to NPR Check, writing once or twice a week primarily on the issues of national politics and environmental policy. I've spent the past 10 years or so working in public policy and politics, and of course listening to way, way too much NPR.]

Although one reader (biggerbox) already beat me to the punch in a comment, this morning's ME article about Antarctic sea ice deserves note. Actually, Richard Harris' explanation of the Nature article and the underlying science was fine: researchers have determined that the West Antarctic ice sheet has repeatedly deteriorated over the past few million years, and is likely to do so again if the surrounding ocean temperature increases by 5C. This finding made the climate researchers "nervous," since such a scenario would probably involve sea level rises of 15 to 20 feet.

However, the article placed a bizarre emphasis on the relatively long time it takes such large masses of ice to melt. Harris noted that the researcher "figures that will take at least 1,000 years, and more likely 2,000 to 3,000 years, " and Renee Montagne introduced the piece by saying, "maybe this will make you feel a bit better, we will all be long, long gone before it could happen." No reason to worry, right?

I can't help but feel that they got the focus a little backwards. For example, Harris notes that "while the full effect may not unfold for thousands of years, it would transform the planet into a place we would not recognize today." However, Antarctic ice sheets are already melting rapidly--losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice per year. Also, although NPR didn't report it, the same climate scientist noted elsewhere that the 5C tipping point was a "rough number," and that "It could be 3C or it could be 6C." Considering that the scientific consensus is that the earth has already been committed to more than 2C of warming by the end of this century, the possibility of reaching 3C, or even 5C, seems far too likely.

It might have been more appropriate to emphasize that the planet is already changing so dramatically that we are now forced to consider the very real possibility that a 527,000 cubic-mile chuck of ice could melt away entirely, whether or not we are alive to see it. Thankfully, the article ends with a glaciologist calling for efforts to curb global warming, but the point is not well connected to the main body of the article, and it would be hard for a listener not to mistakenly take away the implication that the worst impacts of climate change are a thousand years away.


miranda said...

Mara Liasson is at it again:

Anonymous said...

Like most of th eannouncers at NPR, Renee Montagne is a know-nothing hack. That she would be talking about a science related issue is simply a joke. She's about as dumb as they come (and they come pretty dumb at NPR)

Melting of ice sheets may not happen the way the scientifically illiterate nitwits at NPR believe (slowwwwly)

It's a very complex process involving positive feedbacks. In a nutshell, melting (or collapse) of ice sheets can (and does) happen much faster than people (even scientists who study the issue) sometimes imagine:

“Scientists are particularly worried about the [West Antarctic] ice sheet because it is largely marine-based, which means that the bedrock underneath most of the ice sits under sea level,” says Mitrovica, director of the Earth System Evolution Program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. “The West Antarctic is fringed by ice shelves which act to stabilize the ice sheet – these shelves are sensitive to global warming, and if they break up, the ice sheet will have a lot less impediment to collapse.” This concern was reinforced further in a recent study led by Eric Steig of the University of Washington that showed that the entire region is indeed warming."

Collapse Of Antarctic Ice Sheet Would Likely Put Washington, D.C. Largely Underwater

ScienceDaily (Feb. 6, 2009)

To say nothing of the fact that Greenland may suffer the same fate.

Porter Melmoth said...

More massive evidence of what is continually obvious to we here at this blog: do not turn to NPR as a reliable source of scientific perspectives or any other pertinent topic today.

NPR is a disposable consumer item in the guise of 'thinking' peoples' news needs.

Whether the subject is Antarctic ice melting or speculation on what any 'expert' thinks, NPR's veracity is generally dubious. We've been demonstrating that for, well, years here.

Regarding Antarctic conditions, one can learn much more from flipping casually through a National Geographic than one would ever get from piffle pronouncements made by ersatz entertainers like Renayy Mundane.

Anonymous said...

We can always hope that NPR will soon be gone as a result of another type of meltdown 9in the economy and Federal budget)

But I fear (and expect) the worst:

The polar bear goes extinct but NPR survives for yet another day of hype and propaganda.

big!pink!fuzzy!bunny! said...

Glad to have you aboard our scurvy pirate ship, Brian; giving Matt a well-deserved little reprieve & to breathe even more lively activity into our growing antithesis on what, sadly, a good many 'believers' feel is the best news organization out there. Yah, out there alright...

Hubertg said...

.....and I suppose the next story is that 'Clean Coal' really exists, that giant whirlpool of plastic refuse in the Pacific Ocean is good for the fish...and if we all plant a shrub it will offset the loss of the Amazon Forest...."We will all be long, long gone."

Anonymous said...

"We will all be long, long gone."

I think NPR -- where the N stood for "Public" rather than "Propaganda" -- was long long gone a long long time a place far far away.

And all of the real journalists are also long long gone from NPR.

The only thing that is not long long gone at NPR is all the hacks and quacks.