Greenpeace admits: BBC got it wrong about arctic sea ice melting

Posted by jamie — 20 August 2009 at 3:18pm - Comments

You may have already seen this on our Making Waves blog, but for the sake of completeness (and to help demolish the climate denial zombie that's risen once more) here's Brian's piece on the arctic sea ice controversy.

The right-wing, conservative, climate-denial blog-and-twitosphere is abuzz with the news: Greenpeace admits live on the BBC that it lied about arctic melting.

That's not true, it's being promoted by the handful of global warming skeptics still standing, and we're hitting back. You can help us by tweeting, blogging, and sharing this clarification on Facebook.

Here are the facts. Gerd Leipold, our Executive Director, appeared on BBC's "HardTalk" the other day and got blindsided with a challenge by journalist Stephen Sackur. Sackur selectively quoted from a Greenpeace "press release" (actually, it was a web story) from July 15th. This is the paragraph he referenced:

Ice free Arctic

Bad news is coming from other sources as well. A recent NASA study has shown that the ice cap is not only getting smaller, it’s getting thinner and younger. Sea ice has dramatically thinned between 2004 and 2008. Old ice (over 2 years old) takes longer to melt, and is also much harder to replace. As permanent ice decreases, we are looking at ice-free summers in the Arctic as early as 2030.

When we, or NASA, or most climate scientists talk about "ice-free summers" in the Arctic, that's commonly understood to mean the sea isn't covered with ice. But Sackur claimed that we were misleading the public by claiming that all the ice in the Arctic -- including the massive Greenland ice sheet, which is on land, would be gone by 2030. That's NOT what we said, as Sackur, or his researcher, would have known if they read the entire article, including the next sentence:

They say you can't be too thin or too young, but this unfortunately doesn't apply to the Arctic sea ice.

Here's how he poses this question to Gerd:

Now, it's fair to say we could have been clearer by inserting three letters into the offending sentence: S-E-A, to make it crystal clear to the casual reader. But the term "ice-free" to refer to an absence of ice on the ocean came straight from the NASA report we were citing, and is the common description you'll find in scientific publications as well as among journalists. Google "ice free summers" and "arctic" and see what you get: about 230,000 hits. Oh, and look what the first hit is: a story from the BBC itself talking about the retreat of SEA ice, but what's the headline? "Arctic summers ice-free by 2013"

Is the BBC scarmongering? Or are they reporting the facts?

Now HardTalk is all about difficult questions, and we have no problem with difficult questions or a fair fight. Because in a fair fight, our arguments generally win. Gerd handled the rest of the interview with his customary flare.

As a climate scientist himself, (Dr.) Gerd Leipold rightly knows that no scenario currently predicts the collapse of the entire ice sheet that early, and nor have we ever made that claim.

Bottom line: there's nothing to repudiate -- just something to clarify.

The climate skeptics are trying and turn this into a victory to undercut our reputation for accuracy and further their ‘flat earth’ position of climate denial.

So it's up to us, as citizen journalists to restore the balance across the social networks: Please help us make sure the whole story gets told. Tweet this story. Share this story on Facebook.

And encourage people to follow the ongoing voyage of our ship the Arctic Sunrise around Greenland with a crew that includes world renowned glaciologists who are doing groundbreaking science to discover just how much of an impact climate change is having on the region.

It seems crazy that there are still climate skeptics out there.

Climate change has an impact round the world. According to the Tearfund study, there are an estimated 25 million environmental refugees resulting from changing rain patterns, floods, storms and rising tides and this figure is likely to rise significantly.

Recently, there has been an increase in flooding in areas across the world, especially in Asia and China. Whilst some areas of the world see higher amounts of rain, others see the opposite - severe drought. This is because climate change is causing rain patterns to alter. The effects of climate change on nature are felt everywhere.

Melting Arctic ice is leaving polar bears without the ice floes they need to hunt for seals and fish. A fifth of the world's coral reefs already suffer from coral "bleaching", which occurs when warm water kills the tiny algae on which the living coral depends for food, energy and colour.

And, if you excuse the pun, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that: "the effects of climate change are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life, and relative effects on investment and economy". Livelihoods built for generations on particular patterns of farming may quickly become impossible. If not addressed, climate change is likely to place an additional 80-120 million people at risk of hunger; 70 to 80 per cent of these will be in Africa.

You can read more about this at http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Your-impact-on-climate-change/The-im...

Don’t be fooled by the skeptics, only if we work together can we combat climate change.

Clare
Energy Saving Trust
A non-profit organisation that provides free impartial advice to help you save money and fight climate change.

I don't think it makes much difference whether Gerd was making reference to Arctic Sea Ice or Arctic Ice. While one proposition is certainly more ludicrous than the other, they are both pretty silly. Let's have a look at Arctic Sea Ice. The prediction is that in the summer months, we'll have no Sea Ice in just 21 years (2030)... 21 years!! ... how insane is that!!!

Lets just remind ourselves of a few things, firstly, nobody can predict how the climate will act in the future. It is beyond the capability of any organisation to do this thing. You may contest this fact, and if you think you can, then please post here indicating those organisations that have a proven track record of predicting climate change, how many decades they have been making their predictions and where these verified predictions are published. Perhaps you are thinking of the IPCC, while this august body is capabale of many things, predicting sea level rise, future temperature and other aspects of our changing climate is well beyond their capabilities. Make me a liar, show me that they have a proven track record that is better than mine or your best guess.

So ... we live in a world where we don't know what's around the corner, but we have a prediction that indicates that we''ll have no summer ice in the Arctic (Sea Ice that is, of course) by 2030. The thing is, you're talking about a lot of ice (5.5 million killometres on August 29th 2009) and not many years. This might be starting to look like a lot of tosh very soon indeed. Summer minimum is getting closer to the 1979-2000 average this year ... looks like we could be heading for .... stasis ... increase in sea ice ... who knows .... Well of course nobody does, that's the point I'm making, I'm not in the prediction business, you guys are.

So ... lets say that five years from now Arctic Sea Ice extent is about the same as it is now ... or hovering around the average for 1979-2000 or that perhaps it's above average, what then???

It would seam that you use Arctic Sea Ice extent is an indicator of man-made global warming. If this is the case, then if sea ice extent returns to levels accepted as normal then global warming it isn't happening. If you refute this statement,then why talk about ice in the arctic at all!!!!

Here we have Sea Ice extent from IARC-JAXA
http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/en/home/seaice_extent.htm
You can see from this that nature isn't playing ball the way you want it to

Here is the Arctic Sea Ice from 1979
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/sea.ice.anomaly.timeserie...
You can see the gentle decline since 2002/2003 and the record minimum in 2007 ... you can also see what looks like a trend starting in the other direction.

Anyway, time will tell. Again ...I'm not predicting anything ... you folks are.

We're not predicting it. NASA are. And the National Snow and Ice Data Centre - both of whom are reputable organisations who do a lot of stuff, including monitoring sea ice.

NSIDC say this:

During the first half of August, Arctic ice extent
declined more slowly than during the same period in 2007 and 2008. The slower decline is primarily due to a recent atmospheric circulation pattern, which transported ice toward the Siberian coast and discouraged export of ice out of the Arctic Ocean. It is now unlikely that 2009 will see a record low extent, but the minimum summer ice extent will still be much lower than the 1979 to 2000 average.

SEARCH, a bunch of scientists who do a similar job, say we are seeing:

... a continuation of low pan-arctic sea ice extent and no indication that a return to historical levels will occur.

Yearly fluctuations, up and down a little, don't make a trend. Long-term decline makes a trend, and that's what we're seeing.

I can't say categorically whether their track record on understanding these things is better than yours, because I don't know who you are. But based on the level of understanding you've displayed here, I know whose predictions I'm feeling more confident about.

Cheers,

Christian
Web Editor @ GPUK

In response to the last two posts ...The question I asked was this ...

"How would we know if Anthropogenic Global Warming wasn't happening?"

As to the IPCC statement, it doesn't address this question. Like NASA, I don't think that the IPCC has a proven track record of climate prediction. You can put me right on this if you like.

Perhaps you'd like to make some definite statements about the IPCC.

Things like ...

"All climate feedback mechanisms are well understood and quantifiable and the IPCC have been making accurate, verified climate predictions for xxx years. The models that are used are not experimental but finalised tools that have decades of proven predictive performance.

Again ..

"How would we know if Anthropogenic Global Warming wasn't happening?"

I don't know whether the Arctic sea-ice will be gone in 20, 50 or 100 years, nickname - as you rightly point out, nobody does or can.

But if you've taken any time to read the comments of both the scientists studying Greenland's rapidly retreating glaciers, or the anecdotal stories of the Innuit people who live there, then you'd have be a fool not to be extremely concerned.

Sea-ice is being lost at record levels, and Arctic temperatures are warming more quickly than other parts of the world: last autumn air temperatures in the Arctic stood at a record 5C above normal. The equilibrium that was observed until the 1970s appears to have ended - the Greenland ice sheet is now shedding more ice than it is accumulating.

Consequences for us? No one knows for certain, but there is a realistic possibility of a one metre rise in sea-level over the coming decades – which would require new defences for New York, London, Mumbai and Shanghai, and threaten swaths of low-lying land from Bangladesh to Florida. Areas which are home to 600 million people.

Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty about what's going on, but identifiable trends seem to be emerging - certainly enough evidence for us to take then extremely seriously. Add in the Innuits evidence - memories that journeys around Greenland's coast that would take three weeks in the 1970s because of sea ice now take a day, for example, and hunters having to travel 60 miles to hunt when their grandparents went less than a mile.

Sure there are elements of doubt, as there are about everything, but I certainly don't share your 'gung-ho' attitude that we have nothing to worry about. I wish I did...

Interestingly enough, there's a good article about just this subject today by a chap who was on one of our ships off Greenland. Well worth checking out...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/01/sermilik-fjord-greenland-global-warming

Again, I'm not predicting anything, I haven't a clue what is going to happen with Arctic Sea Ice over the next few years.

I'm sceptical about NASA being able to make any kind of prediction about the extent of Arctic Sea. As far as I'm aware they have no proven track record at this sort of thing. If somebody would like to put me straight and show me how NASA predicted the slow decline in Arctic Sea Ice over the last 30 years, perhaps in the 1970s, or the record low of 2007 that would be great.

It does interest me that Arctic Sea Ice is used as a totum of Anthropogenic Gloabl Warming. It also interests me that AGW can be viewed as a belief system as well as science.

It would seam that if AGW is viewed as a bleief system, then we start with the conclusion and everything we observe supports it. You don't need to have global warming to have 'Global Warming'.

The key question is this ...

"How would we know know if AGW wasn't happening"

If you are scratching your head at this one, and your gut reaction is to yell at me ... "But it is!!" then that's beleif system.

If all paths lead to AGW ... less sea ice, more sea ice, temperature up, temperature down ... that's beleif system.

Again, I am making no statement at all about current, or future climate, sea ice extent or sea level.

So ... "How would we know know if AGW wasn't happening".

This is an old chestnut. The idea that a Christian fundamentalist's "belief" in creationism is in some sense equivalent to a scientist's "belief" in evolution.
The qualitative difference is preparedness to adjust one's belief as a result of new evidence. Science is about proposing theories and testing them. When hard evidence contradicts a theory, the theory is rejected or amended.
The subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming is addressed head on in the IPCC FAQ document - section 2.1. To quote:
"The human impact on climate during this era greatly
exceeds that due to known changes in natural processes, such as
solar changes and volcanic eruptions."

Or at least, more tersely.

It seems crazy that there are still climate skeptics out there. Climate change has an impact round the world. According to the Tearfund study, there are an estimated 25 million environmental refugees resulting from changing rain patterns, floods, storms and rising tides and this figure is likely to rise significantly. Recently, there has been an increase in flooding in areas across the world, especially in Asia and China. Whilst some areas of the world see higher amounts of rain, others see the opposite - severe drought. This is because climate change is causing rain patterns to alter. The effects of climate change on nature are felt everywhere. Melting Arctic ice is leaving polar bears without the ice floes they need to hunt for seals and fish. A fifth of the world's coral reefs already suffer from coral "bleaching", which occurs when warm water kills the tiny algae on which the living coral depends for food, energy and colour. And, if you excuse the pun, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that: "the effects of climate change are expected to be greatest in developing countries in terms of loss of life, and relative effects on investment and economy". Livelihoods built for generations on particular patterns of farming may quickly become impossible. If not addressed, climate change is likely to place an additional 80-120 million people at risk of hunger; 70 to 80 per cent of these will be in Africa. You can read more about this at http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Your-impact-on-climate-change/The-im... Don’t be fooled by the skeptics, only if we work together can we combat climate change. Clare Energy Saving Trust A non-profit organisation that provides free impartial advice to help you save money and fight climate change.

I don't think it makes much difference whether Gerd was making reference to Arctic Sea Ice or Arctic Ice. While one proposition is certainly more ludicrous than the other, they are both pretty silly. Let's have a look at Arctic Sea Ice. The prediction is that in the summer months, we'll have no Sea Ice in just 21 years (2030)... 21 years!! ... how insane is that!!! Lets just remind ourselves of a few things, firstly, nobody can predict how the climate will act in the future. It is beyond the capability of any organisation to do this thing. You may contest this fact, and if you think you can, then please post here indicating those organisations that have a proven track record of predicting climate change, how many decades they have been making their predictions and where these verified predictions are published. Perhaps you are thinking of the IPCC, while this august body is capabale of many things, predicting sea level rise, future temperature and other aspects of our changing climate is well beyond their capabilities. Make me a liar, show me that they have a proven track record that is better than mine or your best guess. So ... we live in a world where we don't know what's around the corner, but we have a prediction that indicates that we''ll have no summer ice in the Arctic (Sea Ice that is, of course) by 2030. The thing is, you're talking about a lot of ice (5.5 million killometres on August 29th 2009) and not many years. This might be starting to look like a lot of tosh very soon indeed. Summer minimum is getting closer to the 1979-2000 average this year ... looks like we could be heading for .... stasis ... increase in sea ice ... who knows .... Well of course nobody does, that's the point I'm making, I'm not in the prediction business, you guys are. So ... lets say that five years from now Arctic Sea Ice extent is about the same as it is now ... or hovering around the average for 1979-2000 or that perhaps it's above average, what then??? It would seam that you use Arctic Sea Ice extent is an indicator of man-made global warming. If this is the case, then if sea ice extent returns to levels accepted as normal then global warming it isn't happening. If you refute this statement,then why talk about ice in the arctic at all!!!! Here we have Sea Ice extent from IARC-JAXA http://www.ijis.iarc.uaf.edu/en/home/seaice_extent.htm You can see from this that nature isn't playing ball the way you want it to Here is the Arctic Sea Ice from 1979 http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/sea.ice.anomaly.timeserie... You can see the gentle decline since 2002/2003 and the record minimum in 2007 ... you can also see what looks like a trend starting in the other direction. Anyway, time will tell. Again ...I'm not predicting anything ... you folks are.

We're not predicting it. NASA are. And the National Snow and Ice Data Centre - both of whom are reputable organisations who do a lot of stuff, including monitoring sea ice.

NSIDC say this:

During the first half of August, Arctic ice extent declined more slowly than during the same period in 2007 and 2008. The slower decline is primarily due to a recent atmospheric circulation pattern, which transported ice toward the Siberian coast and discouraged export of ice out of the Arctic Ocean. It is now unlikely that 2009 will see a record low extent, but the minimum summer ice extent will still be much lower than the 1979 to 2000 average.

SEARCH, a bunch of scientists who do a similar job, say we are seeing:

... a continuation of low pan-arctic sea ice extent and no indication that a return to historical levels will occur.

Yearly fluctuations, up and down a little, don't make a trend. Long-term decline makes a trend, and that's what we're seeing.

I can't say categorically whether their track record on understanding these things is better than yours, because I don't know who you are. But based on the level of understanding you've displayed here, I know whose predictions I'm feeling more confident about.

Cheers,

Christian
Web Editor @ GPUK

In response to the last two posts ...The question I asked was this ... "How would we know if Anthropogenic Global Warming wasn't happening?" As to the IPCC statement, it doesn't address this question. Like NASA, I don't think that the IPCC has a proven track record of climate prediction. You can put me right on this if you like. Perhaps you'd like to make some definite statements about the IPCC. Things like ... "All climate feedback mechanisms are well understood and quantifiable and the IPCC have been making accurate, verified climate predictions for xxx years. The models that are used are not experimental but finalised tools that have decades of proven predictive performance. Again .. "How would we know if Anthropogenic Global Warming wasn't happening?"

I don't know whether the Arctic sea-ice will be gone in 20, 50 or 100 years, nickname - as you rightly point out, nobody does or can. But if you've taken any time to read the comments of both the scientists studying Greenland's rapidly retreating glaciers, or the anecdotal stories of the Innuit people who live there, then you'd have be a fool not to be extremely concerned. Sea-ice is being lost at record levels, and Arctic temperatures are warming more quickly than other parts of the world: last autumn air temperatures in the Arctic stood at a record 5C above normal. The equilibrium that was observed until the 1970s appears to have ended - the Greenland ice sheet is now shedding more ice than it is accumulating. Consequences for us? No one knows for certain, but there is a realistic possibility of a one metre rise in sea-level over the coming decades – which would require new defences for New York, London, Mumbai and Shanghai, and threaten swaths of low-lying land from Bangladesh to Florida. Areas which are home to 600 million people. Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty about what's going on, but identifiable trends seem to be emerging - certainly enough evidence for us to take then extremely seriously. Add in the Innuits evidence - memories that journeys around Greenland's coast that would take three weeks in the 1970s because of sea ice now take a day, for example, and hunters having to travel 60 miles to hunt when their grandparents went less than a mile. Sure there are elements of doubt, as there are about everything, but I certainly don't share your 'gung-ho' attitude that we have nothing to worry about. I wish I did...

Interestingly enough, there's a good article about just this subject today by a chap who was on one of our ships off Greenland. Well worth checking out...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/01/sermilik-fjord-greenland-global-warming

Again, I'm not predicting anything, I haven't a clue what is going to happen with Arctic Sea Ice over the next few years. I'm sceptical about NASA being able to make any kind of prediction about the extent of Arctic Sea. As far as I'm aware they have no proven track record at this sort of thing. If somebody would like to put me straight and show me how NASA predicted the slow decline in Arctic Sea Ice over the last 30 years, perhaps in the 1970s, or the record low of 2007 that would be great. It does interest me that Arctic Sea Ice is used as a totum of Anthropogenic Gloabl Warming. It also interests me that AGW can be viewed as a belief system as well as science. It would seam that if AGW is viewed as a bleief system, then we start with the conclusion and everything we observe supports it. You don't need to have global warming to have 'Global Warming'. The key question is this ... "How would we know know if AGW wasn't happening" If you are scratching your head at this one, and your gut reaction is to yell at me ... "But it is!!" then that's beleif system. If all paths lead to AGW ... less sea ice, more sea ice, temperature up, temperature down ... that's beleif system. Again, I am making no statement at all about current, or future climate, sea ice extent or sea level. So ... "How would we know know if AGW wasn't happening".

This is an old chestnut. The idea that a Christian fundamentalist's "belief" in creationism is in some sense equivalent to a scientist's "belief" in evolution. The qualitative difference is preparedness to adjust one's belief as a result of new evidence. Science is about proposing theories and testing them. When hard evidence contradicts a theory, the theory is rejected or amended. The subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming is addressed head on in the IPCC FAQ document - section 2.1. To quote: "The human impact on climate during this era greatly exceeds that due to known changes in natural processes, such as solar changes and volcanic eruptions."

Or at least, more tersely.

About Jamie

I'm one of the editors of the website, and I do a lot of work on the Get Active section, as well as doing web stuff for the forests campaign. I've worked for Greenpeace since 2006 and, coming from a background as a freelance writer and web producer, it's been something of an education to be part of a direct action organisation. I'm from Cumbria originally but now I live in north London - I came to study here and somehow have never left.

My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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