“ILULISSAT, GREENLAND — On a clear day in August, a helicopter set me and a few companions down on the northern end of the Jakobshavn Glacier in Western Greenland, about 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The ground under our feet seemed almost lunar: gray silt and dust, loose rocks and boulders, and, at the edge of the glacier’s face, mud so deep it nearly ate my boots. To the south, the calving front of the glacier known in Greenlandic as Sermeq Kujalleq periodically deposited enormous slabs of ice, some more than 100 feet high, into the open water.
I asked the pilot to give me a sense of how much the glacier had retreated since he had been flying the route. He pointed to a distant rocky island in the middle of the fjord.
“That’s where the glacier was in 2007,” he said.
Over the course of the 20th century, the Jakobshavn Glacier retreated about 10 to 15 kilometers. Over just the next eight years, it retreated about the same amount, according to the oceanographer Josh Willis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Later the front advanced a little — a function of complex dynamics partly involving ocean currents — before resuming its retreat.
For anyone who has entertained doubts about the warming of the planet, a trip to Greenland serves as a bracing corrective. Flying low over the vast ice sheet that covers most of the island, I immediately noticed large ponds of cerulean meltwater and dozens of fast-flowing streams rushing through gullies of white ice and sometimes disappearing into vertical ice caverns thousands of feet deep. Such lakes, scientists report, have become far more common over the last two decades, occurring earlier in the year at higher elevations. Last year, it even rained at the highest point of the ice sheet, some 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. That’s a first since record keeping began in the 1980s.”
David Lindsay: Hallelujah. Thank you Bret, for this careful and honest essay. One climate crisis denier starts to understand. Here is a comment I especially liked, of many I endorsed.
I have been waiting for this column. I liked it. Thank you for stating everything so carefully. Mostly I agree with what you have said, but as FunkyIrishman points out, we would not be in nearly as much of a bind if the earth had the same population it did in the 1950’s. “Grow and multiply until you fill the earth” doesn’t mean standing room only. The earth is “full” when population starts to stress the system in potentially dangerous or irreversible ways. I know conservatives hate regulation and I can relate, but consider the horrible photochemical smog that plagued Los Angeles in 1970. We had the ability to make it go away all along, but it did not start to go away until a regulation limited vehicle emissions. It is naïve to assume companies will consider the wellbeing of society. I am not saying companies are bad. Companies are certainly indispensable, but they exist to make a profit and nothing more. They are incredibly good at that. Once a clean-air level playing field was established in California, they made profits while improving air quality. Having said that, regulation needs to have the lightest touch possible to get the job done, and it needs to be straightforward. About having a lot of time to deal with it – the idea worries me because policy makers are so good at kicking the can down the road. I think you were a little unfair to climate scientists. They have tried to explain about the uncertainties, but the public have a hard time with that concept.
David Lindsay: Most of the top comments were hyper critical, and they scored great points, without recognizing the strengths of Stephen’s piece. He overstates the case for letting markets solve the problem, and yet keeps mentioning regulations that were successful in guiding markets to sanity. It is as if, he hasn’t digested all that he has just learned. I reread the piece and marked most of the good or excellent and bad or terrible points, and the count came out, 42 good or excellent points, 17 bad or terrible points, so the score or grade was 42/59= .71 or 71%. Many of the comments discuss the 17 terrible points, without acknowledging all the many good points in the piece, which is typical of the carelessness of many commenters in this space.
I’m rereading the second half of the Fritjof Capra book, “The Hidden Connections, A Science for Sustainable Living,” which I recommend to Bret Stephens, for an introduction to the new economics of sustainability, which is not based on GDP, but bringing humans into balance with nature, and a healthy environment and ecosystems, in an economy that recycle everything and doesn’t pollute.
David Lindsay Jr is the author of the Tay Son Rebellion about 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.