The Sea Is Rising

The Sea Is Rising, but Not Because of Climate Change

There is nothing we can do about it, except to build dikes and sea walls a little bit higher.

Ice crevasses near the coast of West Antarctica.
Ice crevasses near the coast of West Antarctica. PHOTO: MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Of all known and imagined consequences of climate change, many people fear sea-level rise most. But efforts to determine what causes seas to rise are marred by poor data and disagreements about methodology. The noted oceanographer Walter Munk referred to sea-level rise as an “enigma”; it has also been called a riddle and a puzzle.

It is generally thought that sea-level rise accelerates mainly by thermal expansion of sea water, the so-called steric component. But by studying a very short time interval, it is possible to sidestep most of the complications, like “isostatic adjustment” of the shoreline (as continents rise after the overlying ice has melted) and “subsidence” of the shoreline (as ground water and minerals are extracted).

I chose to assess the sea-level trend from 1915-45, when a genuine, independently confirmed warming of approximately 0.5 degree Celsius occurred. I note particularly that sea-level rise is not affected by the warming; it continues at the same rate, 1.8 millimeters a year, according to a 1990 review by Andrew S. Trupin and John Wahr. I therefore conclude—contrary to the general wisdom—that the temperature of sea water has no direct effect on sea-level rise. That means neither does the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide.

This conclusion is worth highlighting: It shows that sea-level rise does not depend on the use of fossil fuels. The evidence should allay fear that the release of additional CO2 will increase sea-level rise.

But there is also good data showing sea levels are in fact rising at an accelerating rate. The trend has been measured by a network of tidal gauges, many of which have been collecting data for over a century.

The cause of the trend is a puzzle. Physics demands that water expand as its temperature increases. But to keep the rate of rise constant, as observed, expansion of sea water evidently must be offset by something else. What could that be? I conclude that it must be ice accumulation, through evaporation of ocean water, and subsequent precipitation turning into ice. Evidence suggests that accumulation of ice on the Antarctic continent has been offsetting the steric effect for at least several centuries.

It is difficult to explain why evaporation of seawater produces approximately 100% cancellation of expansion. My method of analysis considers two related physical phenomena: thermal expansion of water and evaporation of water molecules. But if evaporation offsets thermal expansion, the net effect is of course close to zero. What then is the real cause of sea-level rise of 1 to 2 millimeters a year?

Melting of glaciers and ice sheets adds water to the ocean and causes sea levels to rise. (Recall though that the melting of floating sea ice adds no water to the oceans, and hence does not affect the sea level.) After the rapid melting away of northern ice sheets, the slow melting of Antarctic ice at the periphery of the continent may be the main cause of current sea-level rise.

All this, because it is much warmer now than 12,000 years ago, at the end of the most recent glaciation. Yet there is little heat available in the Antarctic to support melting.

We can see melting happening right now at the Ross Ice Shelf of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Geologists have tracked Ross’s slow disappearance, and glaciologist Robert Bindschadler predicts the ice shelf will melt completely within about 7,000 years, gradually raising the sea level as it goes.

Of course, a lot can happen in 7,000 years. The onset of a new glaciation could cause the sea level to stop rising. It could even fall 400 feet, to the level at the last glaciation maximum 18,000 years ago.

Currently, sea-level rise does not seem to depend on ocean temperature, and certainly not on CO2. We can expect the sea to continue rising at about the present rate for the foreseeable future. By 2100 the seas will rise another 6 inches or so—a far cry from Al Gore’s alarming numbers. There is nothing we can do about rising sea levels in the meantime. We’d better build dikes and sea walls a little bit higher.

Mr. Singer is a professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia. He founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project and the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.

Appeared in the May 16, 2018, print edition.

CLIMATE POLLS

Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day

  

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By Scott Rasmussen

August 21, 2017: Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Americans think that climate scientists understand the causes of global climate change “very well.” A Pew Research study found that only 19% believe that the climate scientists have a very good understanding of the best ways to address the issue.[1]

In general, the study found that Americans trust climate scientists more than politicians on the topic. Two-thirds (67%) believe scientists should play a major role in addressing policy issues on the matter. Most (56%) also believe that energy industry leaders (56%) and the general public (56%) should have a major say in such policy topics.

The Pew study, however, also found that people believe there are differences of opinion among the climate scientists. Only 27% believe that there is a consensus on the issue and that just about all climate scientists believe human behavior is mostly responsible for global climate change. Another 35% think more than half hold this view.

The survey also explored the degree of trust and confidence in those researching climate science. Thirty-six percent (36%) believe that, most of the time, scientists’ research findings are motivated by a desire to advance their own careers. Only 32% say that they mostly rely on the best scientific evidence. Twenty-seven percent (27%) believe that political views of the scientists generally influence their work.

Liberal Democrats tend to express high levels of confidence in the climate scientists and their motives. Conservative Republicans are often quite skeptical. Most other Americans have mixed views.

Research findings influenced by… Percentage responding “most of the time”
Desire to advance their own career 36%
Best available scientific evidence 32%
Personal political leanings 27%
Desire to help the industries they work with or for 26%
Concern for best interests of the public 23%

Most Americans (55%) believe that new technology will probably solve most of the problems from climate change.

Al Gore’s Climate Sequel

Al Gore’s Climate Sequel Misses a Few Inconvenient Facts

Eleven years after his first climate-change film, he’s still trying to scare you into saving the world.

Al Gore in Washington, July 20.
Al Gore in Washington, July 20. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

They say the sequel is always worse than the original, but Al Gore’s first film set the bar pretty low. Eleven years ago, “An Inconvenient Truth” hyped global warming by relying more on scare tactics than science. This weekend Mr. Gore is back with “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” If the trailer is any indication, it promises to be more of the same.

The former vice president has a poor record. Over the past 11 years Mr. Gore has suggested that global warming had caused an increase in tornadoes, that Mount Kilimanjaro’s glacier would disappear by 2016, and that the Arctic summers could be ice-free as soon as 2014. These predictions and claims all proved wrong.

“An Inconvenient Truth” promoted the frightening narrative that higher temperatures mean more extreme weather, especially hurricanes. The movie poster showed a hurricane emerging from a smokestack. Mr. Gore appears to double down on this by declaring in the new film’s trailer: “Storms get stronger and more destructive. Watch the water splash off the city. This is global warming.”

This is misleading. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—in its Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2013—found “low confidence” of increased hurricane activity to date because of global warming. Storms are causing more damage, but primarily because more wealthy people choose to live on the coast, not because of rising temperatures.

Even if tropical storms strengthen by 2100, their relative cost likely will decrease. In a 2012 article for the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers showed that hurricane damage now costs 0.04% of global gross domestic product. If climate change makes hurricanes stronger, absolute costs will double by 2100. But the world will also be much wealthier and less vulnerable, so the total damage is estimated at only 0.02% of global GDP.

In the trailer, Mr. Gore addresses “the most criticized scene” of his previous documentary, which suggested that “the combination of sea-level rise and storm surge would flood the 9/11 Memorial site.” Then viewers are shown footage of Manhattan taking on water in 2012 after superstorm Sandy, apparently vindicating Mr. Gore’s claims. Never mind that what he actually predicted was flooding caused by melting ice in Greenland.

More important is that Mr. Gore’s prescriptions—for New York and the globe—won’t work. He claims the answer to warming lies in agreements to cut carbon that would cost trillions of dollars. That would not have stopped Sandy. What New York really needs is better infrastructure: sea walls, storm doors for the subway, porous pavement. These fixes could cost around $100 million a year, a bargain compared with the price of international climate treaties.

Mr. Gore helped negotiate the first major global agreement on climate, the Kyoto Protocol. It did nothing to reduce emissions (and therefore to rein in temperatures), according to a March 2017 article in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. Undaunted, Mr. Gore still endorses the same solution, and the new documentary depicts him roaming the halls of the Paris climate conference.

By 2030 the Paris climate accord will cost the world up to $2 trillion a year, mostly in lost economic growth, according to the best peer-reviewed energy-economic models. It will remain that expensive for the rest of the century. This would make it the most expensive treaty in history.

And for what? Just ahead of the Paris conference, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change estimated that if every country fulfills every promised Paris carbon cut between 2016 and 2030, carbon dioxide emissions will drop by only 60 gigatons over that time frame. To keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the world must reduce such emissions nearly 6,000 gigatons over this century, according to the IPCC. A “successful” Paris agreement wouldn’t even come close to solving the problem.

Mr. Gore argues that the Paris approach pushes nations and businesses toward green energy. Perhaps, but the global economy is far from ready to replace fossil fuels with solar and wind. The International Energy Agency, in its 2016 World Energy Outlook, found that 0.6% of the world’s energy is supplied by solar and wind. Even with the Paris accord fully implemented, that number would rise only to 3% in a quarter-century.

In part because of activists like Mr. Gore, the world remains focused on subsidizing inefficient, unreliable technology, rather than investing in research to push down the price of green energy. Real progress in Paris could be found on the sidelines, where philanthropist Bill Gates and others, including political leaders, agreed to increase spending on research and development. This is an important start, but much more funding is needed.

Mr. Gore declares in his new film that “it is right to save humanity.” No argument here. But is using scare tactics really the best way to go about it?

Mr. Lomborg is the president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and the author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and “Cool It.”

Wrong predictions

An Earth Day Education

An Earth Day Education

Somehow life keeps getting better.

A man walks past a mural on Friday in Philadelphia.

A man walks past a mural on Friday in Philadelphia. PHOTO: MATT ROURKE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Just in time for Saturday’s Earth Day forecasts of environmental apocalypse, economist Mark Perry provides a helpful reminder of the accuracy of previous eco-prophecies. Specifically, he notes “18 spectacularly wrong predictions” made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970.

Inconvenient Weather Fact for Earth Day: US is in the longest strong hurricane drought (11+ years) in history https://www.aei.org/publication/18-spectacularly-wrong-predictions-made-around-the-time-of-first-earth-day-in-1970-expect-more-this-year/ 

Photo published for 18 spectacularly wrong predictions made around the time of first Earth Day in 1970, expect more...

18 spectacularly wrong predictions made around the time of first Earth Day in 1970, expect more…

In the May 2000 issue of Reason Magazine, award-winning science correspondent Ronald Bailey wrote an excellent article titled “Earth Day, Then and Now” to

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Perhaps because earlier predictions of catastrophe were off target, it’s clear that in 2017 many of Earth’s inhabitants are still not persuaded that their planet is doomed. But Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers may have a solution for this. She writes for CNN today about her organization’s “campaign to bring climate and environmental literacy to the world.”

Ms. Brown explains: “Climate literacy is now recognized universally as the engine for driving individual behavioral change, building consumer support for a green economy, creating green technologies and jobs, and promoting policy reforms at all levels of government. Recognizing the importance of an educated global population, the authors of the Paris Climate Agreement put climate education at its heart, calling on national governments to cooperate in taking measures to enhance climate education, training and access to information.”

This column would like to do its part by sharing a valuable history lesson, thanks to Mr. Perry and also to my onetime colleague Ronald Bailey, who in a 2000 piece for Reason magazine looked back at the first Earth Day. Here’s what Mr. Bailey wrote on the 30th anniversary of that landmark eco-happening:

Imminent global famine caused by the explosion of the “population bomb” was the big issue on Earth Day 1970. Then–and now–the most prominent prophet of population doom was Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich. Dubbed “ecology’s angry lobbyist” by Life magazine, the gloomy Ehrlich was quoted everywhere. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” he confidently declared in an interview with then-radical journalist Peter Collier in the April 1970 Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

“Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Ehrlich in an essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe!,” which ran in the special Earth Day issue of the radical magazine Ramparts. “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”

Readers old enough to remember the 1980s should be forgiven if they can’t quite seem to recall a famine wiping out most of the world’s population. As Mr. Bailey noted in assessing the accuracy of Mr. Ehrlich’s predictions:

Time has not been gentle with these prophecies. It’s absolutely true that far too many people remain poor and hungry in the world–800 million people are still malnourished and nearly 1.2 billion live on less than a dollar a day–but we have not seen mass starvation around the world in the past three decades. Where we have seen famines, such as in Somalia and Ethiopia, they are invariably the result of war and political instability. Indeed, far from turning brown, the Green Revolution has never been so verdant. Food production has handily outpaced population growth and food today is cheaper and more abundant than ever before. Since 1970, the amount of food per person globally has increased by 26 percent, and as the International Food Policy Research Institute reported in October 1999, “World market prices for wheat, maize, and rice, adjusted for inflation, are the lowest they have been in the last century.”

Since Mr. Bailey wrote those words in 2000, anyone still waiting for the Great Die-Off to begin has been continually disappointed. In fact, the fifteen years after 2000 could reasonably be called the “Great Live-On.” According to the World Health Organization, “Global average life expectancy increased by 5 years between 2000 and 2015, the fastest increase since the 1960s.” Increases in life expectancy were greatest in Africa, adds the WHO, thanks in large part to “expanded access to antiretrovirals for treatment of HIV.” In other words, the products of advanced industrialized societies were not destroying life, but saving it.

Back in 2000, Mr. Bailey did make a few predictions of his own regarding the celebration of Earth Day in 2030. He predicted better diets and longer lives for people world-wide, as well as another interesting forecast: “There will be a disproportionately influential group of doomsters predicting that the future–and the present–never looked so bleak.”

MILANKOVITCH CYCLES AND GLACIATION

Milankovitch Cycles and Glaciation

The episodic nature of the Earth’s glacial and interglacial periods within the present Ice Age (the last couple of million years) have been caused primarily by cyclical changes in the Earth’s circumnavigation of the Sun. Variations in the Earth’s eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession comprise the three dominant cycles, collectively known as the Milankovitch Cycles for Milutin Milankovitch, the Serbian astronomer and mathematician who is generally credited with calculating their magnitude. Taken in unison, variations in these three cycles creates alterations in the seasonality of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. These times of increased or decreased solar radiation directly influence the Earth’s climate system, thus impacting the advance and retreat of Earth’s glaciers.

It is of primary importance to explain that climate change, and subsequent periods of glaciation, resulting from the following three variables is not due to the total amount of solar energy reaching Earth. The three Milankovitch Cycles impact the seasonality and location of solar energy around the Earth, thus impacting contrasts between the seasons.

Eccentricity

The first of the three Milankovitch Cycles is the Earth’s eccentricity. Eccentricity is, simply, the shape of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. This constantly fluctuating, orbital shape ranges between more and less elliptical (0 to 5% ellipticity) on a cycle of about 100,000 years. These oscillations, from more elliptic to less elliptic, are of prime importance to glaciation in that it alters the distance from the Earth to the Sun, thus changing the distance the Sun’s short wave radiation must travel to reach Earth, subsequently reducing or increasing the amount of radiation received at the Earth’s surface in different seasons.

Today a difference of only about 3 percent occurs between aphelion (farthest point) and perihelion (closest point). This 3 percent difference in distance means that Earth experiences a 6 percent increase in received solar energy in January than in July. This 6 percent range of variability is not always the case, however. When the Earth’s orbit is most elliptical the amount of solar energy received at the perihelion would be in the range of 20 to 30 percent more than at aphelion. Most certainly these continually altering amounts of received solar energy around the globe result in prominent changes in the Earth’s climate and glacial regimes. At present the orbital eccentricity is nearly at the minimum of its cycle.

Axial Tilt

Axial tilt, the second of the three Milankovitch Cycles, is the inclination of the Earth’s axis in relation to its plane of orbit around the Sun. Oscillations in the degree of Earth’s axial tilt occur on a periodicity of 41,000 years from 21.5 to 24.5 degrees.

Today the Earth’s axial tilt is about 23.5 degrees, which largely accounts for our seasons. Because of the periodic variations of this angle the severity of the Earth’s seasons changes. With less axial tilt the Sun’s solar radiation is more evenly distributed between winter and summer. However, less tilt also increases the difference in radiation receipts between the equatorial and polar regions.

One hypothesis for Earth’s reaction to a smaller degree of axial tilt is that it would promote the growth of ice sheets. This response would be due to a warmer winter, in which warmer air would be able to hold more moisture, and subsequently produce a greater amount of snowfall. In addition, summer temperatures would be cooler, resulting in less melting of the winter’s accumulation. At present, axial tilt is in the middle of its range.

Precession

The third and final of the Milankovitch Cycles is Earth’s precession. Precession is the Earth’s slow wobble as it spins on axis. This wobbling of the Earth on its axis can be likened to a top running down, and beginning to wobble back and forth on its axis. The precession of Earth wobbles from pointing at Polaris (North Star) to pointing at the star Vega. When this shift to the axis pointing at Vega occurs, Vega would then be considered the North Star. This top-like wobble, or precession, has a periodicity of 23,000 years.

Due to this wobble a climatically significant alteration must take place. When the axis is tilted towards Vega the positions of the Northern Hemisphere winter and summer solstices will coincide with the aphelion and perihelion, respectively. This means that the Northern Hemisphere will experience winter when the Earth is furthest from the Sun and summer when the Earth is closest to the Sun. This coincidence will result in greater seasonal contrasts. At present, the Earth is at perihelion very close to the winter solstice.

CLIMATEERS CAN’T HANDLE TRUTH

Climateers Can’t Handle the Truth

Dec. 27, 2016 6:46 p.m. ET

Congrats are due for the term “climate denialist,” which in 2016 migrated from Paul Krugman’s column to the news pages of the New York Times.

On Dec. 7, the term ascended to a place of ultimate honor when it figured in the headline, “Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.”

Unfortunately, never to be explained is precisely which climate propositions one must deny in order to qualify as a denialist. In zinging Mr. Pruitt, currently Oklahoma’s attorney general, the Times rests its unspoken case on a quote from an article this year in National Review, in which he and a coauthor wrote: “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”

But this statement is plainly true. No climate scientist would dispute it. Through all five “assessment reports” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—sharer of Al Gore’s Nobel prize—the central puzzle has been “climate sensitivity,” aka the “degree and extent” of human impact on climate.

Greenpeace adopts the same National Review article to attack Mr. Pruitt, lying that he and a coauthor “claimed the science of climate change is ‘far from settled.’”

The science is not settled (science never is), but this is not what Mr. Pruitt was referring to. His plain, unmistakable words refer to a “major policy debate” that is “far from settled”—a statement that indisputably applies even among ardent believers in climate doom. Witness the battle between wings of the environmental movement over the role of nuclear power. Witness veteran campaigner James Hansen’s dismissal of the Paris agreement, which other climate campaigners celebrate, as “worthless words.”

These lies about what Mr. Pruitt wrote in a widely available article aren’t the lies of authors carried away by enthusiasm for their cause. They are the lies of people who know their employers and audiences are beyond caring.

Which brings us a two-part article in the New York Review of Books by representatives of the Rockefeller family charity, desperately trying to make the world care about their fantasy that Exxon is somehow a decisive player in the policy debate—Exxon, not voters who oppose higher energy taxes; Exxon, not the governments that control 80% of the world’s fossil fuel reserves and show no tendency to forgo the money available from them.

The Rockefeller family’s charitable attachment to the climate cause is understandable, though. Their money might instead be used to bring clean water to poor villages, immunize kids against disease, or improve education. But such programs can be evaluated and found wanting due to fraud or incompetence, whereas climate change is a cause to which money can safely be devoted to no effect whatsoever without fear of criticism.
Twenty years before his successor became Mr. Trump’s nominee to be secretary of state, Exxon’s then-CEO Lee Raymond gave a much vilified speech in China—a much misrepresented speech, too.

He did not say humans were not influencing climate, but the degree was highly uncertain, and future warming was not a “rock-solid certainty,” he said.

He could not have known he was speaking near the peak of an observed warming trend, and that relatively little or no warming would be recorded over the next 20 years.

He said poor countries would and should choose economic growth over suppressing fossil fuel use. They did, and some one billion fewer people today are living in extreme poverty (as defined by the World Bank).

He said fossil energy would continue to fuel economic prosperity, though consumption growth would moderate with increased efficiency, and as poor countries devoted a share of their increasing wealth to environmental improvement. He was right.

He predicted that technology would open up new reserves to fuel the global economy, though he didn’t mention and perhaps didn’t know about fracking.

All in all, it was a performance, in many fewer words, far more cogent than the Rockefeller pieces, notable mainly for their childishness about both climate science and climate politics.

Donald Trump, our new president-elect, has been tagged for indiscriminately referring to climate change as a hoax. Here’s what he actually said at a campaign rally in South Carolina one year ago about climate advocacy: “It’s a money-making industry, OK? It’s a hoax, a lot of it.”

This statement, with its clearly framed qualifications, is true and accurate in every detail. It’s a statement of basic truth that can be embraced, and increasingly should be, by exactly those people most concerned about man-made climate change.

Yet it won’t be, for reasons demonstrated by the New York Times’ adoption of the term climate denialist, whose deliberately non-discriminating function we now take care to state precisely: It enables a kind of journalism that is unable—incapacitates itself—to stumble on truths that would be inconvenient to climate religion.

By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.