Need Ice?


In this age of (apparently) shrinking polar ice caps, I pondered what’s been happening up north this winter–way north, in the Arctic night. The first site that Google produced for the phrase “arctic sea ice” was this: Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis. The news: the extent of Arctic sea ice is greater than it was in the minimum season (two years ago); the extent of Arctic sea ice is significantly below the average recorded for the years 1979-2000. But check out the sight for yourself.

And a bonus for Arctic ice fans: The Catlin Arctic Survey (patron: HRH The Prince of Wales): Three Brits on the ice plus a logistics team tracking and resupplying them. The team is to trek from a spot north of Canada’s Arctic coast to the North Pole, about 1,000 kilometers; its mission is to measure the thickness of the ice along the way; that could be important evidence about ice deterioration under the pressure of global warming.

The adventurers set out on March 1, and in their 15 days on the ice they’ve traveled all of 28 kilometers. That’s about 17 miles, if you’re keeping score in the United States, or a little more than a mile a day. Luckily, the weather is fine: currently -41 degrees C. (-42 F.) and sunny. The BBC’s running a nicely done diary site, complete with audio reports from the trekkers.

Global Cooling Unleashed

Oh so innocently, I perused to see tonight’s news. The first story that stopped me: Dan Fogelberg, the singer/songwriter whom I believe had a central Illinois connection, died of prostate cancer, age 56. OK, that hits kind of close to home. And there’s an AP story on the winter storm that just blew through the Midwest and on into New England: Storm Buries Northeast, Causes 3 Deaths (the headline writer, or whoever, might want to take a refresher on what states constitute the Northeast, as the story bundles news from Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan into the mix). Editorial nagging aside, I noted there are 69 reader comments appended to the story. Sixty-nine. For a weather piece.

It appears the flat-earthers, Lindburgh Baby conspiracists and folks sporting aluminum-foil headgear have turned out in force to taunt enviros and Gore-ites and Bay Area liberals (if those three categories can actually be untangled) about global warming. Their thinking is: See? Look at that drift out their! Look at the ice on the pond! Look at that icicle dangling from my nose! Where’s your climate catastrophe now, wise guys?

OK, they’re pretty funny as far as they go. One guy writes, tongue in cheek: “Bushco Nazi big oil conspiritors created this situation in order to drive up the cost of heating oil and to trick the ignorant masses back east that they need to mine coal for survival!!” Heh. Beyond the chuckle, though, it’s nothing more than the same anti-scientific perversity that makes Americans more likely to believe in Genesis than in Darwin. What a strange, strange group we are. No nation anywhere is so dependent on the fruits of science — Dan Fogelberg, and every other cancer patient, could have told you about that — and none has such a well-organized opposition and obdurate resistance to the very idea of science and research. It’s a puzzler.

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Flying back from Paris on Saturday, our Air France 747 crossed southern Greenland. It’s one of the places I’d love to visit — to see the site of the medieval Norse settlements, if nothing else. The sight of the place makes a strong impression: A good 15 minutes, or more than 125 miles, before we got to the southeastern coast, individual icebergs appeared in the blue North Atlantic below. Then more and more appeared, as did their source: the glaciers snaking down from the island’s highland ice sheets to the bays on the Atlantic. We saw the glaciers calving dozens, hundreds, thousands of icebergs; icebergs that in some cases were the size of big Midwestern farms. The temptation in the time of “An Inconvenient Truth” is to see the masses of ice floating south as evidence of What We’re Doing to the Planet. The facts are much more complex: The glaciers have always calved icebergs in volumes that would amaze the first-time beholder; there’s likely a difference now from 1912, say, when one particularly famous iceberg trundled out to sea, but it’s not visible from a single pass in an airliner. Still, we can be reasonably certain that though the differences in the ice’s behavior might be subtle on a discreet level — this is what I saw on one day — they likely represent something profound about planetary climate.

Prompted partly by curiosity and partly by one person’s stark and dire summary of what’s happening around us today and our responsibility for it, I decided to calculate the carbon footprint of our August trip. I’m trying to account just for the big stuff — 4,000 miles of driving in an SUV that averaged 22 or 23 miles per gallon and three long plane trips. I’m not counting any of the electricity we consumed along the way or the cost of transporting the Pringles we bought from the Pringles works to the Rockies.

A calculator available on a site affiliated with “An Inconvenient Truth” suggests that the national average of carbon dioxide emissions per person in the United States is 7.5 tons (another site,, comes up with a significantly higher number, 21.2 tons; other estimates, when they’re stated in a straightforward way, fall between these numbers ). Based on running our numbers for the trip, I come up with an estimate of 3.65 (from the “AIT” site) to 6.65 tons just for the 25 days of our travels. One surprise, to me, is the high figure for air travel, which the various calculators estimate at 2 to 11 tons of carbon dioxide for the flights we took (two long trips — five and six hours — and one extended one, 11 hours).

A lot of these calculators invite you to enter into a contract of some kind, ranging from “I’ll stop throwing away aluminum cans” to making cash payments, to lessen or offset your carbon impact. I even found a site,, that has an alternative calculator that shows what a pitifully small impact your offset payment will make (the site’s subtext: global warming just ain’t that big a deal, you saps).

Bottom line, whether I can do anything to lessen the impact or not: We spewed out more than our share of CO2 during our little jaunt.

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