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Coffee House

The moral of the Antarctic ship of fools: never treat a scientific debate as if it is closed

3 January 2014

7:02 PM

3 January 2014

7:02 PM

My tweet yesterday – ‘all saved from the ship of fools’ – has turned out to be premature. The havoc created by Professor Chris Turney’s Antarctic expedition  has since increased.  The Xue Long, the Chinese ship which provided the helicopter to airlift Turney and his colleagues from the Akademik Shokalskiy to the Aurora Australis, has itself now become stuck in ice. Meanwhile 22 Russian crew remain aboard the Shokalskiy. Both ships are stronger than the Endurance, Shackleton’s ship whose timbers were crushed in similar circumstances in 1915, prompting his famous voyage and trek to the whaling station on South Georgia, but both ships remain in danger from further movements of the ice.

Turney is no Shackleton, even if he does describe himself as ‘scientist, explorer and writer’ on his website. But hopefully he is enough of a scientist to learn the moral of this tale: never treat a scientific debate as if it is closed. On 23 September last year the Antarctic sea ice reached a new record of 19.51 million sq kilometres, the highest recorded since the US National Snow and Ice Data Center began keeping records in 1978. This does not of course on its own disprove the thesis of global warming, but it does show that the climate models used by Turney and his colleagues are way off beam. They predict that Antarctic sea ice, like that in the Arctic, should be shrinking.

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It is little wonder, with the science failing, that countries outside Europe are sceptical about committing themselves to hugely expensive carbon-reduction targets. The risks to their economies, they reason, are real, whereas the risks to the climate are much less clear, the apocalyptic predictions being stitched together from worst-case scenarios made by climatic models which have already proved to be deeply-flawed.

Our friend Tracy Rogers, Turney’s colleague at the University of New South Wales, has been commenting on her rescue.  ‘The Chinese captain is an incredible ambassador for his country,’ she said today. She is very lucky that China, which normally incurs the wrath of the climate change lobby due to its fondness  for new coal-fired power stations, has chosen the path to wealth – which includes ships and helicopters able to rescue scientists in distress – rather than a path to carbon-free enlightenment. Whatever the carbon footprint of the average Chinese person, it is a long, long way short of that of Chris Turney and his colleagues this week.

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