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The climate change trip stuck in ice

2 January 2014

1:48 PM

2 January 2014

1:48 PM

My favourite quote of the season comes from Tracy Rogers, a marine ecologist who sometime today will be winched from the research vessel the Akademik Shokalskiy and rescued by helicopter.  ‘I love it when the ice wins and we don’t,’ she says. ‘It reminds you that as humans we don’t control everything and that the natural world is the winner here.’

The unintended irony is delicious. If the winner of the fiasco which has been developing in the Antarctic over the past two weeks is the natural world there is little disguising who the losers are, even if, as I suspect, Tracy Rogers can’t quite see it. She and her fellow passengers are on an expedition led by Chris Turney, professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales, to retrace a voyage made by Douglas Mawson a century ago. That Turney has taken a large number of paying passengers along, and is also entertaining reporters from the BBC and the Guardian suggests that this is not simply an experiment but a publicity stunt, too. The idea was that the world would be left gasping at the changes measured by Turney compared with the measurements made by Mawson a century ago, thereby encouraging acceptance of the thesis of man-made climate change.

All has not gone according to plan, however. While Mawson managed to sail directly to the coast of Antarctica, Turney encountered pack ice. They hoped initially to break their way through it, but instead have been marooned as the ice thickened and threatened to crush their ship. Fortunately, unlike in Mawson’s day, they have been able to call upon an air rescue team. Rescue by helicopter won’t do much for their carbon footprints, but at least they will be safe.

Had it been the other way round – had Turney managed to sail to the Antarctic along a route where Mawson had been trapped by ice – it is not hard to imagine how the news would have been reported: as irrefutable evidence of global warming. However, to question whether Turney’s experience challenges his science is, apparently, ‘silly’. He now claims, with great certainty, that the presence of the ice is itself evidence of global warming because it is a result of changing ocean currents. Not very convincing, given that he clearly did not forsee the presence of the ice.

As Tracy Rogers put it, humans don’t control everything. Indeed not, and that includes the climate, which has defied every attempt of the climate change lobby so far to predict it. Yet having been proved wrong on global temperatures, which have refused to budge in 17 years, the response of Turney and his ilk is always to come up with even more scary predictions, and claiming ever greater levels of certainty. While Turney has been trapped in the Antarctic his university department this week published a paper in Nature claiming to have found a weakness in climate models, correcting which increases the likelihood of global temperatures rising by 4C by 2100.

One more observation needs to be made about Turney. When sceptical scientists speak on climate change they are instantly accused of being in the pay of oil companies. Rather lower standards seem to be applied to those on the other side of the debate. Turney openly boasts on his website of his own vested interest: he helped set up a company called Carbonscape ‘which has developed technology to fix carbon from the atmosphere and make a host of green products.’

As for taking tourists on an Antarctic cruise into areas affected by ice — I suggest he never again attempts this, unless he wants to go down as a latterday Captain Smith of the Titanic.

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