Lawrence Solomon: The Globe and Mail’s overheated rhetoric

The planet is experiencing “a summer of swelter,” states a front-page story in today’s Globe and Mail that provides us with anecdotes of the upshot, such as “more than 1000 Russians have drowned in the last month trying to escape record temperatures.” The Globe then speculates that one cause of the worldwide heat wave could be “the ever-shrinking size of the world’s ice caps.”

First, the Russians. The Globe might have told us that they drown in droves every year, disproportionately in the summer months, and the Globe might also have told us why. “The majority of those drowned were drunk,” explains Vadim Seryogin, a department head at Russia’s Emergencies Ministry. Last year, when 3000 Russian drowned, one analysis of drowned Russian males found that 94% had been drunk.

Perhaps the heat caused Russians to drink more – the data is not yet in – but most don’t need heat to drive them to drink. According to a study last year published in the British journal, the Lancet, alcohol was responsible for the deaths of about three quarters of all Russian men, and half of all Russian women, aged 15-54.

Next, those “ever-shrinking” ice caps, of which this planet has two. The ice cap in the southern hemisphere, in the Antarctic, has been growing steadily since the 1970s, especially so this summer. The ice cap in the northern hemisphere, in contrast, did shrink temporarily over the last few months, after having expanded temporarily earlier in the year, and it is now expanding again. On balance, Planet Earth now has slightly more ice than usual, according to the most recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It shows the Arctic to have 1.379 million fewer million square kilometres of ice while the Antarctic has 1.404 more.

“Ice reflects sun and when you melt it, the Earth absorbs more heat, which causes further melt back, which causes more warming,” Danny Harvey, a climate researcher at University of Toronto, told The Globe. “So when you lose ice, it means we’re in big trouble.”

So, when we gain ice, as the Earth is now doing, does it mean we are we safe and sound? The Globe didn’t ask, and Harvey didn’t answer.

Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, July 17, 2010

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