Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ask the Polar Bears about Global Warming

Well, the temperature reads nine degrees outside right now, and yesterday it was ten degrees before sun-up, and the snow that fell a week ago Friday remains frozen in place on lawns and sidewalks across New England—just the kind of weather that brings out hokey newspaper cartoons and morning-radio weather-report blather contrasting fears of global warming with the unseasonably cold weather outside.

Those disk jockeys and cartoonists wouldn’t be joking, however, if they bothered to read the article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about the fate of polar bears.

Scientists for the first time have documented multiple deaths of polar bears off Alaska, where they likely drowned after swimming long distances in the ocean amid the melting of the Arctic ice shelf. The bears spend most of their time hunting and raising their young on ice floes.

In a quarter-century of aerial surveys of the Alaskan coastline before 2004, researchers from the U.S. Minerals Management Service said they typically spotted a lone polar bear swimming in the ocean far from ice about once every two years. Polar-bear drownings were so rare that they have never been documented in the surveys.

But in September 2004, when the polar ice cap had retreated a record 160 miles north of the northern coast of Alaska, researchers counted 10 polar bears swimming as far as 60 miles offshore. Polar bears can swim long distances but have evolved to mainly swim between sheets of ice, scientists say.

Hmmm. The polar ice cap is, in fact—no matter what the thermometer reads in southern New England on an early December morning—retreating.

Does it matter? I guess that depends on your point of view.

You could take the shorter-term view, as expressed by Thomas Schelling, a Nobel Prize winning game-theory economist, who told the Wall Street Journal last month:

In the U.S., if you don't worry about ecological damage, species extinction and things of that sort; if you don't worry about what happens in Bangladesh or Indonesia or Brazil; if you figure air conditioning will always take care of your weather problems; then I would say with one or two exceptions, you probably don't have to get too scared.

In that case, you might look at the fact that polar bears are drowning and, therefore, the ice cap is retreating, as an opportunity to make money buying the oil drilling stocks that will eventually benefit from the opening of the Arctic oil deposits to exploitation as the ice cover recedes.

Or you could take the longer term view that Professor Schelling also provided—although I warn that it might make you spit out your morning coffee:

One exception is there is a body of ice in Antarctica called the West Antarctic ice sheet. It is anchored by some islands, but warming the water surrounding it might cause it to slide into the ocean. The estimate is that that would raise sea level by as much as 20 feet. That means to go from the White House to the Capitol, you go by boat.

In other words, the movement of one ice sheet could make the Berkshires beach-front property.

“In the long run,” John Maynard Keynes famously quipped, “we’re all dead.” The industrialized nations of the world are making sure the human race doesn’t go down alone.

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.


Its_strange said...

How much of that Wallstreet bonus money will go into fancy hardwoods from the Amazon ?

Ryan said...

And to think in 1975 (Newsweek) when 'global cooling' was all the rage (and, 'global cooling' was 'scientific fact' and therefore not open to debate) some scientists were proposing to melt the ice caps.

But, I'm sure they've got it right this time.

It is silly to say, 'well, it's 10 degrees in Michigan so much for global warming'.

However, it is equally silly to point to a decade, or even decades of data (as was done in the 'global cooling' era) to prove a point when global, climatic conditions evolve over tens of thousands of years.


cdub said...

Nobody truly understands climate change. The evidence for global warming is moderate at best - and even if taken as fact, there is no evidence that such warming is caused by carbon dioxide emissions.

Jason said...

I'm confused. Is the polar ice cap melting so fast that the polar bears jump off the shelf and then find themselves 60 miles out to sea by accident? Animal populations cycle dramatically, especially preditors. What does the polar bear population look like now? What is the fish population? Are polar bears swimming farther out because their food source is scarce? It sure as heck isn't because the ice cap melted 60 miles away from them in an hour swim.

Its_strange said...

carbon dioxide emissions will kill you. My high school education tells me the smart move is to limit them . But what do i know. I can't even find the social ladder .

rkb said...

Just becuase we may not fully understand the causes of global climate change does not mean that we shouldn't pay attention. You can say, "Those scientists aren't even sure what they're talking about, so I'm not going to worry." Or you can say, "Maybe destroying 100,000 acres of rainforest a day does have a negative impact on the rest of the world." The point is that you can't always just look the other way and assume the best.

SellToWhom said...

Climate change certainly happens. It has happened in the past and will happen again. It likely happens at varying rates all the time.

The idea, however, that humans are responsible for it reeks of misplaced arrogance and foolish pride. The "science" behind such explanations as greenhouse gases, ozone holes, etc., is dubious at best.

Greenland once could support farming, perhaps it will again. Real Estate in Labrador, Nunavut and Greenland. Now there's an investment.

While we all certainly feel bad for a polar bear far from home in the abstract, I, for one, realize that should I meet one face to face in a dark (and cold) alley, I'd prefer him quite dead.

Its_strange said...

2 , 3 beers isn't going to hurt much . They make life enjoyable for many. Fine. You drink a case of the stuff and you can kill people. ........Once again, cardon dioxide will kill you . Yep, blame the science .

IMHO said...

How is the existence of polar bears important to anyone other than KO's marketing department?

Its_strange said...

A running car in a closed garage will produce enough carbon dioxide to kill in what , 30 minutes ? We have 1,000,000's of cars , we can figure on 1,000,000s more , we have been producing carbon dioxide for 100 years , we have been clearing land as well. Only the arrogant , gluttonous wouldn't wonder what damage we are causing. 7 billion people and how many bald eagles ?

Ryan said...

I would suggest you stay out of a garage filling up with H2O as well.

BDG123 said...

Da*n! I love polar bears. Why don't you spend some of that hard earned money and set up a "Save the bears" fund?

That would be great if we saw the ocean rise 20 feet. As only crisis causes anyone to think of anything other than the moment and instant gratification. That is what makes humans so adaptable. Compartmentalization. A big word for not caring about anyone or anything for longer than a few days unless it directly affects you.

No one knows that much about cycles of weather, climate change and the sorts. It's been going on since the beginning of time as everyone on here has stated. That said, I do believe we should take the possibility that humans are agitating Mother Earth seriously and act accordingly. Frankly, I'm not sure she really cares. She was here long before us and likely long after us. She'll cleanse herself then start anew.

Its_strange said...

Some people from Princeton University think garages in South Jersey will be filling with water in 50 years. I will not be around to see if they are right.

DreamsUnlimited said...

There is a saying that goes like "you can always wake up a person who is sleeping. But you can never wake up a person who is acting sleeping". Well, you can never wake up people who are acting sleeping on the fact of global warming.

BTW, Jeff, are you saying I should giveup my dividends so that my company invests in cleaner technology??? com'on...........

RK said...

In response to the comment from its_strange: The running car in the garage causes a quick death from carbon MONOXIDE emissions. The CO binds to your hemoglobin and suffocates you. That has absolutely nothing to do with carbon DIOXIDE emissions and global warming. Carbon dioxide is harmless biologically, both to people and bald eagles. The threat from CO2 is related to its interactions with ozone in the atmosphere.

Its_strange said...

Yep..the stuff is no good and i'm betting it adds to the many problems of the atmosphere

sandgrey said...

With the advent of catalytic converters, most tailpipes only emit H20 and CO2...there is only a trace amount of CO......

Anonymous said...

While I believe that CO2 emissions will eventually have a harmful effect on our planet and may create global warming, I hate hokey data.
"Polar-bear drownings were so rare that they have never been documented in the surveys."
But the story is about how the drownings are at "record numbers", correct?
Question: How can you have record numbers of something that has never been documented until this year?

Captain Obvious said...

I don't understand why so many people want so desperately NOT to believe that damage to the environment is a problem that they are willing to defend absolutely assinine arguments (e.g. "strip mining doesn't hurt the environment", "greenhouse gasses don't cause climate change", "recycling is worse for the environment than land fills", etc.).

Give us, and yourself, a break. Being aware of the impact that business has on the environment and wanting to minimize the damage done by business and humans in general isn't just some hippy or greener notion that is at odds with the forces of capitalism and the free market. People only think that is the case because of the way the more extreme on each side of the discussion frame the debate. My view is that taking REAL steps to protect the environment from excessive degradation at our hands and particularly at the hands of major corporations is not only necessary, but critical.

Is it going to cost money? Sure it is, but I would rather bare some of that financial burden over a long time (while the issues are still fairly addressable) than a lot of the financial cost over a short period, and only once the problems are way out of hand.

As it is, our economic system (and most others around the world) provides a huge incentive to pollute and cause damage to the environment through the implicit subsidy of society (rather than the party doing the damage) bears the true cost of the externalities.

Seems like a bad idea in the long run, unless we want all of our children to live in places that look like Eastern Europe.

Chug-A-Bug said...


So it's the fault of our "economic system."

In other words, this is just another reason to adopt socialism, which has been oh so wonderful for the environment.

It would appear that giving government the right to control industry for the alleged "common good" is exactly what would make us look like Eastern Europe, including the environmental disasters.

As for CO2, carbon has a cycle, too. It doesn't just sit there in the atmosphere forever. No one is talking about the tremendous reforestation in North America these days relative to the last century...

Alex Khenkin said...

The drownings are at "record numbers" because now they are... recorded!
seriously, though, I'd rather see us focusing on how to adjust to the impending global warming and its effects than waste time and money on a ridiculous idea that we can "do something" to stop it. This does not mean that nothing should be done about other environmental problems, which are numerous. Let's concentrate our efforts where we really CAN make a difference.
Small Investor Chronicles

Todd said...

everyone knows Aliens caused global warming!

Captain Obvious said...

Chug A Bug:

Trust me, I am a bigger free market proponent than just about anybody. But here is the thing, I believe industries that actually destroy public goods, like clean air or water, or result in other negative externalities born by the rest of us should have to pay for remediating the damage they cause. That is as true to the free market as one can be.

whydibuy said...

what happened to my post? Here I'll give you a honest cause to delete a post. Hey jeff... FUUCK U !!

Nathanael James said...


I'm sure I speak for most of Jeff's regular readers that we don't appreciate seeing crude comments such as yours.

Stop being so juvenile. This forum exists to discuss and debate real life issues, not to vent personal frustrations in an inappropriate matter.

If you have a problem with Jeff, send him a private message. Avoid the cursing on public comments.

AllenCap said...

Yeah i can't see this one ending in a good way. I'm not sure it's going to be a cataclysmic apocolypse of sorts, but it's not going to be pretty.

Everything i've seen historically seems to point to some less-than-desirable results. Just think of human behavior typical of the tragedy of the commons, brazilian rain forest clearing, and commodity boom and bust cycles? It's smaller entities trying to act out in what they perceive to be their own best self-interest. But the impact of the group on the bigger picture, whether it be steel prices or over grazed pasture, usually turns out to be disastrous. It's almost like the invisible hand in reverse.

There has to be a way to mitigate this by making it in everyone's interest. Although no panacea i believe programs like pollution credits are a start.

As one last item. The earth does cycle in global climate over time spans longer than this species tenure. That much is relatively certain. But to deny the last few hundred years of our impact on the earth is pure folly.

And maybe some find it cute to joke about a few dead polar bears who got stranded. But 5 years ago i doubt anyone was worried about what a badly placed hurricane in the gulf
might do. I find it ironic that this year we had such a high hurricane count that we had to use such creative storm naming conventions as "alpha" and "beta" and that they crippled the same infrastructure that produce and refine the same hyrdocarbons that impact the globe.

Its_strange said...

allencap is right. Hurricane season comes once a year .

BernsteinIsRight said...

Despite the extensive coverage, there is much on global warming that is left unreported.

Take for instance the cooling trend in the lower five miles of the atmosphere, detected by weather balloons, and independently confirmed by NASA's orbiting satellites. This data, gathered from all over the globe, through precise microwave and radio measurements, shows an average drop of 0.19ºF in air temperature since 1979. The National Academy of Sciences finds this cooling trend, which conflicts with the global warming hypothesis, "so pronounced as to be difficult to explain."

Most media reports ignore the evidence for cooling and focus instead on records from land stations, which indicate a 1°F increase in surface temperatures during the 20th century. What they fail to report is that this increase was measured mostly in and around urban centers, and therefore indicates urban--not global--warming.

Also left unreported is the fact that 90 percent of this 1°F urban warming occurred before 1940. If carbon dioxide emitted by industries and cars was causing this warming, should not most of the increase in temperature have occurred after 1940, when industries and cars became more plentiful and, consequently, carbon emissions increased significantly?

Even more interesting, but also left unreported, is the fact that from 1946 until 1975, while industrialization expanded and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increased, urban surface temperatures actually cooled. At the time, many in the media feared a new ice age.

Such facts throw into question the belief that global warming exists and that industrialization is affecting the earth's temperature. Nevertheless, the New York Times recently stated: "Human activity is the dominant force behind . . . global warming."

If man is not the cause of climate change, what is?

Dr. Fred Singer, professor of environmental sciences and former director of the National Weather Satellite Service, explains that climate change is a natural phenomenon, which has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. Ice core samples from the Arctic, for example, show an 18ºF temperature variation during the last 160,000 years. Dr. Singer further notes that solar activity greatly affects the temperatures and the climate on earth.

But most reports in the media ignore the existence of dissenting views such as Dr. Singer's. According to Scientific American, "few scientists doubt the atmosphere is warming." Time magazine bluntly claims: "Scientists no longer doubt that global warming is happening."

Any reporter actively in search for the facts on global warming would easily discover that during the last three years more than 17,000 American scientists, including geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, and oceanographers, have signed the Oregon Petition declaring that "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of . . . greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate." []

Such omissions on the part of reporters are unjustifiable, and so are their irresponsible attempts to scare people. CNN warns of "disastrous weather changes" resulting in "more floods, droughts, storms, and hurricanes." Scientific American forecasts "death by drowning or starvation" and the "emergence, resurgence and spread of infectious disease."

But many scientists, among them Dr. Frederick Seitz, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, think that the catastrophic scenarios are mistaken, and that a warming of the earth would actually be beneficial to mankind and to life in general: "Warmer weather extends growing seasons and generally improves the habitability of colder regions." Furthermore, increases in carbon dioxide would boost the growth of crops and forests, which feed on this gas.

Given all this contrary evidence and scientific dissent, why is the bulk of reporting biased towards the belief in a disastrous, man-made global warming?

The answer is that the media have largely accepted the environmentalist premise that civilized man--by exploiting nature to fulfill his needs--is not the creator but the destroyer of human values. This non-objective premise is held with blind, religious fervor. Holding the premise dogmatically, the media have no eyes or ears for evidence against it. Their view of man as inherently destructive automatically leads them to distrust all that man creates. That is why most reporters unquestioningly report that factories, power plants, and cars are causing a catastrophic global warming. And that is why thirty years ago they unquestioningly reported that factories, power plants, and cars were causing a catastrophic global cooling.

BernsteinIsRight said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.