Liberal writer and climate scientist Eric Holthaus recently published an article claiming man-made global warming could set off the “ice apocalypse” at a pace “too quickly for humanity to adapt.”
Holthaus warned the wholesale collapse of two Antarctic glaciers — Pine Island and Thwaites — could happen sooner than previously believed, based on a 2016 study on modeled “marine ice-cliff instability.”
“Instead of a three-foot increase in ocean levels by the end of the century, six feet was more likely,” Holthaus wrote of the study’s findings. “But if carbon emissions continue to track on something resembling a worst-case scenario, the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up, their study showed,” he added.
“All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years — much too quickly for humanity to adapt,” Holthaus wrote, who’s known for his alarmist articles on man-made warming.
“Next to a meteor strike, rapid sea-level rise from collapsing ice cliffs is one of the quickest ways our world can remake itself. This is about as fast as climate change gets,” Holthaus wrote, warning it could “flooding coastal cities and creating hundreds of millions of climate refugees.”
Holthaus’s article went viral among liberal climate journalists, but more than a few voices expressed skepticism of the claim there could be 11 feet of sea level rise from Antarctic glacial collapse by 2100.
“I think his article is too pessimistic: that it overstates the possibility of disaster. Too soon, too certain,” Tamsin Edwards, a scientist who’s studied Antarctica, wrote in The Guardian about Holthaus’s article.
Holthaus’s article did acknowledge the uncertainties around projecting 11 feet of sea level rise, but he still argues Antarctica’s ice sheet has been overtaken by global warming despite what scientists say.
“But Eric is wrong to say Antarctica’s ‘ice budget’ has tipped out of balance due to our burning of fossil fuels,” Edwards wrote. “Not only has it been out of balance before – such as the ancient West Antarctic collapse that causes concern – but the reason for the Amundsen Sea changes, where most ice is being lost, is that the ring of deep warm water around Antarctica has welled up onto the continental shelf and is melting the ice from underneath.”
“We don’t know if human activities made this more likely,” Edwards wrote.
Interestingly enough, the study Holthaus cites only projects more than a meter, or a little over 3 feet, of sea level by 2100 in the most high-end scenario of global warming. Their study projected more than 15 meters, or nearly 50 feet, by 2500.
Edwards, however, cautioned there’s “little consensus in the scientific community about how this ice cliff instability could behave” because “there is a big leap from identifying a potential problem and predicting the real world consequences.”
Washington Post science writer Chris Mooney was also skeptical of Holthaus’s prediction of rapidly disintegrating Antarctic glaciers.
11. So I don’t know where the 11 feet are coming from. You could argue that this is just a modeling study and the real world could be even worse, I guess. And the sea level rise certainly continues after 2100.
— Chris Mooney (@chriscmooney) November 22, 2017
Holthaus defended himself on Twitter, saying he spoke with “more than a dozen polar scientists” for his article.
In reporting this story, I spoke with more than a dozen polar scientists. Nearly all of them had that edge in their voice—they knew, in their core, that this work was critically important and they wanted the world to know.
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) November 21, 2017
Edwards, however, warned that “we have to take care not to talk about the apocalypse as if it were inevitable.”
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