It’s almost not worth mentioning, but Mount Kilimanjaro exemplifies the central weakness of the climate change pseudoskeptic’s case. Does it matter how much snow lies at the top of Africa’s tallest peak? No. And for the same reason that it doesn’t matter that this past January was particularly cold in some parts of the world. It all goes back to the difference between climate and weather. So, one more time, here goes.
Climate is like a road trip from San Francisco to Denver. Weather is like one hour of that road trip. Some hour you might be driving up a hill, the next you might be driving down one. No single hour will provide you any information about the overall trend in elevation. But eventually it becomes clear that you are gaining elevation. Denver is a lot higher than San Francisco. End of metaphor and end of argument.
It’s that simple, and yet otherwise intelligent and educated people keep confusing weather with climate. It’s happening again with Kilimanjaro, which has been losing snow for years, except when it isn’t, that is. An usually heavy dump of snow and rain in2007 left the peak white again. Just like old times. And those who would rather not believe the climate is changing are seizing on the “news” as evidence to support their position. Here’s an excerpt from a Jan. 20 post from the Watts Up With That blog, under the now quite tired title of “Yet another inconvenient story ignored by the MSM”:
So when a news story crossed my desk today that said: “Mount Kilimanjaro: On Africa’s roof, still crowned with snow” I had to wonder, will we see this one covered in the main stream media? Or maybe those beacons of truth over at Real Climate will make a note of it?
Don’t hold your breath. But, at least the New York Times travel section covered it.
The first thing to note about the Anthony Watt’s post is that both stories to which he refers are actually the same story. The first link is to an International Herald Tribune travel piece, which is an identical copy of a New York Times story. The IHT and the NYT have this arrangement, see? It’s called syndication. But I digress.
The second point is, as you can see in the excerpt below, Watts didn’t notice that the story described conditions a year ago, a common reality of travel journalism. I doubt the mainstream media would be likely to jump all over year-old observations —;;;;; even if they weren’t completely beside the point.
Third, the Real Climate “beacons” actually did deal with Kilimanjaro ages ago, and I’ll draw on their expertise later. But first, this excerpt from the story in question:
It looked nothing like the photographs of Kibo nearly denuded of ice and snow in the Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Nor did it seem to jibe with the film’s narrative: “Within the decade, there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro.”
As it turned out, we had simply been lucky.
This was the last week of January — nearly a year ago — and the middle of the dry season. But several weeks of heavy rain and snow preceded the arrival of our group, 10 mountaineering clients and a professional guide from International Mountain Guides, based near Seattle. That made for a freakishly well-fed snow pack and the classic snowy image portrayed on travel posters, the label of the local Kilimanjaro Premium Lager and the T-shirts hawked in Moshi’s tourist bazaars. But to many climate scientists and glaciologists who have probed and measured, the disappearance of the summit’s ice fields is inevitable and imminent.
So even the travel writer, who actually walked on the tell-tale evidence himself, knew better than to equate the current weather conditions on the mountain with long-term trends in global temperature averages. Not so the Watts blogger, who, curiously enough, is a former television meteorologist.
Now, as it happens, the cause of the recent (as in years-long) trend on the mountain toward less ice and snow is the subject of some controversy. There are those who suspect that local precipitation trends, perhaps caused by nearby deforestation, are to blame. Maybe. Others say the evidence for that particular link is too weak as yet.
The gang at Real Climate, for example, recognizes that “there is indeed some ongoing discussion in the literature as to whether or not the retreat of ice on Kilimanjaro is related to the direct effects (warming atmospheric temperatures) or indirect effects (altered patterns of humidity, cloud cover, and precipitation influencing Kilimanjaro’s ice mass) of climate change, and that argument isn’t yet over. ”
“But,” add Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann, “these arguments would be of more relevance if (a) we were not witnessing the imminent demise of an ice field that we know has existed for at least the past 12,000 yearsand (b) most of the other glaciers weren’t disappearing as well. ” (Emphasis mine.)
There is, in my opinion, enough doubt to warrant not using Kilimanjaro as a poster child for climate change. For that reason, I omit photographs of the mountain when I present Al Gore’s climate crisis slide show. But it’s easy to do that because Gore’s presentation comes with about a dozen other before-and-after photographic examples illustrating Schmidt and Mann’s argument about glacial retreat around the world. (Here‘s a good place for some such photography.) I almost always have to trim the show for time, and I chose to edit out anything that isn’t absolutely rock solid on the science.
The point is, the overwhelming majority of the world’s glaciers are melting faster than they used to. We’ve known this for years. So whether or not Kilimanjaro is bucking that trend or following it makes not one wit of difference. The current conditions, needless to say (but here I am saying it again), are completely irrelevant. Weather and climate, folks. It’s that simple.
So why get my nose out of joint over a single blogger’s confused ideas? Because there are still plenty out there. This particular example is currently used as an example of climate crisis skepticism by the owners of the Climate Debate Daily site, an aggregation of for and against stories and blog posts. I wish the owners of CDD,
the same folks who run which shares an editor with the popular Arts and Letters Daily, would stop giving equal treatment to both genuine science and ill-informed polemics. Making matter worse, the Times of London recently included CDD in its list of top 50 eco-blogs, a sad commentary on the Times’ editorial judgment.