February 7, 2013


Jason Box, a glaciologist at Ohio State University (who has been to Greenland 23 times to track its changing climate), gives us a perfect case study on how to make scary news: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/climate-desk-greenland-and-69-feet-sea-level-rise

First, you take perfectly good data (in this case the current area change of ice cover in Greenland). 
Second, you make a chart that zooms in on the data:

Third, you remove any perspective or context.  In this case you don’t tell how much ice there is in Greenland or what that rate of loss means or if it is unusual or how long it would take to all melt at that rate.

Finally, you throw in scary sounding quotes and meaningless statements:

“Humans have already set in motion 69 feet of sea level rise”

And you make scary youtube videos called “Can Greenland be saved?”: http://youtu.be/2r8cHXP8P4A

Scary huh!

So, let me show what happens when, instead of trying to mis-inform and scare, you are trying to educate and communicate.

First, you take the same data, and establish that Greenland is melting at about 130 km2 each year (50 square miles).  You can even show the same first chart.

Second, you communicate how much ice coverage there is in Greenland, about 734,000 square miles of ice.  Also, you communicate that most of the ice sheet is over a mile thick.

Now you can make another chart showing the affect of that melting on the total ice sheet.  At this rate it would take 14,680 years to melt.  At this rate, over the next hundred years, the Greenland ice sheet would drop to 729,000 square miles and total sea level rise would be 2 inches.

Not quite as scary huh?
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