Melting Arctic ice has long been an important symbol for climate change activists panicking about the imminent demise of the planet. A new study published this week, however, suggests that humans aren’t the only cause of this dramatic shift; arctic melt is also the result of natural processes. Reuters reports:
Natural variations in the Arctic climate “may be responsible for about 30–50 percent of the overall decline in September sea ice since 1979,” the U.S.-based team of scientists wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change…The study, separating man-made from natural influences in the Arctic atmospheric circulation, said that a decades-long natural warming of the Arctic climate might be tied to shifts as far away as the tropical Pacific Ocean. […]
The study indicates that an ice-free Arctic Ocean, often feared to be just years away, in one of the starkest signs of man-made global warming, could be delayed if nature swings back to a cooler mode.
A study like this doesn’t let us off the hook. Humanity is emitting greenhouse gases at a breakneck pace, and these GHGs are increasing surface temperatures. That’s a serious problem that demands our attention. But that said, studies like this one vividly illustrate our very limited understanding of how the climate actually works. Environmentalists have for years been exaggerating our confidence in our own climate models.
The takeaway from this new study shouldn’t be that we don’t have anything to worry about regarding climate change, but rather that we need to approach this field of science like we would any other: with a healthy respect for the scientific process, and an acknowledgement that there’s a lot more we don’t know than what we do.