In the 1990s, predictions of a greenhouse-warmed Antarctic abounded. As time passed, though, problems surfaced. Research paper after paper indicated that, other than the tiny Antarctica peninsula, the continent was in fact cooling -- and had been doing so for many decades.
Skeptics pointed to this as a flaw in global warming theory. Not so fast, cried the climate modelers. They quickly spun a number of possible explanations, including ozone holes, ocean currents, and terrain that cut off Antarctica from the world's warming. As the certainty in the cooling trend grew, so did their statements, until they eventually began stating that they had predicted a cooling trend all along.
As the folks at RealClimate put it, "Doesn't this contradict [global warming]? Not at all, because a cold Antarctica is just what calculations predict… and have predicted for the past quarter century."
Cooling was thus cast as proof of global warming, not refutation. The media dutifully shifted their cameras from penguins to polar bears. The world was safe for Kyoto again.
But now a new paper has appeared, saying that Antarctica is warming after all. Written by Eric Steig and Drew Shindell, the paper purports to prove that past evidence of cooling was incorrect. But doesn't that contradict the models? Not if one can again rewrite history.
Speaking at a news conference today, Steig says, "We now see warming is taking place [in] accord with what models predict as a response to greenhouse gases."
In 2004, Shindell had something very different to say. That year he authored a paper that stated, "Surface temperatures [had] decreased significantly over most of Antarctica," Shindell added, "This cooling is consistent with circulation changes". He dedicated the rest of the paper to demonstrating that climate modeling "reproduces the vertical structure and seasonality of observed [cooling] trends."
Today, Shindell says, "It’s extremely difficult to think of any physical way that you could have increasing greenhouse gases not lead to warming at the Antarctic continent.". One can only wonder if he kept a straight face.
Even the New York Times is playing along, saying that cooling "ran counter to the forecasts of computer climate models". Memories are short.
The real story here isn't Antarctica. It's the willingness to rationalize model results to fit any and all scenarios. To the modelers, their results are consistent with. . . well, everything. Whether warmer or colder, flood or drought, more storms or less -- it's all proof that global warming is real and happening now.
This, of course, isn't real science. A true theory require something called falsifiability -- a set of conditions under which it can be disproven. So far, this is something the modelers have failed to give. It allows them to maintain a facade of unflappable certainty-- but it isn't science.
Among researchers who work with actual climate data, skepticism is climbing. The modelers at least remain faithful. But as of now, their predictions are rather like the gypsy fortune teller who tells you, "You will live a long life -- unless you die young."