Warming Trends: A Facebook Plan to Debunk Climate Myths, ‘Meltdown’ and a Sad Yeti

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland. Credit: Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Icebergs near Ilulissat, Greenland. Credit: Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Warming Trends

Facebook Busts Climate Myths

Facebook announced this week it will be combating climate change misinformation with an expansion of its Climate Science Information Center and a new labeling program for posts about climate. 

Collaborating with experts from George Mason University, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the University of Cambridge, the social media platform will start adding labels to posts about climate change similar to those it has used to counter misinformation about Covid-19 and the 2020 election. Users who encounter the label will be directed to the center to find factual and authoritative information, as people who search Facebook for climate change or other related topics already are doing in countries where the center is available. The labeling program is starting in the United Kingdom, but will add other countries “soon” according to a news release by the social media giant.


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The center, which this week expanded into a dozen new countries, includes local information about rising temperatures, explainers on the science of climate change, climate change news from verified sources and actions people can take to mitigate climate change. Improvements announced this week include a new feature that debunks common climate myths. 

“A healthy planet depends on everyone, everywhere and that starts with people having access to accurate and timely information,” said Nancy Groves, digital strategy chief with the UN Environmental Programme, in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Facebook on this new effort to dispel myths and to provide access to the latest science on the climate emergency.”


Scientists Fear Banking on Trees Won’t Pay Off

Would you hand someone your 401K with an unconvincing promise that, in 50 years, you’ll get your money back?

“That’s not a deal you would take,” said MIT Sloan School of Management research scientist John Steinman. 

So would you cut down trees to burn for energy now, with the promise that decades down the line, a replacement tree—assuming it survives land development, natural disaster, disease and every other unpredictable tree killer—will sequester as much carbon as the first tree emitted?

“That’s the deal that’s being offered here,” Steinman said, about cutting forests for biomass energy.

This lag time and unpredictability is why 500 scientists, including Steinman, addressed a letter to world leaders saying the practice is not carbon neutral, and shouldn’t be included in countries’ net-zero plans.

“Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity,” said the letter, directed to the leaders of the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea. “To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them.”

Biomass energy from forests is included in South Korea’s carbon neutral strategy. The European Union got 60 percent of its renewable energy from biomass as of 2019. And biomass energy is also included in the renewable portfolios of the United States and Japan.

When a tree is cut and burned for fuel, it immediately emits carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. This is considered carbon neutral because, in theory, the emissions will be offset by a replacement tree. But it will take decades for a new tree to grow enough to fully offset the emissions from the burned tree.

“All during that time, that extra carbon is worsening climate change,” Steinman said. “Sea level will rise faster, extreme weather will get worse, crop yields will fall more. And even after you’ve removed that extra carbon, the climate doesn’t go back to where it was before. Glaciers aren’t suddenly going to reform, sea levels aren’t suddenly going to go down.”


Talking (and Photographing) Icebergs

In a new climate change documentary, artist Lynn Davis compares photographing icebergs to playing blackjack—you never know what the next card will hold.

“Everything in the ice is about impermanence,” she says in the film. “The ice is moving, the water is moving, the clouds are moving, the light is changing and you’re moving, so where is solidity? It’s relative.”

The film, “Meltdown,” which came out this week on several streaming platforms, is narrated by two characters: Davis, who has been photographing Greenland for nearly 30 years, and Anthony Leiserowitz, a social scientist with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, who visits the Arctic land mass for the first time. 

Producer Mike Tollin, known for his Emmy Award-winning work on “The Last Dance,” said the film brings together two people whose lives revolve in very different ways around melting ice to learn from each other and witness climate change in action.

“What we discovered is the coexistence of beauty and tragedy alongside each other and two divergent points of view that led to a fascinating conversation and a unique perspective on the issue of climate change,” Tollin said. 

The conversational format combined with the focus on beauty and emotion make this film different from other documentaries on climate change in the Arctic. Both Davis and Leiserowitz find ways to connect the melting they witness in Greenland back to their lives at home.

“We celebrate the beauty and we celebrate the loss in a different kind of way,” Tollin said. “It’s not with facts and figures, it’s like what does it mean to humankind?”


Great Lakes, Little Ice

Ice cover on the Great Lakes in January was the second-lowest on record this year, with just 4.4 percent of the lakes frozen over. 

This January was second only to 2002, when only 4.1 percent of the lakes’ area had ice cover. The past decade has seen six of the top 10 low-ice years since record-keeping began in1973.

The area of the lakes covered in ice this year is projected to be lower than the average, with about 38 percent frozen over compared to a long-term average of 53.3 percent. The recent cold snap, however, has driven ice cover up in all five of the Great Lakes in the past week.

Credit: NOAA

Deviations from the average are not out of the ordinary. In fact, James Kessler, an ice cover scientist at NOAA, said extremely high or extremely low ice years are more common than average years. But the long-term average ice cover for the lakes is trending downward at a rate of about 5 percentage points per decade.

 “We’re seeing this sort of extreme variation,” Kessler said. “Less years are typical, more see extreme highs and lows.”

Ice cover is affected by both the air temperature and the lake temperature, as well as by complex global weather patterns like El Niño, so determining a root cause of why one year has more ice cover than another is a complex task, Kessler said. Nevertheless, climate change is likely to be connected to the downward trend in ice cover, he said. 

“It’s not a big step to say this change is climate change related,” he said. “But it would be nice to have a longer dataset.”


Artworks Mourn a Future Winterless Carnival

Slumped beside Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, is a sculpture of the abominable snowman looking glum and dejected while a Madison Gas & Electric power station burns natural gas just behind it.

The sculpture, called “Sad Yeti,” was created by two Wisconsin-based artists to mourn the loss of winter as the planet warms. It’s one of several pieces of art scattered around the city this month that, along with live streamed performances, are part of a winter carnival centered around climate change.

The Winter is Alive carnival, spearheaded by Madison-based artist Tamsie Ringler, 57, aims to inspire conversations about the warming planet and how it is changing winters, especially in the Midwest.

“I’ve noticed in my lifetime climatic changes: lakes freezing later, thawing earlier, huge changes in terms of temperature. Now you can see climate affecting everything,” Ringler said. “We have such a short memory, we can accept this new normal of no winter and that’s part of the idea for [this carnival], what would the world be like if we didn’t have winter anymore?”

Ringler’s sculpture in the carnival is a solar-powered light display resembling a deepwater oil platform decorated with holiday lights. The piece is meant to illustrate, with a little bit of “dark humor,” she said, how, as the North Pole melts, oil exploration could expand into the region. If that happens, will Santa’s workshop be relocated to an oil rig?

The event will continue through the first week of March, with live streamed events nearly every day until then. 

“This is our home, if we don’t do something immediately to make a difference, we’re making it unlivable,” Ringler said. “It’s hard for artists to really make change because we’re not scientists, but we can at least activate people to think about it.”