Guest Post: Melting Ice And Freezing Fossil Fuels Ambitions

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by James Stafford via,

It’s not mere anecdotal evidence: Visibly melting sea ice is the best evidence that the planet is warming. So prospecting for oil in the Arctic is a tricky endeavor that must be undertaken slowly and with extreme caution, argues Fen Montaigne, senior editor of Yale Environment 360, author of “Fraser’s Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica” and other books, and contributor to National Geographic, The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines.

So just how hot is it going to get? Hotter than we can handle if we fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, Montaigne tells us in an exclusive interview in which we discuss:

•    Why prospectors should proceed with extreme caution in the Arctic
•    Just how hot it’s going to get with global warming
•    Why science is being side-lined in the climate change debate
•    Why oil companies will have to keep their assets in the ground
•    Why we need to rethink agricultural subsidies
•    What we can expect next from the volatile EV market
•    What really concerns environmentalists about natural gas
•    The great fossil fuels paradox
•    Why natural gas may not only be a bridge to the future, but the future itself
•    Why the US government has no business mandating ethanol

Interview by James Stafford of We’ll start with the Arctic Sea because so much of your work has focused on this area. Right now, the talk here is of vast opportunities, and vast environmental concern. How can we balance these two, and what is at stake?

Fen Montaigne: I am in the go-slow camp when it comes to developing the Arctic, whether it be the region’s fossil fuel riches, its minerals, or its fisheries. I think the problems that Shell has experienced in its early attempts to drill off Alaska’s coast bolster the case for a cautious approach. Cleaning up an oil spill in that environment would be far, far more difficult than in the Gulf of Mexico, and a spill’s effects would be more severe and long lasting in a cold-water environment than in warm waters.

The Arctic nations — as well as other interested countries, such as China — need to carefully survey and assess the resources of the Arctic basin and draft a conservative plan for their exploitation. That may include a ban on drilling for oil and gas in large sections of the Arctic. How can you make the case for global warming using the decline in Arctic Sea ice, and how profound will the consequences be?

Fen Montaigne: No better evidence of the warming of the earth in the last century — and particularly in the last 30-40 years — exists than the melting of the cryosphere, or ice zones. More than 90% of the world’s glaciers are in retreat, and the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is nothing short of stunning.

I have seen this melting with my own eyes, having spent 5 months researching a book on the Antarctic Peninsula, where sea ice and glaciers are retreating rapidly. Earlier this year, I visited a glacier in Switzerland that has retreated by a half-mile since I last saw it 20 years ago; this is not mere anecdotal evidence, as nearly all the glaciers in the Alps, Andes, etc., are in rapid retreat.

The world is warming. The overwhelming evidence is that it’s caused by human activities. The only question is how hot things are going to get. If we continue doing as little as we are doing now to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, it is entirely possible that the world might be 5 to 10 degrees F warmer in a century or two, which is not a world I’d like my children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to be living in. More broadly on the climate change scene, Yale Environment 360 recently published an article discussing the implications of a climate activist movement seeking to persuade universities, cities and other groups to sell off their investments in fossil fuel companies. What’s the long-term logic behind this movement and what will the impact be?

Fen Montaigne: I won’t attempt to predict the impact of the divestment movement. But to me one thing is clear: If in the next 100 years the world’s oil, gas and coal companies develop all the fossil fuel assets that they’re now sitting on, the world is going to be a very unpleasant place in which to live, barring some technological miracle that enables us to suck vast amounts of CO2 out of the air. It’s this realization that is driving the divestment movement and the fight to slow climate change.

Believe me, as a 60-year-old American, living in the most affluent country in the most affluent period in history, I appreciate and value what fossil fuels have done for civilization. I know we’re not going to be able to transition to a non-fossil-fuel economy overnight. But if you keep approving tar sands projects, or massive pipelines, or drilling in the Arctic, when does it stop? When does this movement to a renewable energy economy begin? If I were running a fossil fuel company, I’d be uneasy about the concept of so-called “stranded assets,” because at some point — when seas begin to rise significantly, when weather is sufficiently wild and destabilized, and when things are just too damn hot — people, business owners, and governments are going to say it’s time to stop burning fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow. I think that as global warming intensifies, it’s likely that a significant portion of the assets of fossil fuel companies are going to have to remain in the ground. As the climate debate increasingly polarizes the American public, science seems to be getting in the way of agendas on both sides. Your magazine recently noted how even environmentalists are ignoring science when it stands in the way of furthering their agendas. Are we entering a period in which scientific facts will be completely sidelined as climate change becomes the strict purview of politics?

Fen Montaigne: It’s indeed unfortunate that climate change has become so intensely politicized in the US and that both sides resort to twisting the facts and using super-heated rhetoric.

From my perspective, however, I think there is a lot more distortion of science on the climate change denier side. Still, when global warming activists ring alarm bells every time there is a heat wave or a period of intense storms, I think that’s a mistake. What happens if we have an unusually cold spring in the eastern US or Europe, like the current one? Does that mean global warming is a hoax? Of course not. Short-term ups and downs in the weather should not be the cause for either side to crow or cry wolf.

I also think it’s unwise when global warming activists warn that it’s “game over” for the climate if something like Keystone XL is approved. OK. So what happens if Keystone is approved? If that means it’s “game over,” then why should any of us worry about reducing CO2 emissions?

I do believe that in the US, we’ll soon be moving into a period where there is less debate about the science of climate change, for the simple reason that it’s going to become increasingly clear that human-caused climate change is affecting the world, from our backyards to the poles. Of course, the debate over whether global warming is real scarcely exists in Europe, which has far less of the contrarian, anti-science streak that exists in the US. There is a significant amount of resistance to the Ethanol mandate, not only because of the connection to food crops with corn-based ethanol. Do you think America is ready for this mandate?

Fen Montaigne: I think that the US’s byzantine system of agricultural subsidies is a mess and needs to be seriously reformed. And I don’t think the US government ought to be in the business of mandating ethanol production. What can we expect from the electric vehicle market in the next 2-3 years? Why have they experienced so many ups and downs? Where has it gone wrong?

Fen Montaigne: I am no expert on electric vehicles, but I am confident that reasonably priced EVs and hybrids will become increasingly common, especially as batteries improve and charging stations become more widespread.

As has been widely noted, the Obama administration’s mandating of far-better fuel economy standards was probably the most important environmental achievement of Obama’s first term. I think that the federal government, working closely with the private sector, also has to become far more involved in stimulating the transition to a renewable energy economy.

Ultimately, it’s innovation and advancement in science, engineering, and the private sector that are going to help solve this climate problem, but a transition as massive and revolutionary as the one away from fossil fuels cannot be done without government involvement. What do you think of T. Boone Pickens’ idea to convert US trucking fleets to natural gas? Is this viable over the long term?

Fen Montaigne: I think using natural gas as a “bridge to the future,” including powering more trucks with natural gas, is a good idea. But many environmentalists are right to be concerned that natural gas is looking less like a bridge to the future, than the future itself. As I said earlier, societies have to take major steps to wean themselves off fossil fuels, and few countries are doing that now, with notable exceptions such as Denmark. Is it possible for the fossil fuels and alternative energy industries to work together to create a viable “transition” period for a sustainable future?

Fen Montaigne: Of course it’s possible. The challenge is that it’s just so easy to keep using fossil fuels, as they are such a compact, relatively inexpensive, and effective source of energy. The profits are enormous, far greater, at this point, than in the renewable energy industry. This is why it is so hard to disrupt the status quo, but that’s what has to happen. What we’re looking at is one of the great paradoxes of history — the very sources of energy that have enabled us to achieve such an advanced civilization and to bring us so many comforts and conveniences are also the sources that threaten to dangerously destabilize the climate that has fostered the growth of human civilization over the past 12,000 years. Are there any significant ways in which the environmental movement has metamorphosed in recent years due to the shale revolution, the natural gas boom, and other energy-related developments??

Fen Montaigne: Leading environmental thinkers such as Bill McKibben have pointed out that the environmental movement used to take heart in the prospect of peak-oil or peak-coal. I think the shale gas and shale oil boom of recent years, as well as the discovery of new oil and gas fields, have demonstrated that fossil fuel use is not going to decline in the next century because oil and gas fields or coal mines are tapped out. That changes environmental strategy, and is one of the reasons that McKibben’s and other groups are now targeting specific projects like Keystone XL.

And I am sympathetic to one of their central arguments: At some point, you’ve got to stop developing new oil and gas reserves and begin seriously developing alternative sources of energy. Otherwise, it’s going to get awfully hot, and rising seas are going to pose a major threat to cities from Shanghai to Miami.

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Pancho Villa's picture

I think the Japanese already did that.

Slewburger's picture

"They say fuck the sun.... you say, fuck the sun."

Adam Sandler

NoDebt's picture

How much ice would we need to melt in order to put Washington DC under water?

We can't even run our economy beyond the next quarter and we think we can somehow "manage" global warming that will take generations to affect things (even if it's real)?  Give me a fucking break.  We are absolutely incapable as a species of tackling problems on a multi-generational scale.  The way we manage our benfits & entitlement programs alone should be proof enough we just run shit till it breaks and then we figure out what to do after that.

I'll also point out our track record at "managing" the environment and ecosystems in general is not good.  Go research some of the many programs that were used to "manage" the ecosystems in our national parks.  Every one causing as many problems as it created.  And those are only small areas of the globe.  Now we have "scientists" who believe they can manage the entire globe?  The hubris and lack of humility on this subject is mind-numbing.


MisterMousePotato's picture

I copied this, IIRC, from another poster on this site. Funny enough to warrant a repeat:

Future historians will write of an almost laughable (if it weren’t so serious) chapter in American history where the nation was forced into financial ruin by unscrupulous and dispicable politicians using stories of a giant smog monster that could only be stopped by paying off his friends in the green energy money laundering racket.

SafelyGraze's picture

I propose a global tax

people all over the world would pay the tax to a central authority somewhere whose task is to save The Climate

the idea is that you would pay tax when you do Harmful Things to The Climate

this should make a big difference in saving The Climate, because the tax would make people do less of the Harmful Things

also, the central authority would use the funds it collected to do Good Things for The Climate

it is important that Everybody Share the Load so that we can Work Together for a Better Future


BKbroiler's picture

Did this story actually make it on ZH?  

Just because all the ice is melting around the world means nothing.  The whole thing is engineered by Al Gore to sell DVD's.  The fact that 12 out of the last 15 years have been the hottest in history is coincidence.  Stupid libtards and their science.


/sarc off

HardAssets's picture

They take photos during the warmer months when the ice melts, but don't take photos in the colder months when the ice is back. Global warming is b.s. The earth has been in a cooling cycle in recent years. Your 'fact' about the 'hottest in history' is horse crap.

NidStyles's picture

That is actually sourced from computer modelling.

greyghost's picture

they lost me when all the e-mails were released about lies to continue to keep getting funding for their scam. i was taught that plants need co2 to grow and survive. just how low will these nimrods take the co2 levels......until everything turns to lifeless sand? stupid is as stupid does

James_Cole's picture

just how low will these nimrods take the co2 levels......until everything turns to lifeless sand? 

Gawd, how do folks make it past age 10 and still think things like this?

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

I'll tell everyone a little secret...  Shhhhh....

Its currently 24 hours sunlight above the arctic circle.  24 hours a day.

Flakmeister's picture

And the ice is melting very fast...

Here are the latest satillite data:

detached.amusement's picture

oh cripes, here's the resident "Phd" again telling us little morons the data is what we say it is!  have fun extrapolating the antarctic peninsula data all over the entire continent and telling us its kosher!


you're no different than the slops that manipulate financial data.

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Amerika is fool believe in "Global Warming". Russia scientist is discover East Anglia ICU is cherry pick and toss 50% of Russia territorial climate data because is not "fit model". AGW is not science, is pure oil of snake political machination.

Flakmeister's picture

Boris is strong like bull, smart like tractor but smell like pig...

Boris is full of horse shit and has active imagination...

MisterMousePotato's picture

Boris is a better man than you will ever be. And our resident class clown. You would be wise to show him the respect that he deserves.

Flakmeister's picture

You said it, Boris is indeed a clown... with a very active imagination...

detached.amusement's picture

well hey, at least he doesnt go around telling us he has a phd to gain credibility with his otherwise incredulous stories of "its true...honest!"

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Boris is not to have PHD, but know this, in Minsk, step out back and make vodka icicle before piss hit ground.

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Dear Mr. Flakmeister,

Boris 63+ is beat your 71-, like Putin beat crap out of Obama on any day.

Please is have pleasant day!

Warmest sincerity,


spanish inquisition's picture

Boris, please have your scientist friends look into my theory that I have posted before...

Could it be possible, the earth warming and cooling, has something to do with the giant fucking furnace we circle?

pan-the-ist's picture

It could be that we are still coming out of an ice age, and there is evidence that the climate change rapidly in the past.

A couple things bother me about global warming/climate change/...

1. They lost me at carbon credits. - seriously, that just a scam, not a solution

2. Plants LOVE C02.  They love it. Seriously - LOVE IT.  There is nothing wrong with more c02 in the atmostphere.

3. Finally, Water Vapor is a MUCH WORSE greenhouse gas than C02.  Water Vapor.  Like humidty, ya know?

So basicaly, it's fear designed to make a few phuckers rich by selling carbon credits. (Not you)  Global warming will probably do more good than harm.

What we should fear is over 1 mile of ice sitting on top of us and the crushing that happens with all that ice.  There is ACTUAL evidence that this WILL happen again in another 30 to 50 thousand years.

Apocalicious's picture

Water vapor, finally! It is nearly 100 times as prevalent as CO2! It can vary from 0.0% over deserts to 4% over oceans. CO2 has gone from 0.036% to 0.039% over 100 years and somehow, despite the 10,000 other variables that impact global climates THIS ONE has been conclusively demonstrated to have a CAUSAL link!



Flakmeister's picture

As a matter of fact it has...

The list of papers at the bottom should help you sort out your confusion...

pan-the-ist's picture

Not sure why I read your misguided crap, but that just shows come correlation for the last 40 years.  Which is a very small data set when you consider the scale of climate change.  even if you take it back 2000 years, it's a blip.  Where are the facts?

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Mr. Flakmeister,

Your Phlebotomist is call with message of urgency nature... your blood work is come back positive - you are full of sh¡t.



FreedomGuy's picture

Last I read is that water vapor has 30x the heat holding capacity of carbon dioxide.

I also note that in my last Obama mailing (Yes, I got on the list) that they use the term "carbon pollution". So carbon dioxide is now being called carbon pollution which is a way to change the language, emotion and political dialogue. Of course that makes all of us polluters as we all give off CO2, as well.

This is why you leftist bullshit artists cause everyone else to entrench against you. Even if you are right the lefty-statists make it pollitical and pollute the conversation with BS.

Do you know what the real endgame of the enviro-leftists is...besides power, that is?


TuPhat's picture

You said it like it is, Pan.  Flakmeister and others will never get it.  Ice melts every summer.  The Sun is a bigger influence than man can ever be.  GW enthusiasts have not done one single scientific experiment to back up their claims.  They rely on false statistical data, false assumptions and bogus computer simulations.  BTW I'm not worried about the next ice age either.  Us humans will kill each other off before that happens.

ATM's picture

The Global Sea Ice bullshit is a manufactured lie. It cherry picks the start point for all measurements - 1979.

The 1970's, as we who are old enough to remember, were cold - DAMN cold. So fucking cold that we were told a next ice age was coming. Guess what? When's it's colder there tends to be this shit called ICE.

The extent of sea ice in the artic is not unusual in historical terms. That is a flat out fucking fact. Anyone who tries to use the fearmongering that artic ice is on a straight line decline to none and it will devastate the world is a fucking tool. And they are a tool of those who are trying to get us to relinquish power to those that will "save us from ourselves". 




Flakmeister's picture

Your are in denial and full of shit: Your ice plot is  4 years out of date

Here is data going back to 1870

Here is a recent published paper that looks back 1450 years

The loss of ice is unprecedented...


pan-the-ist's picture

You're saying that there has never been less sea ice than we have today?  1450 years is a very short time in the scales you're talking about.  There was an ice age, and we're coming out of it.  Of course there is less sea ice today than in the past.

Flakmeister's picture

The Interglacial maximum occured ~8000 years ago, we were then cooling until we started burning FF as fast as we could.

Do you see the difference between natural and anthropogenic variation? It is the rate of change that is the killer.


pan-the-ist's picture

Why should I accept that projection as fact?  You don't seriously expect that rate of change to continue do you?

Flakmeister's picture

Why wouldnt it given that we have only increased our emission of GHG and that the world has still not reaced equilibrium with what is already up there...

And we have a 40 year prediction that has been shown to work...

pan-the-ist's picture

Because the climate models don't have all the variables and use large fudge factors instead... somethign you already know.  They cannot model the climate.

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Bell's Theorem - hidden local variable is create uncertainty. Apply to quantum mechanic, can apply to climatology.

Boris is see this on lecture hall blackboard while sweeping (Russian college student is slob).

detached.amusement's picture

ROFL yes, the stock market will also rise linearly to 500,000!!!

Greshams Law's picture

There is much truth in your words.

Basically, "Thank God for Global Warming". We'd all be dead without it.

Flakmeister's picture

Yes, and you would be shocked to know how little it took to melt that ice compared to the long term effect of what we put in the atmosphere....

PS we would not be dead, H. Sapiens has ridden out many Ice Age cycles...

pan-the-ist's picture

PS we're not going to die from climate change.  In fact, there will be much more food available, because plants will grow better.  And fuck your spreadsheet math computer models.

Flakmeister's picture

So wrong as to be beneath reply..

Do you think that people haven't been researching that???

pan-the-ist's picture

Why is it that c02 effects on plants are complex and difficult, yet the climate itself is so well understood? Hmm, I know - because one ascertian agrees with your world view and the other doesn't.

FreedomGuy's picture

I have read some of that stuff and the cotton C3 made me laugh. They said growth or the necessary enzyme could be impaired as low as 89.6F. I am from the south where cotton has been king. 89.6F is a cold day in the summer.

Here is the other half of the conversation that bugs me. Let's assume that the Left is generally right and we have a manmade heat problem caused mostly by excess carbon. What exactly is the solution? Higher taxes is not a solution. The Left proposes higher taxes for everything every day of the week. In fact we have so much social debt now and on the horizon, global warming will have no resources available.  However, is the right thing to do to lower carbon emissions? Exactly how much would make a difference and what would that require across the world? What temperature are we aiming at? Are there alternatives? It gets really vague except for the fact that taxes will be even higher, government will be more powerful, you (not the elites who run it) will give up most everything and there will be no requirement that these ideas actually work.

HulkHogan's picture

Thanks JC. I don't know why people have a hard time understanding Climate Change. It is possible to understand that it is real and, at the same time, hate Al Gore.

erg's picture

Didn't Michael Mann of the IPCC admit recently that 'yeah, it's cooling.'

I'll even go as far to admit that the planet does seem to be warming in general but it seems to be gigantic folly to be on the side of BMP on anything. Didn't he buy another mansion somewhere within 15' of the waterfront in the last half decade.

As always, follow the command and control, and of course the money.

As far as anyone who ever gave a tinkers fuck about things that are green - I'd me more pissed about how something wholesome could be completely co-opted. Again, like everything else that has grass-roots in anything useful. Excuse the pun.

Flakmeister's picture

Please do not simply make shit up. It is very bad form...