Are satellite measurements of climate parameters a masculinist attempt at fake objectivity that boils down to nothing other than pornography? Is glaciology just a form of “western science” that actively suppressing other ways of knowing because of its reliance on mathematical models and advanced technological equipment? Are glaciers offended when people cook with grease near them? Will fat turn into another glacier if left overnight? Is the world so chaotic and unpredictable that scientific investigation into glaciers is fundamentally impossible because of the supposed gendered nature of empirical research methods?
Sometimes you run across published papers that are so batshit that you cannot possibly fathom how they were published, passed peer-review or even funded. One such paper is the postmodernist piece “Glaciers, gender, and science” that was written by Mark Carey, M Jackson, Alessandro Antonello and Jaclyn Rushing and published in Progress in Human Geography in 2016. This post takes a closer look at this review paper with particular focus on its rampant abuse and misrepresentation of satellite measurements as a technique to monitor climate change.
Getting the role of ice in climate science wrong
The problems begin at the very start of the introduction. Here, Carey and colleagues (henceforth Carey et al.) charges into climate science and mischaracterize the role of ice and glaciers as means to understand and measure climate change:
Glaciers are icons of global climate change, with common representations stripping them of social and cultural contexts to portray ice as simplified climate change yardsticks and thermometers. In geophysicist Henry Pollack’s articulation, “Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts” (Pollack, 2009: 114). This perspective appears consistently in public discourse, from media to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
This is, of course, completely untrue. Glaciers play a crucial role in climate science for a wealth of reasons. They offer a stunning visualization of the effects of warming that does not depend on mathematical models or political biases. If a glacier has been reduced by 40% over a certain period, then that is just a brute fact and no amount of political ideology or climate denialist misinformation can change that.
Water from glaciers also provide freshwater and electricity for many millions of people around the world and has important roles in agriculture. IPCC is aware of these issues and have entire rapports that focus on these very issues. One of the newest such reports is The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report from Working Group II called “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” that can be found here with a shorter summary for policymakers that can be found here.
Indeed, Carey goes on to mention some of these factors later in the introduction, but only as a means to knock down the straw man he has erected in the very first three sentences of the paper. This hows that the Carey paper has an ignorant view of the way glaciers are seen and used in climate science research. Read more of this post