The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Which AREN'T Melting - and Inconvenient Questions about Global Warming

Article excerpt


JUST three degrees south of the Equator lies one of the world's natural wonders. The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro, atop Africa's highest peak, are fabled among climbers and photographers.

The icy cap of this extinct, tropical volcano forms a surreal contrast to the sweltering plains below. The notion of the melting snows of Kilimanjaro - meaning 'shining mountain' in Swahili - has also become a shibboleth of the environmental movement's belief on global warming.

If you want to see climate change in action, say the green brigade, look no further than the lofty mountain in Tanzania. Yes, we can argue about ocean currents and hurricanes, heatwaves and floods, but here, on this near-20,000ft summit, is the evidence for all to see.

Environmentalists say that the snows are shrinking and the glaciers melting.

In just a few years, they will be gone - visible proof the planet is getting warmer.

Except, inconveniently perhaps, it seems this may not be the case at all.

At a scientific meeting in Vienna this week, a team of Austrian glaciologists has concluded that the Kilimanjaro ice is secure for decades to come. Indeed, in recent years, they claim glaciers have actually been growing.

And even the melting of the snow (which has been happening since the 1800s) seems to have been the result of changing rainfall patterns, not warming.

'About five years ago, Kilimanjaro was being used as an emblem for global warming. We know now that this was far too simplistic a view,' says Thomas Moelg, from the University of Innsbruck.

The confusing story of Kilimanjaro illustrates one of the greatest problems for the green brigade. A problem that will boost the argument of the sceptics who deny that anything untoward is happening.

So what is the truth, and does the fact that the snows of Kilimanjaro are not melting mean that we can dismiss global warming as a myth and go back to driving our 4x4s?

It must be stated, clearly and first of all, that global warming is real.

Humans, by burning fossil fuels, have liberated several billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the Earth's atmosphere. CO2 acts as a thermal blanket on the Earth, and so our planet warms up.

The threat is that dramatic warming will have many unwelcome consequences.

Warmer seas and melting ice threatens flooding. The deserts spread and forests may disappear.

In a series of reports this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN's global warming watchdog, has outlined all the grim scenarios, from mass famine in Africa to the spread of malaria northwards.

And it must also be stated that there are definite signs that climate change is having an effect.

THE MOST convincing evidence has been the remarkable speed at which the great Greenland ice cap is melting.

Coupled with the small, but definite, temperature rises seen in the past quarter-century, this constitutes powerful evidence.

The problem for the greens is that none of this is enough. For global warming to remain at the top of the agenda, the public need to be not merely concerned - they have to be terrified.

And this is where the whole environmental movement stands in grave danger of shooting itself in the foot.

For there is no doubt that while the science that describes the causes of global warming is sound, some of the claims of its effects have been sexed-up.

Unconsciously, perhaps, the green movement knows that if we are to take the warming seriously, it needs to be shouted from the rooftops that we are witnessing its effects right now.

Hence the fascination in Mount Kilimanjaro - a glacier disappearing before our very eyes. And hence the totally spurious linking of isolated weather events with a slow process of climate change.

In Al Gore's otherwise quite convincing movie An Inconvenient Truth, a clear link is drawn between Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which devastated New Orleans, and global warming. …