Arctic sea ice tipping point nonsense at COP27 refuted by last seven years of data

David Attenborough and his cronies at Netflix devoted an entire documentary last year (‘Breaking Boundaries‘) on the nonsense notion that the world is facing a dire ‘tipping point’ where calamity is inevitable, with the Arctic being ‘Ground Zero’ for these effects. However, their sea ice model has already been falsified by the last seven years of data.

From a CBC News report on this issue (17 November 2022):

Among the 16 critical tipping points is the potential collapse of Arctic sea ice, which would have a devastating impact on plants, animals and the entire Arctic ecosystem, said Johan Rockstrom, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. “The ground zero for the most rapid changes on planet Earth is in the Arctic. The Arctic is where things are happening three times faster, on average, sometimes four times faster than the average temperature rise,” Rockstrom said.

Since the last Ice Age, the world has existed in a way that has been ideal for human, plant and animal life on this planet, he said, but what we’re seeing now is the potential for the dominoes to start falling. “The purpose of the planetary boundaries is to prevent humanity from crossing tipping points. Because when you cross a tipping point, things get irreversible and irreversibility means that we drift off toward a less and less livable planet.”[my bold]

It seems that Johan Rockstrom is not aware that “since the last Ice Age“, the Arctic was much warmer than it is today: there is a mountain of scientific publications documenting this fact (see references in my peer-reviewed paper, Crockford 2020).

This means if conditions in the early Holocene were “ideal for human, plant and animal life on this planet,” then actual early Holocene temperature proxies from the Arctic (rather than CO2 levels) and evidence of reduced sea ice at that time tell us that Rockstrom’s rhetoric is about politics, not science.

This CBC article and others refer to the highly-biased 2022 State of the Cryosphere Report, which is equally full of the kind of apocalyptical language you would not find in a truly scientific document.

Note the front cover subtext: “We cannot negotiate with the melting point of ice“. Negotiations are what politicians do.

There is more…much more of the same inside:

We already know that their ‘worst case’ predictions (see table below from the 2022 report, which includes the so-called ‘business as usual’ RCP8.5 climate scenario) are implausible because they include assumptions used by the IPCC in 2021 that can’t possibly be true (Hausfather and Peters 2020;Ritchie and Dowlatabadi 2017):

But even the ‘very low emissions’ scenarios are highly suspect (see their graph below): they are based on data up to 2015, which leaves out seven years when sea ice has not been declining as predicted.

Actually, September sea ice extent has been statistically flat-lined since 2007, which you can see in their diagram as a levelling-out of the black ‘current data’ line where the grey background (the facts) meet the pink background (their fantasy).

That means the model predictions are already wrong after just seven years! The model predicted a decline in September sea ice extent after 2015 to less than 4mkm2 by 2020. Conditions are nowhere near that, as the NSIDC graph below to September 2022 shows:

This year, polar bears in Svalbard are still thriving despite the greatest amount of sea ice loss. In Western Hudson Bay (the subpopulation used to predict the future of all others), polar bears left the shore for the sea ice this fall as early as they did in the 1980s–a phenomenon that has happened five out of the last seven years (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022) since 2015, including some of the earliest freeze-up dates recorded since 1979 (cf. Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017).

In other words, freeze-up of sea ice on Hudson Bay is not getting progressively later and later as the models predict. The ice chart below for the 2nd week of November (14th) shows a ‘normal’ (like the 1980s) ice formation pattern: a late freeze-up would be the first or second week in December:

Rockstrom and his promoters, including those at the COP27 meeting and David Attenborough, are deliberately misusing model results as though they are scientific data. The notion that some kind of climate ‘tipping points’ exists is a theoretical fantasy that’s not supported by an real-world data. It’s a narrative built on many assumptions that may not be true at all.

Rockstrom and his supporters are also promoting the ridiculous notion that disaster is inevitable if we experience even one ‘ice-free’ summer–defined as about 1mkm2 of sea ice remaining and therefore far from zero ice (and which we have not come anywhere near since 1979).

However, there is no evidence that an ice-free summer spells catastrophe (and in fact, they present none): they assume it is true because it supports their narrative. But it’s not science, it’s scare-mongering support for a political agenda.

And as far as polar bears and Arctic seals are concerned, less multiyear ice is not a catastrophe, it’s good news.


Castro de la Guardia, L., Myers, P.G., Derocher, A.E., Lunn, N.J., Terwisscha van Scheltinga, A.D. 2017. Sea ice cycle in western Hudson Bay, Canada, from a polar bear perspective. Marine Ecology Progress Series 564: 225–233.

Crockford, S. J. 2022. Polar bear fossil and archaeological records from the Pleistocene and Holocene in relation to sea ice extent and open water polynyas. Open Quaternary 8(7): 1-26.

Hausfather, Z. and Peters, G.P. 2020. Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading [“Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy”]. Nature 577: 618-620.

Ritchie, J. and Dowlatabadi, H. 2017. Why do climate change scenarios return to coal? Energy 140(1):1276-1291.

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