Social Media Claim

Al Gore glaciers post melts under scrutiny

A Facebook post from August 25, 2019 features glacier figures from when former US president Al Gore was born and today.

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from August 25, 2019 by The Greens Little Bag of Stupidity featuring two images of former US vice president Al Gore, the first as a young man and the second older.

The first image is accompanied by text that reads, “The day Al Gore was born, there were 130,000 glaciers on earth.” The second photo carries the caption, “Today, only 130,000 glaciers remain.” There is no source attributed to the figures.

The Greens Little Bag of Stupidity has more than 4200 likes and claims “The Greens Party is the most irresponsible and ignorant political party in Australia. It is time to rid this nation of their STUPIDITY”.

The post has been shared more than 300 times and attracted more than 400 reactions and 20 comments.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service noted in a report that “glaciers worldwide have been shrinking significantly".

The Analysis

Glaciers form when snow and ice accumulates in one location for a prolonged period and forms a thickened ice mass, according to the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center. Due to their mass, glaciers have the ability to move under their own weight. According to the Center, glaciers currently occupy 10 per cent of the world’s land area store 69 per cent of the world's fresh water.

Al Gore was born in 1948 and served in the US Congress from 1977-1993 before becoming vice president from 1993-2001. His post-political career has involved environmental activism and his work on global warming saw him awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Regarding the unsourced claim there were 130,000 glaciers when Mr Gore was born, there is no comprehensive record of the number of glaciers worldwide at that time. A 2018 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Global Glacier Changes states that the first attempt to compile a world glacier inventory was made in the 1970s “based mainly on aerial photographs and maps” and that it continues today “based mainly on satellite images”.

A 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report supported this information by stating that "most of the new (glacier) data sets, along with a globally complete glacier inventory, have been derived from satellite remote sensing". William Colgan, a senior researcher with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, went further and told PolitiFact: “We just don’t have the snapshots from space in 1948.”

The World Glacier Inventory (WGI), established in 1989, does currently contain records of more than 130,000 glaciers however it is an incomplete record. A 2009 paper on completing the WGI says that as of 2008 there were more than 95,000 glaciers that needed to be inventoried.

For the claim there are 130,000 glaciers today, there are a range of estimates. Australia's national science agency CSIRO told AAP FactCheck there were several publications with figures including the Working Group I contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2013, which states on page 335 that “the current best estimate is around 170,000 (glaciers) covering a total area of about 730,000 km2”.

More recently a report by the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Geoscience in February 2019 stated that there were “about 215,000 glaciers outside the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets”, based on a Randolph Glacier Inventory 6.0 technical report.

World Glacier Monitoring Service director Wilfried Haeberli noted in the UNEP report that “glaciers worldwide have been shrinking significantly, with strong glacier retreats in the 1940s, stable or growing conditions around the 1920s and 1970s, and again increasing rates of ice loss since the mid 1980s”.

The Verdict

Based on this evidence, AAP FactCheck was unable to determine if there were 130,000 glaciers when Al Gore was born however the claim there are 130,000 glaciers today is false. AAP FactCheck found several reports with glacier estimates that were higher than the figure in the Facebook post.

  • Mixture - The Facebook post is a mixture of factually inaccurate and factually accurate claims.

First published September 4, 12:43 AEST