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National Geographic Sep 2013 – what kind of house would want it in?

John M. Fahey, Jr.
President and CEO
National Geographic Society
1145 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-4688

London, Sep 10, 2013

Dear Mr Fahey

As an expiring subscriber let me convey the profound dismay in regards to the inane publication you have the opportunity to direct. With a little thank you though, for some aspects of the September 2013 “rising seas” issue are unlikely what you expected them to be.

After decades of uninterrupted reading I gave up a few months ago, having seen the Magazine slide (fall) from its geography mission to open, fear-based “environmental” advocacy (with a lowercase “e”). It seemed and still seems there is no low you would avoid to reach in order to describe the planet or mostly cute species as either ultimately doomed or irremediably ruined: by evil humans, obviously, including one suspects all of your readers.

I stopped reading the magazine with my son, as there was simply too much to skip over what looked liked unwarranted alarmism. Who in their right mind would want to teach their children how intrinsically ‘evil’ they have been found to be (on a scientific basis!!) just because they are humans.

I was actually ready to send you back the September 2013 “rising sea” issue because, as they say, enough is sometimes enough.

An inundated New York City with a half-submerged Statue of Liberty did look more than enough. Is that something likely to happen? When? Did I really want my son to consider the possibility that our very civilization were going to cause such a major disaster by burning fossil fuels (by living, that is)? And didn’t such a picture look exactly what British leftist think-tank IPPR described in 2006 as “Climate (insert a four-letter word starting with P and ending in ORN here)”, the gratuitous depiction of apocalyptic climate-change related visions of the future? A depiction that titillates the worst parts of the readers, increases circulation and ultimately convinces people there is nothing one could possibly do to care for the environment.

In summary: had the National Geographic gone either completely insane or dishonest?

Then I looked at the front-cover a little better. And it actually said “NO ICE”. It’s almost invisible, but it’s there under the large-font cover title. So the Statue of Liberty would be half-submerged if there were no ice at all on the planet? Interesting. But not alarming at all, in fact: because suddenly it was not a matter of dishonesty; rather, as I said, of inanity.

Say, how long before there is no ice in the world? The inside pages tell us. It’s 5,000 years. Let’s just imagine we can make such a prediction for sure. 5,000 years, that is the seventy-first century. How’s that supposed to be today’s problem? Who would be silly enough to even remotely consider what the issues of the year 7000 will be?

Imagine people of 5,000 years ago, thinking about the internet and globalization? Me neither. Most of them had seen no agriculture yet, there was the third Pharaoh ever, and the first version of Troy was getting founded (source: Wikipedia). Them for us and us for them, we might as well be talking about alien worlds.

Perhaps rising seas will affect the 60th century? Or the 50th? Or even the 30th? Once again, imagine people of the year 1013AD, what could have they remotely done to understand/help us of 2013AD? Stop burning wood? Bury horse waste at sea? Repent for their sins? Obviously, it would all have been pointless. They had no idea about polluted rivers, nuclear waste storage, abandoned plastics. Come to think, even the people of 1973 would have only a rough idea about the issues of 2013, apart from a troublesome Middle East.

So the underlying message of your submerged Statue of Liberty is, in fact, a mix of “don’t care too much about it” and “someone else’s problem”. Well, what can I say, thanks! That’s a good message for the children, at last: “stop fearing the future”. Should be told to them as matter of course, no? Even if, I surmise, it’s not the message you wanted to convey, as it went from insane, to inane.

With that in mind I can now sit and enjoy in peace one of my last National Geographic issues. Look, there is even a map of the world as it would be were there no ice. And it’s an amazingly small area of some continents’ coasts that would disappear (that is, become bountiful, shallow seas). Poor Africa for once will be spared. Oh the boredom of it. Get those flying cars of the 55th century to move a little inland, will you.

Do we need to endanger the well-being of seven billion humans for that? Do we need to spread psychological terror among children with scary stories presented as established facts?

Those people of the 71st century better get used to their world, whatever it is. Just like the people of 3000BC. Is there any other way? Let’s do likewise. It’s called Geography. Not that it appears much anymore in “National Geographic”, alas!

Perhaps one day you will stop wasting time in planetary smut…do let me know if that happens, I’ll resubscribe at once!

(signed, with address)

Italiano Lettere National Geographic Scienza

Inesattezza sul National Geographic Magazine

La National Geographic Society ha appena riconosciuto via e-mail un error che ho trovato su uno degli articoli pubblicati sul loro famoso Magazine

L'articolo è "Last Days of the Ice Hunters", di Gretel Ehrlich, pubblicato nell'edizione originale nel mese di gennaio del 2006

La Ehrlich scrive: "[…] Mentre la luce sbiadisce intorno alle 23, ci dirigiamo verso la costa [… ] A circa mezzanotte il Sole è una palla rossa all'orizzonte. Mentre l'oscurita' avanza, la temperatura scende a -40°C. La notte sarà breve – in alcune ore il Sole sorgera' di nuovo[… ] "

In realta', dal contesto dell'articolo sappiamo che quanto descritto sopra è accaduto il 19 o 20 Marzo di ("[…] 21 Marzo, equinozio primaverile e nostro quarto giorno sul mare ghiacciato [… ]"): così vicino all'equinozio, quando come ben sappiamo ci sono 12 ore di luce e 12 ore di buio sull'intero globo (Groenlandia inclusa).

Ciò mette in dubbio il Sole "palla rossa all'orizzonte a mezzanotte" riportato nell'articolo


Per verificare la situazione, ho utilizzato il sito del Dipartimento di Applicazioni Astronomiche dell'Osservatorio Navale USA, che può essere utilizzato in linea a partire da

Ho usato come posizione per Qaanaaq (la città da dove scriveva la Ehrlich) Longitudine Ovest 69° 00min, Latitudine Nord 77° 40min

Ho supposto inoltre che Qaanaaq, come il resto della Groenlandia, usa GMT-2 come fuso orario

Questi i risultati:

Sabato 19 Marzo 2005         GMT – 2h
Inizio crepuscolo civile 06:56
Sorgere del Sole 08:36
Transito solare al meridiano 14:44
Tramonto 20:55
Fine crepuscolo civile 22:38

Domenica 20 Marzo 2005         GMT – 2h
Inizio crepuscolo civile 06:39
Sorgere del Sole 08:21
Transito solare al meridiano 14:35
Tramonto 20:54
Fine crepuscolo civile 22:38

Venerdi' 19 Marzo 2004         GMT – 2h
Inizio crepuscolo civile 06:46
Sorgere del Sole 08:26
Transito solare al meridiano 14:36
Tramonto 20:49
Fine crepuscolo civile 22:32

Sabato 20 Marzo 2004         GMT – 2h
Inizio crepuscolo civile 06:37
Sorgere del Sole 08:19
Transito solare al meridiano 14:35
Tramonto 20:56
Inizio crepuscolo civile 22:40

Da quanto riportato si capisce che, contrariamente a quanto segnalato dalla Ehrlich:

  1. La luce si è sbiadita di conseguenza ai livelli di sotto-penombra fra 20 e 30 minuti prima delle 23
  2. Quindi, circa a mezzanotte il Sole non era visibile, invece di essere "una palla rossa all'orizzonte"
  3. Le notti non erano brevi (duravano fra 11h20m e 11h40m)

E' da notare che circostanze come segnalate dalla Ehrlich possono essere sperimentate in Qaanaaq intorno al 12 aprile

Lunedi' 12 Aprile 2004         GMT – 2h
Sorgere del Sole 05:03
Transito solare al meridiano 14:29
Tramonto 00:04 il giorno dopo

E non e' un problema di fuso orario. Con il Sole che transita alle 14:30, l'orologio a Qaanaaq e' gia' 2 ore in avanti rispetto al tempo solare locale

Ricapitolando, Ms.Ehrlich ha segnalato in modo errato di aver visto un tramonto molto più tardi di quando è accaduto

Ciò sarebbe un incidente secondario in tutte le riviste a parte National Geographic. Ma visto che si presume che quella pubblicazione riporti effettivamente cio' che accade nel mondo cosi' come accade, uno puo' solo sperare che i loro processi editoriali siano migliorati per evitare errori elementari come quello qui sopra

English Letters National Geographic Science Skepticism

Inaccurate reporting on the National Geographic Magazine

Just got acknowledgement from the National Geographic Society of some inaccuracy I have found on one of the articles published on their famous Magazine

The article is Gretel Ehrlich's "Last Days of the Ice Hunters", published in January 2006

Ms. Ehrlich writes: "[…] By the time the light fades about 11 p.m., we head toward shore […] About midnight the fading sun is a red orb hanging at the horizon. As darkness bleeds into it, the temperature plummets to minus 40°F. Night will be brief — in a few hours the sun will swing east again.[…]"

In fact, from the context of the article we know the above must have happened on the 19th or 20th of March ("[…] March 21, the vernal equinox and our fourth day on the sea ice […]"). So near the spring equinox, when as we all know there are 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness on the entire globe (Greenland included).

This puts into doubt the midnight fading sun reported above


To check the actual situation, I used the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department's tool, that can be used online starting from

I entered the location for Qaanaaq (the town where Ms. Ehrlich was reporting from) as Longitude W 69deg 00min, Latitude N 77deg 40m

I assumed also that Qaanaaq, like the rest of Greenland, uses GMT-2 as its time zone

These are the results

Saturday 19 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:56
Sunrise                   08:36
Sun transit               14:44
Sunset                    20:55
End civil twilight        22:38

Sunday 20 March 2005         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:39
Sunrise                   08:21
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:54
End civil twilight        22:38

Friday 19 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:46
Sunrise                   08:26
Sun transit               14:36
Sunset                    20:49
End civil twilight        22:32

Saturday 20 March 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Begin civil twilight      06:37
Sunrise                   08:19
Sun transit               14:35
Sunset                    20:56
End civil twilight        22:40


From the above it can be argued that, contrarily to what reported by Ms.Ehrlich:

  1. The light faded to below-twilight levels between 20 and 30 minutes before 11pm
  2. Accordingly, about midnight the sun was not visible, instead than being "a red horb hanging at the horizon"
  3. Nights were not brief (they were lasting between 11h20m and 11h40m)

Notably, conditions as reported by Ms. Ehrlich can be experienced in Qaanaaq around April 12

Monday 12 April 2004         Universal Time – 2h
Sunrise                   05:03
Sun transit               14:29
Sunset                    00:04 on following day

And it is not a problem of time zones. With the Sun transiting at 2h30pm, Qaanaaq's clock appears to be already 2 hours ahead of the local solar time


In summary, Ms.Ehrlich has incorrectly reported seeing a sunset much later than when it happened

This would be a minor accident in any magazine other than the National Geographic. However, as that publication is presumed to be a factual reporting of what happens in the world exactly as it happens, one can only hope that their editorial processes will be improved to catch elementary mistakes like the one above