We came across this message being shared on a Singapore-based Telegram group:
The message shares a meme which shows two photos of the Statue of Liberty, one purportedly taken in 1898 and another taken in 2017. A line above the meme states rather sarcastically that “this is what catastrophic sea-level rise actually looks like”.
Following the meme is a line of text by the author stating that the images are proof that the sea levels remain “quite the same amidst the period of fear mongering and misinformation [churned] out by all the msm (mainstream media)”.
Is climate change just a product of fear mongering by the media?
We are no strangers to conspiracy theories, and it’s thus no surprise that the conversation around climate change has also been marred by individuals claiming that it either does not exist and is a hoax, or even that world governments will introduce “climate-change lockdowns” and “herald a new age of social control and political tyranny in the name of environmental protection”.
Are the photos of the Statue of Liberty, taken purportedly 119 years apart, then indisputable evidence that the effects of climate change is just an exaggeration perpetuated by mainstream media?
When we did a Google search of the keywords “statue of liberty sea level”, we were led to a factcheck by Reuters.
In the factcheck, we found that there was a variation to the meme which used a black and white photo of the Statue of Liberty taken in 1917 by photographer W. L. Drummond.
However, Reuters was unable to find a source for the coloured photograph.
When we did a reverse image search in TinEye, we found an image very similar to the one purportedly taken in 2017. Here’s a comparison of the image from the meme (left) and the image TinEye found (right):
It is important to note that the image was actually first found in September 2014, indicating that the ‘2017’ year stamp might be inaccurate.
However, we were unable to find any possible matches for the black and white image that was purportedly taken in 1898.
“Two side-by-side photos did not in themselves prove anything”
Going back to the factcheck by Reuters, we read that experts they spoke to stated that “two side-by-side photos did not in themselves prove anything, and the social media messages ignore the evidence”.
According to tide gauge measurements by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) at The Battery, New York, near the Statue of Liberty, there was an approximate 2.9mm rise in sea level every year from 1855 to today:
Robert Kopp, Professor at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Director of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub at Rutgers University told Reuters via email that this rise in sea level is “small compared to the 5-foot range between low and high tide, so you would need carefully timed photos for there to be a visual difference”.
He added that while “no one is calling the sea level rise experienced so far catastrophic”, global sea level rise has “accelerated since about 1970 and will continue to accelerate until global temperatures are stabilised”.
Dr Philip Orton, Associate Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology and member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change echoed this sentiment, saying that “The typical range of water levels in New York harbor through the year is about 2 meters, so one can compare a picture from high tide in 1920 to one at low tide in 2020 and it can be very misleading”.
Added Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University: “If the point is that changes have been small, that’s true relative to the height of the Statue but meaningless because much of the City lies close to sea level.”
It is also important to note that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had said in September 2021 that the number of disasters, such as floods and heatwaves, driven by climate change have increased fivefold over the past 50 years and have killed more than 2 million people and costing $3.64 trillion in total losses.
Therefore, it is misleading and false to say that the photos of the Statue of Liberty prove that climate change and sea level rise is an exaggeration perpetuated by mainstream media.