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A Skeptics Guide to Gore’s Inconvenient Truth

John on March 19, 2007 at 11:47 pm

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has distributed a 140 page response to Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. CEI obviously has their own interests in discrediting Gore, but that’s as it should be. Our system of justice is built on the assumption that the adveserial process is the best one for getting at the truth. It’s the same in the public square where, in my view, Gore has gone unchallenged for too long.

What follows is most of the executive summary from the response. Use the link above to view the whole thing:

In AIT, the only facts and studies considered are those convenient to Gore’s scare-them-green agenda. And in many instances, Gore distorts the evidence he cites.

The present paper, a running commentary on AIT, finds that most of Gore’s claims regarding climate science and climate policy are either one sided, misleading, exaggerated, speculative, or wrong. An extensive summary of AIT’s distortions is provided in Appendix A. Below is a list of 25 egregious examples.

One-sided statements

  • AIT never acknowledges the indispensable role of fossil fuels in alleviating hunger and poverty, extending human life spans, and democratizing consumer goods, literacy, leisure, and personal mobility.
  • It never acknowledges the environmental, health, and economic benefits of climatic warmth and the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content.
  • It neglects to mention that aggregate mortality and mortality rates due to extreme weather events declined dramatically during the 20th century.
  • It neglects to mention the circumstances that make it reasonable rather than blameworthy for America to be the biggest CO2 emitter: the world’s largest economy, abundant fossil energy resources, markets integrated across continental distances, and the world’s most mobile population.
  • The book impugns the motives of so-called global warming skeptics but never acknowledges the special-interest motivations of those whose research grants, direct mail income, industrial policy privileges, carbon trading commissions, regulatory power, prosecutorial plunder, or political careers depend on keeping the public in a state of fear about global warming.
  • AIT never addresses the obvious criticism that the Kyoto Protocol is all economic pain for no environmental gain and that regulations stringent enough to measurably cool the planet would be a “cure” worse than the alleged disease.

Misleading statements

  • AIT implies that, throughout the past 650,000 years, changes in CO2 levels preceded and largely caused changes in global temperature, whereas the causality mostly runs the other way: CO2 changes followed global temperature changes by hundreds to thousands of years.
  • It ignores the societal factors that typically overwhelm climatic factors in determining people’s risk of damage or death from hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wildfires, and disease.
  • It erroneously implies that a study, which found that none of 928 science articles (actually abstracts) denied a CO2-global warming link, shows that Gore’s apocalyptic view of global warming is the “consensus” view among scientists.
  • It reports that 48 Nobel Prize-winning scientists accused Bush of distorting science, without mentioning that the scientists acted as members of a 527 political group set up to promote the Kerry for President Campaign.

Exaggerated statements

  • AIT hypes the importance and exaggerates the certainty of the alleged link between global warming and the frequency and severity of tropical storms.
  • It claims polar bears “have been drowning in significant numbers,” based on a single report that four polar bears drowned in one month of one year, following an abrupt storm.
  • It portrays the collapse in 2002 of the Larson-B ice shelf—a formation the “size of Rhode Island”—as harbinger of doom. For perspective, the Larson-B was 220th the size of Texas and 1/246th the size of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).
  • AIT presents a graph suggesting that China’s new fuel economy standards are almost 30% more stringent than the current U.S. standards. In fact, the Chinese standards are only about 5% more stringent.

Speculative statements

  • AIT blames global warming for the record-breaking 37-inch downpour in Mumbai, India, in July 2005, even there has been no trend inMumbai rainfall for the month of July in 45 years.
  • It blames global warming for recent floods in China’s Sichuan and Shandong provinces, even though more damaging floods struck those areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • It blames global warming for the disappearance of Lake Chad, a disaster more likely stemming from a combination of natural regional climate variability and societal factors such as population increase and overgrazing.
  • AIT warns that a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels to 560 ppm will so acidify seawater that all optimal areas for coral reef construction will disappear by 2050—implausible because coral calcification rates have increased as ocean temperatures and CO2 levels have risen, and today’s main reef builders evolved and thrived during the Mesozoic Period, when atmospheric CO2 levels hovered above 1,000 ppm for 150 million years and exceeded 2,000 ppm for several million years.
  • It warns of “significant and alarming structural changes” in the submarine base of the WAIS, but does not tell us what those changes are or why they are “significant and alarming.” The WAIS has been retreating since the early Holocene. At the rate of retreat observed in the 1990s, the WAIS should disappear in about 7,000 years.
  • It warns that “moulins”—vertical water tunnels formed from surface melt water—could cause half the Greenland Ice Sheet to break off and “slide” into the sea, even though the scientific study to which Gore alludes found that moulins increase glacial flow by only a few meters a year.

Wrong statements

  • AIT claims glaciologist Lonnie Thompson’s reconstruction of climate history proves the Medieval Warm Period was “tiny” compared to the warming observed in recent decades. It doesn’t. Four of Thompson’s six ice cores indicate the Medieval Warm Period was as warm as or warmer than any recent decade.
  • It claims the rate of global warming is accelerating, when it has been remarkably constant for the past 30 years—roughly 0.17°C/decade.
  • It attributes Europe’s killer heat wave of 2003 to global warming; it was actually due to an atmospheric circulation anomaly.
  • It claims that 2004 set an all-time record for the number of tornadoes in the United States. Tornado frequency has not increased; rather, the detection of smaller tornadoes has increased. If we consider the tornadoes that have been detectable fo many decades (F-3 or greater), there is actually a downward trend since 1950.
  • It blames global warming for a “mass extinction crisis” that is not, in fact, occurring.

In light of these and other distortions, AIT is ill-suited to serve as a guide to climate science and climate policy for the American people.

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