Friday, October 12, 2007

Judge Rules on Al Gore's Truthiness

Speculation is strong that, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announces its choice for the Nobel Peace Prize today, the winner's name will be Al Gore.

In the category of "wish-I'd-said-that," Damian Thompson writes in today's Telegraph:

The former US Vice-President has already taken over from Michael Moore as the most sanctimonious lardbutt Yank on the planet. Can you imagine what he'll be like if the Norwegian Nobel committee gives him the prize?
(That comes from an opinion article headlined, "What has Al Gore done for world peace?" Good question.)

The Nobel announcement, if it happens -- and there's no guarantee that it will; being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is almost as easy as being nominated to be president of a middle school student council -- will occur under the cloud of a negative legal ruling against Gore and his film, An Inconvenient Truth, from a British High Court judge.

According to news reports, the movie contains errors and inaccuracies that require it to be shown in British schools only with a disclaimer or warning that indicates it is a political film.

Judge Michael Burton isolated nine significant examples in his ruling, which were summarized in yesterday's Telegraph:
# Mr Gore claims that a sea-level rise of up to 20 feet would be caused by melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland "in the near future". The judge said: "This is distinctly alarmist and part of Mr Gore's "wake-up call". He agreed that if Greenland melted it would release this amount of water - "but only after, and over, millennia"."The Armageddon scenario he predicts, insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of seven metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus."

# The film claims that low-lying inhabited Pacific atolls "are being inundated because of anthropogenic global warming" but the judge ruled there was no evidence of any evacuation having yet happened.

# The documentary speaks of global warming "shutting down the Ocean Conveyor" - the process by which the Gulf Stream is carried over the North Atlantic to western Europe. Citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the judge said that it was "very unlikely" that the Ocean Conveyor, also known as the Meridional Overturning Circulation, would shut down in the future, though it might slow down.

# Mr Gore claims that two graphs, one plotting a rise in C02 and the other the rise in temperature over a period of 650,000 years, showed "an exact fit". The judge said that, although there was general scientific agreement that there was a connection, "the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts".

# Mr Gore says the disappearance of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro was directly attributable to global warming, but the judge ruled that it scientists have not established that the recession of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro is primarily attributable to human-induced climate change.

# The film contends that the drying up of Lake Chad is a prime example of a catastrophic result of global warming but the judge said there was insufficient evidence, and that "it is apparently considered to be far more likely to result from other factors, such as population increase and over-grazing, and regional climate variability."

# Mr Gore blames Hurricane Katrina and the consequent devastation in New Orleans on global warming, but the judge ruled there was "insufficient evidence to show that".

# Mr Gore cites a scientific study that shows, for the first time, that polar bears were being found after drowning from "swimming long distances - up to 60 miles - to find the ice" The judge said: "The only scientific study that either side before me can find is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm."That was not to say there might not in future be drowning-related deaths of bears if the trend of regression of pack ice continued - "but it plainly does not support Mr Gore's description".

# Mr Gore said that coral reefs all over the world were being bleached because of global warming and other factors. Again citing the IPCC, the judge agreed that, if temperatures were to rise by 1-3 degrees centigrade, there would be increased coral bleaching and mortality, unless the coral could adapt. However, he ruled that separating the impacts of stresses due to climate change from other stresses, such as over-fishing, and pollution was difficult.
Gore's tendency toward bluster and braggadocio is not new. Reviewing Gore's then-recently published book, Earth in the Balance, Jonathan H. Adler (then an environmental policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington) wrote in the summer (north)/winter (south) 1992 issue of terra nova (a quarterly journal I then edited):
Billed as Gore's "journey in search of a true understanding of the global ecological crisis and how it can be resolved," Earth in the Balance is clearly the author's attempt to be all things to all people -- a committed green to the environmental establishment, a thoughtful and measured politician to the policy community, and an insightful and forward-looking leader to the average reader, it is this very presentation that makes the book so formidable. Founded on questionable premises and leading to woefully misguided political solutions, this book was carefully crafted to bring its author, and his green agenda, to the forefront of American politics.

The central premise of Earth in the Balance, as with so many other volumes of this sort, is that the world is facing an impending catastrophe of tremendous magnitude. Gore and other environmentalists learned this tactic from Cold War worriers who were concerned with the much more realistic threat of nuclear armageddon. During the Cold War, the nation was -- for all intents and purposes -- mobilized around a central organizing proposition: the fight against communism. Gore seeks to establish a parallel in the fight to protect the environment, but his arguments have little basis in scientific reality.
Prefiguring much of the criticism of An Inconvenient Truth, Adler continues:
Rather than using scientific evidence to establish the need for action, Gore adopts scare tactics so as to provide the impetus for decisive action, even in the face of uncertainty. "The burden of proof ought to be with those who claim that the most likely outcome is something that will be good for us." Innovation and development must be halted, until they can be proven to be without risk. However, he does not seem willing to apply the same standard to those programs he endorses as the appropriate political responses. The enormous economic costs and social dislocations to be imposed are of less concern to Gore than dubious claims generated by admittedly inaccurate computer models.
(Adler's full review, "Off Balance," can be found on pages 64-68 of Volume 1, Number 4 of terra nova. Kudos to the reader who can track it down in a public or university library.)

Of course, if somebody more deserving wins the Nobel Prize for Peace today, this whole discussion will have lost its pertinence.

1 comment:

Charles said...

Wouldn't the world be a more peaceful place if we DID run out of energy, and global warming DID largely destroy all the evil humans in the world? We'd be too busy trying to survive to get involved in silly wars....


I just don't get the "peace" link. I guess they couldn't really give him a Nobel Prize for Science though, so what was left?