Friday, October 12, 2007

A 'Gore Denial' briefing

Douglas Coker of the Enfield Green Party writes:
...David Adam reports on the court case brought by Stewart Dimmock, a member of the New Party, challenging the government plan to show Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (AIT) in schools on the basis it is 'misleading'. Resolving scientific debates is really not best pursued in a court but that’s where we are on this one. Do note the judge has concluded the film AIT was "broadly accurate"...

I fear we may have to deal with a wave of “Gore denial”. While generally global warming denial is increasingly for the flat-earthers there are still some who don’t want it to be true and conclude therefore that global warming is not happening, or it's not that bad or well … we can’t do much about it ... can we … and so on. So I’ve expanded on David Adam’s 8 (yes 8) bullet points. I’ve added a ninth point.
DC's briefing is attached as a comment to this post.

P.S. 10.05am: Al Gore is a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the IPCC]

P.P.S. 12 noon: Catherine Brahic scrutinises Judge Burton's judgement in New Scientist's environment blog here.

[P.P.P.S. 15 Oct: see Paul Krugman on Gore Derangement Syndrome.]

[P.P.P.P.S (!) 16 Oct: the folks at RealClimate write: "the judge's characterisation of the 9 points is substantially flawed. He appears to have put words in Gore's mouth that would indeed have been wrong had they been said (but they weren't)."]

1 comment:

Douglas Coker said...


The nine points: fact or fallacy?

David Adam writes

· The film claimed that low-lying inhabited Pacific atolls "are being inundated because of anthropogenic global warming" - but there was no evidence of any evacuation occurring

DC said:

The island of Tuvalu has received much attention and it and its people are experiencing a rise in the sea-level. Mark Lynas in his 2004 “High Tide” devoted a chapter to Tuvalu – population 10,500. On the issue of evacuation Lynas interviewed the Secretary to the Government who said “We couldn’t just sit back and do nothing, … so far we have received approval from New Zealand to allow seventy-five people a year to go there. We don’t know, [when this will start] but it will be this year … ” (p85).

The Association of Small Island States website here has information which is relevant and provides lots of links. A Wiki search on Tuvalu confirms the annual quota of 75 evacuees to NZ and took me here where I found this article “ENVIRONMENT: Tiny Tuvalu Fights for Its Literal Survival by Stephen Leahy” in which he says … “More than 4,000 people have already left the islands to live in New Zealand.” However the Wiki piece quotes the former PM of Tuvalu as saying that evacuation of the entire population is not necessary. I get the sense that the former PM reflects a feeling of pride and a determination to hang on, which is understandable. So maybe it is difficult, or indeed impossible, to find examples of small islands which have been evacuated completely. But evacuation - seen as a process as opposed to a single event - is clearly under way.
For reference this is from the New Party website.
“The film claims that rising sea levels has caused the evacuation of certain Pacific islands to New Zealand. The Government are unable to substantiate this and the Court observed that this appears to be a false claim.”

· It spoke of global warming "shutting down the ocean conveyor" - the process by which the gulf stream is carried over the north Atlantic to western Europe. The judge said that, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it was "very unlikely" that the conveyor would shut down in the future, though it might slow down

DC said:

There has been much debate on this over the last couple of years. The Gulf Stream has not always existed and there may be a time in the future when it slows significantly or stops. See this Wiki page for a brief summary. has discussed this at length. Mark Maslin in his “Global Warming” has discussed the GS - see page 107. In sum there is little chance of anything dramatic happening on a short time scale. The scientists are gathering more evidence/measurements and will report in due course. Should the GS slow Europe is likely to be subject to a cooling effect but this has to be set against global warming generally. Predictions of a new ice age either in Europe or world-wide are wide of the mark.

For reference this is from the New Party website. “The film threatens that global warming could stop the Gulf Stream throwing Europe into an ice age: the Claimant’s evidence was that this was a scientific impossibility.”

· Mr Gore had also claimed - by ridiculing the opposite view - 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 although scientists agreed there was a connection, "the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts"

DC said:

This is a complex one. Real Climate (again) has explored this at length.
they conclude “… CO2 has not gone above about 290 ppm any time in the last 650,000 years (at least), until the most recent increase, which is unequivocally due to human activities.”
Coby Beck over at Grist
deals with this objection. “In glacial-interglacial cycles, CO2 concentration lags behind temperature by centuries. Clearly, CO2 does not cause temperatures to rise; temperatures cause CO2 to rise.” He responds in conclusion. “So it is correct that CO2 did not trigger the warmings, but it definitely contributed to them -- and according to climate theory and model experiments, greenhouse gas forcing was the dominant factor in the magnitude of the ultimate change.
This raises a warning for the future: we may well see additional natural CO2 come out of the woodwork as whatever process took place repeatedly over the last 650K years begins to play out again. The likely candidates are out-gassing from warming ocean waters, carbon from warming soils, and methane from melting permafrost.”

DC again. The key point to bear in mind after exploring geological time and wading through all this correlation vs causation stuff and is that we are causing the current warming. Those who refer to the past in an attempt to sow doubt on this are, to put it politely, dissembling.

For reference this is from the . The film suggests that evidence from ice cores proves that rising CO2 causes temperature increases over 650,000 years. The Court found that the film was misleading: over that period the rises in CO2 lagged behind the temperature rises by 800-2000 years.

· Mr Gore said the disappearance of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro was expressly attributable to human-induced climate change. The judge said the consensus was that that could not be established

DC said:

Maybe Gore overstated the case here but here is the conclusion from Eric Steig at Real Climate (again!)
here (warning: long detailed post.) Steig concludes “Based on what is now known, it would be highly premature to conclude that the retreat and imminent disappearance of the Kilimanjaro glaciers has nothing to do with warming of the air, and even more premature to conclude that it has nothing to do with indirect effects of human-induced tropical climate change.”

For reference this is from the New Party website. The film claims that melting snows on Mount Kilimanjaro evidence global warming. The Government’s expert was forced to concede that this is not correct.

· The drying up of Lake Chad was used as an example of global warming. The judge said: "It is apparently considered to be more likely to result from ... population increase, over-grazing and regional climate variability"

DC said:

The judge appears to be right here but unpack the “regional climate variability” and ask: Is there a global warming contribution in there?

For reference this is from the New Party website. The film shows the drying up of Lake Chad and claims that this was caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that this was not the case.

· Mr Gore ascribed Hurricane Katrina to global warming, but there was "insufficient evidence to show that"

DC said:

It is correct to say we should not attribute one-off weather events to global warming. What we need is data gathered over a period of time. This may show trends. My bet is that when all that has been done Katrina and other weather events will be seen as the consequence of global warming. But there is a place for pedantry and we can introduce inaccuracies if we rely on polemic. For examples of the, very necessary, pedantic approach see Chris Mooney’s work or more particularly this on Katrina and if you want to see another pedant challenging Mooney check William M. Connolley’s blog here. Mooney has a book forthcoming “Storm Wars”.

For reference this is from the New Party website. The film uses emotive images of Hurricane Katrina and suggests that this has been caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that it was “not possible” to attribute one-off events to global warming.

· Mr Gore also referred to a study showing that polar bears were being found that had drowned "swimming long distances 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"

DC said:

Much debate about polar bears at William M. Connolley’s blog. Go here for instance. Looks like we might not really know what’s happening to polar bear numbers. It is true that, the less sea-ice - less bears, argument has gained traction.

For reference this is from the New Party website. The film claims that a study showed that polar bears had drowned due to disappearing arctic ice. It turned out that Mr Gore had misread the study: in fact four polar bears drowned and this was because of a particularly violent storm.

· The film said that coral reefs all over the world were bleaching because of global warming and other factors. The judge said separating the impacts of stresses due to climate change from other stresses, such as over-fishing, and pollution, was difficult

DC said:

Maybe there is something in what the judge says and Mark Lynas in his “Six Degrees” notes coral suffers from “ … sewage, over-fishing and agricultural run-off … ” (p44). However he also details bleaching of coral on the Great Barrier Reef in 1988 and 2002. The result “A small number of reefs … suffered almost total wipeout.” (p41). Caspar Henderson at his follows all this closely. His blog addresses the question “Will tropical coral reefs be the first ecosystem to be eliminated by global warming?” I expect Henderson’s forthcoming book will shed much light on this. In the meantime it is clear global warming is some sort of threat to coral.
For reference this is from the New Party website. The film blames global warming for species losses including coral reef bleaching. The Government could not find any evidence to support this claim.

DC said:

A final point on melting ice-caps and rising sea levels. The New Party seek to downplay the rate at which land based ice is melting and the consequent rise in sea-levels. The Greenland ice-cap and Antarctic ice are the issue here. My understanding is that the Greenland ice is melting at a faster rate than previously thought. Tim Lenton - University of East Anglia says “ … observations indicat(e) that the ice sheet is already in net mass loss and the rate of mass loss has accelerated in the last decade. The timescale for the ice sheet to melt is at least 300 years and often given as roughly 1000 years. However, given that it contains 7m of global sea-level rise the corresponding contribution to sea-level can dwarf other contributors.” On the prospects for the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet he says, “A worst case scenario is for collapse to occur within 300 years, with a total of 4–6m of global sea-level rise.” For more from Lenton go
. So the worst outcome is that we could have a 12m approx rise in sea-level within maybe 300 years. Now the time scale may be longer and the sea rise may be less. Our actions will in part determine the future. But it is troubling when a timescale of hundreds of years leads to a complacent shrug of the shoulders. Again we are dealing with a process, already underway, with momentum built in. I’m inclined to look at the near future – surely a half-meter rise in sea-level within decades with more to come - is bad enough.

For reference this is from the New Party website. The film suggests that the Greenland ice covering could melt causing sea levels to rise dangerously. The evidence is that Greenland will not melt for millennia. The film suggests that the Antarctic ice covering is melting, the evidence was that it is in fact increasing. The film suggests that sea levels could rise by 7m causing the displacement of millions of people. In fact the evidence is that sea levels are expected to rise by about 40cm over the next hundred years and that there is no such threat of massive migration.

In conclusion. The New Party take Gore to task. They insist his movie is inaccurate – implying low standards or worse. The government defence seems less than impressive and the judge bases his conclusions on what exactly? But look at the New Party summary of the judge’s decision and compare it with David Adams reporting of same. Exaggeration and inaccuracy appears to be allowable for the New Party. They demand perfection form Gore but are cavalier in their own statements.

Who knows how much attention this court case will get. We need to be alert and properly briefed.

Douglas Coker
Enfield Green Party
11 October 2007