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Tuesday, March 27th 2007

Al Gore's Ruckus Accomplishes More Than He Ever Did In Office

“Hooray! People Are Paying Attention To Me!”

I’m troubled by the politicalization of science. Everyone should be. I concede that just because the potential for more bias has been thrown into the study of an issue doesn’t mean the results and conclusions aren’t valid; just that they deserve further scrutiny.

And boy is the study of global warming is getting such scrutiny. The entire thing has been a mess over the past several weeks. First, coming closely on early reports of what the IPCC report on the consequences of global warming will say (I’ll give you one guess *rolls eyes*), a lowly Channel 4 UK documentary entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle caused a major uproar:

Production Value Tally: An Inconvenient Truth 1 – The Great Global Warming Swindle 0

It drew major criticism in the blogosphere. George Monbiot reprints an op/ed of his from the Guardian on his personal blog:

The problem with “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, which caused a sensation when it was broadcast on Channel 4 last week, is that to make its case it relies not on future visionaries, but on people whose findings have already been proved wrong. The implications could not be graver. Just as the British government launches its climate change bill and Gordon Brown and David Cameron start jostling to establish their green credentials, thousands of people have been misled into believing that there is no problem to address.

The film’s main contention is that the current increase in global temperatures is caused not by rising greenhouse gases, but by changes in the activity of the Sun. It is built around the discovery in 1991 by the Danish atmospheric physicist Dr Eigil Friis-Christensen that recent temperature variations on earth are in “strikingly good agreement” with the length of the cycle of sunspots – the shorter they are, the higher the temperature(2).

[As Monbiot mentions: even as the deniers got their day the British government was becoming the first to make carbon cuts a legal requirement]

In anycase, criticism of The Great Global Warming Swindle wasn’t limited to merely Britons. DeSmogBlog, while voicing and linking some nice critiques of the program, posits an odd one here by questioning the exact title of one of the “experts” who appeared in the program (as if that is a legitimate criticism of his credentials).

What Monbiot mentioned and which DeSmogBlog linked to, is that at least one of those talking heads appearing in The Great Global Warming Swindle (the only one Monbiot will concede has any legitimate, non-debunked research on the subject to offer) was “duped” into appearing.

Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the film, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was ‘grossly distorted’ and ‘as close to pure propaganda as anything since World War Two’.

He says his comments in the film were taken out of context and that he would not have agreed to take part if he had known it would argue that man-made global warming was not a serious threat. ‘I thought they were trying to educate the public about the complexities of climate change,’ he said. ‘This seems like a deliberate attempt to exploit someone who is on the other side of the issue.’

The filmmaker contends otherwise,

Durkin said: ‘Carl Wunsch was most certainly not “duped” into appearing in the film, as is perfectly clear from our correspondence with him. Nor are his comments taken out of context. His interview, as used in the programme, perfectly accurately represents what he said.’

No sooner had The Great Global Warming Swindle debate died down a little bit than Al Gore testified on global warming before Congress.

Unfortunately for some he gave the global warming deniers this gem,

“The planet has a fever,” Gore said. “If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, `Well, I read a science fiction novel that told me it’s not a problem.’ If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action.”

Respectful Insolence asks if this is the “stupidest analogy about global warming ever?

He did propose we cut CO2 emissions by 90% by 2050 through legislative action.

Gore advised lawmakers to cut carbon dioxide and other warming gases 90 percent by 2050 to avoid a crisis. Doing that, he said, will require a ban on any new coal-burning power plants—a major source of industrial carbon dioxide—that lack state-of-the-art controls to capture the gases.

He said he foresees a revolution in small-scale electricity producers for replacing coal, likening the development to what the Internet has done for the exchange of information.

“There is a sense of hope in this country that this United States Congress will rise to the occasion and present meaningful solutions to this crisis,” Gore said. “Our world faces a true planetary emergency. I know the phrase sounds shrill, and I know it’s a challenge to the moral imagination.”

The testimony drew major criticism and rekindled criticism that An Inconvienent Truth had exaggerated the potential consequences of global warming. Such exaggeration is drawing a larger and larger crowd, even of respected experts on this topic.

Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

My global warming “denial” centers largely around the predictions of the consequences of the earth’s warming. Politicalization is bound to do that. No one is interested in something unless the consequences are dramatic. This alarmism, the type touted by Al Gore, is what we should be concerned with. Fortunately, we’re hearing such advice from those with some credibility. DeSmogBlog linked to this BBC story,

Two leading UK climate researchers say some of their peers are “overplaying” the global warming message and risk confusing the public about the threat.

They say some researchers make claims about possible future impacts that cannot be justified by the science.

The pair believe this damages the credibility of all climate scientists.

Both men hold the mainstream view on climate change – that human activity is the cause.

But they think catastrophism and the “Hollywoodisation” of weather and climate only work to create confusion in the public mind.

They argue for a more sober and reasoned explanation of the uncertainties about possible future changes in the Earth’s climate.

Other global warming news has broken as well in the past couple weeks. Further reports have come out about how the Bush administration edits federal research on climate change.

The Bush administration has again been charged with interfering with federal climate science, in order to underplay the significance of global warming.

In a continuing investigation, the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held its second hearing on the issue on Monday. Documents “appear to portray a systematic White House effort to minimise the significance of climate change”, said a memo released by the committee.

The committee heard from James Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and one of the first scientists to warn of the threat of climate change.

In written testimony, Hansen said: “In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now.”

Hansen’s Contention That Cheney’s Snarl Is The Real Cause Of Global Warming
Was Edited Out Of A Recent Report

Further evidence of politicalization. Unfortunately, what always goes on,

However, the Bush administration is not the only one to have exerted political pressure in this field of research, according to one witness. Meteorologist John Spencer, who said his position is that humanity’s role in climate change is not fully understood, said he felt political pressure much earlier – under the Clinton administration. Spencer, also a proponent of intelligent design, resigned from NASA in 2001 after a 14-year career.

“I’m just pointing out that the political interference goes both ways, but not everybody has felt compelled to complain about it,” Spencer told the committee.

I’ll end with this summary of the recent developments in the debate with a very important question: should global warming be a “moral” issue? Although I don’t really care for where the op/ed takes the discussion from that initial question.