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Convenient Untruths

RealClimate – October 15, 2007

I have suggested that my readers visit RealClimate before as I consider it a fairly well written site. The site has contributions from many people that study the weather for a living (as authors and as commenters) and so they tend to really dig into the scientific details. You can learn a lot from reading the site and the comments are typically quite insightful. They have a direct link to IPCC so they are fairly staunch defenders of that organization and so sometimes they are not quite fair and balanced. They also tend to love their computer models, a devotion that I don’t share.

Two of their authors teamed together to respond to the judgment of Justice Burton of the UK regarding the film “An Inconvenient Truth”. Justice Burton found several of the claims of the movie to be unsound. Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Mann of RealClimate analyze Justice Burton’s points.

You should read the RealClimate article to get a good counter-point to the judge’s comments (link at the bottom). I must admit that I don’t feel this article steps up to the same level of excellence you will usually find on this site. Some of the points felt more like “political spin” than scientific analysis. To defend RealClimate (RC) though, many of the blogs out there are using this judgement to call for the canceling of Mr. Gore’s awards and stopping just short of him being tarred and feathered. Neither extremism is warranted or justified and logical people can hopefully see through the fog.

I will point out the specific points that I think RealClimate dodged the issue and could have stopped the spin.

Ice-sheet driven sea level rise – while Mr. Gore didn’t give a timeframe for the sea to rise he definitely made it seem like it was imminent. He compared the sea level rise to the rebuilding of World Trade Center and preparing for terrorism which are activities that happen today. So while the spin answer is that Gore never said it was immediate, he made people feel like it was immediate.

Pacific island nations needing to evacuate – this was a spin as well. RealClimate even says that Gore was wrong but then they say that he wasn’t wrong but was just ahead of his time. SPIN!

Climate impacts on the ocean conveyor – RC kind of dodges this one. Their answer really doesn’t refute the judge so I am still trying to understand why they just don’t come to a point. Gore implies that Greenland melting has the potential to cause the conveyor to stop again and RC says that their models don’t show this. Why not say Gore was wrong?

CO2 and Temperature connections in the ice core record – this was another spin answer. Mr. Gore correctly chose the words “fit together” and didn’t bother to explain which one came first. Did Gore lie? Probably not. Did he tell the whole truth? To paraphrase the words of his old boss – that depends on your definition of truth. Allowing people to believe an untruth in my mind is the same as lying. People came away from the film thinking that CO2 caused the temperatures to increase. Gore never said that, but he sure led them to the trough and encouraged them to drink.

Kilimanjaro – I am going to give RC a break on this one. There is a fair amount of discussion on the ice on Kilimanjaro and why it is receding. There is no doubt that Gore blames the recession on global warming as he says a few sentences earlier. Mr. Gore definitely didn’t say that other possible scenarios didn’t include greenhouse gases – he just blamed humans for it. On second thought, no I don’t give RC a break – this is a spin answer.

Drying up of Lake Chad – Gore definitely tries to make the connection between Chad and global warming (he doesn’t mention any of the other factors that caused this lake to shrink). RC is trying to put a spin on this as well saying that this was only an example of bad droughts. Give me a break. If the shrinking of Lake Chad was not caused by global warming then it shouldn’t be used. This had so much spin I am getting dizzy.

Hurricane Katrina and global warming – What is a “legitimate illustration”? Showing scary pictures of a hurricane? Mr. Gore obviously used Katrina as a scare tactic even though he never said the storm was specifically caused by global warming. He just made the viewer feel like it was. RC is a very scientific blog with a lot of really smart people – they should not have fallen for this one. Spin.

Impact of sea ice retreat on Polar bears – More spin. RC claims that the argument is not about Polar bears it is just that they are a representative species. Well that isn’t what the movie said. It said that polar bears are drowning TODAY! Here to find that it wasn’t about global warming but rather a storm that drowned the bears.

Impact of ocean warming on coral reefs – RC says it correctly. There are a lot of factors influencing coral reefs. Mr. Gore says that as well but he implies that global warming is the strongest influencer by listing it first and then only saying “…and other factors” like they are inconsequential. More spin.

It really pains me to beat up RealClimate so much. They are usually quite good. The article actually doesn’t make factual mistakes but it also doesn’t call out the truth. I would appreciate their comments much more if they would call out Mr. Gore when he makes a mistake and explain it. Giving the spin answers that they give is really not helpful to the overall discussion.

I leave it to you, the reader, to decide for yourself if my characterization is correct or wrong. You can comment here or you can go to RealClimate and comment there.

You can read the original article here.

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13 Responses to “Convenient Untruths”

  1. The CO2/Temp record in the ice core is largely explained by greenhouse gas theory. There are other factors involved in the temp. rise, nobody said otherwise.

    Suppose a have a car setting on top of a hill. I give it a little push and gravity takes over accelerating it down the hill. Now are you going to make a big deal about how the movement came first before the effects of gravity in an attempt to convince people that gravity does not exists?

  2. Tom – Thank you for your comment but I am not sure I understand your point. There are many places that you can read that in ancient times temperature increased prior to CO2 increasing. Check out on this site.

    One of the current climate THEORIES is that something caused temperatures to increase which caused methane and CO2 to increase in the atmosphere which caused the warming to increase. This is a pretty popular theory and it seems to cover most of the known facts. However, Mr. Gore did not say that. He said that they fit together just like South America at one time fit together with Africa. While Mr. Gore did not lie, he definitely made people think that the CO2 caused the increase in temperature.

    As I have said, AIT was not a scientific film. It was a film that was designed to influence thinking. As such, concerned individuals in the UK absolutely had the right to request that appropriate background and teaching be done in concert with showing the film so that children didn’t believe that AIT was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    I really don’t know why sites such as RealClimate are defending the film in this manner since surely the scientists on that site know that you shouldn’t teach children half-truths. As scientists, they should be helping to point out these errors so that people have the correct data. Were talking about children and they can be easily swayed by authorative figures that speak convincingly.

  3. As I understand it there is considerable evidence linking glabal warming to increasing strength (though not frequency) of hurricanes. It will never be possible to look at a single hurricane say this was or was not to do with global warming, but if you are showing a movie and talking about hurricanes you pretty much have to show one, and he did not make the direct link, so I think this is fair.
    Studies on Coral reefs tend to be limited to small areas. There is no question that in recent years a significant proportion of hard corals have died n the Caribbean (soft corals do not see to be affected). I don’t think ayone knows for sure what the reason is, but many corals live within a very small temperature range, so even if their death is due to disease it seems highly likely that water temperature is stressing a factor. Overfishing may also be a factor, but the damage is widespread enough to be able to say that most of it not due to land run-off.

  4. Sean – Nice contribution. I’ve submitted my two cents worth at RC. For what it’s worth, I think you’ve got it almost exactly right. Except see deltoid for a more nuanced take on the polar bear issue.

  5. AIT and the guidance notes teachers are supposed to follow describe global warming only in radiative terms. The word convection appears in neither. This is a bit like trying to explain heavier than air flight without mentioning laminar flow. But hey, this is climate science.

  6. John – Thank you for your comment. I had seen the report about the bears that Deltoid is referring to as well but what doesn’t get answered (at least in my opinion) was if this was typical. In other words in 1982 when a bad storm rolled through, how many drown bears were there? Without a solid baseline, it is only a hypothesis that needs to be tested. One of my problems with the entire global warming discussion is that too many conclusions are made without proper hypothesis testing.

  7. RE: Tom Adams’ 10/16/2007 post.

    Your argument is like me pushing a stalled car down a hill (initial forcing), the CO2 is like the hill, acting as a forcing factor, increasing the speed of the car, which accelerates downhill, and my
    wife at the bottom of the hill gets in front of the speeding car, and
    stops it with her low mass and weak strength,
    as do the factors which push temperatures downward again. Remember, CO2 drops also lag temperature drops. Do you now
    see why I don’t find the CO2 forcing argument plausible?- A. McIntire

  8. “I just wish that RC, which has such a great reputation as a scientific site, would have clearly said that Gore was 100% correct or 100% wrong on each issue – ”

    That’s a quote from your post at RC. Mind explaining it, cause it makes no sense to me. I think RC posters and commenters have made it very clear what they think about Gore’s claims. Your silly idea that something is 100% right or 100% wrong does you no credit.

  9. re Alan D. McIntire, on October 16th, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    I guess you got the idea the that CO2 drops lag the temperature drops from various denier site misreadings of Petit’s work, for instance:

    Actually the two drops are pretty much simultaneous. Petit did claim that CO2 was not the initial forcer, that is that CO2 forcing lagged orbital forcing. No problem there: again, nobody claims that CO2 is the only forcer.

  10. I actually got the information on CO2 lagging temperature from this paper

    and this graph.

    If there’s a change in solar output due to changes in
    the sun’s output in various frequencies, or orbital
    changes, and it take time T for temperatures to peak,
    and later takes time 2T for them to drop from the peak back to the ice age low again, the
    forcing of the sun, Fsun + Fco2 = 2 times the
    forcing of the sun, -Fsun + Fco2= -1 on the decrease.

    Plugging in those figures, the effect of the sun would
    have 3 times the effect of co2. The longer it takes
    temperatures to drop again relative to the time it takes them to rise, the greater would be the relative effect of CO2.
    The effect of CO2 could never be as great as the effect
    the sun has, else you’d get a permanent runaway
    effect. With that scenario, Fsun + Fco2 =2,
    and -Fsun +Fco2 = 0 so there’d be no subsequent
    cooling back to ice age conditions- A. McIntire

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