Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dissent Is Patriotic (Isn't It?)

I find it interesting that so many people who take pride in dissent, especially when President Bush or the war in Iraq is concerned, are among those who try to stifle discussion of global warming by asserting that the science is settled. When I blogged a while back about this, I was greeted by the predictable dismay that I wasn't toeing the party line, with incredulity that I could possibly consider that global warming might not be the problem that Al Gore tells me it is, and with disbelief that I have accepted that the science is settled.

The whole tenor of the global warming activists is evident in the very title of Gore's slide-show cum documentary An Inconvienent Truth, with emphasis on the word "truth." Things are rarely, if ever, true, especially when science and politics are concerned, and even more so when they meet. Clearly the title is an effort to squash any dissent, for how can one argue against the truth (not the idiotic anti-smoking campaign that runs those awful TV commercials where people pretend to die in front of tobacco companies' offices is also called the "truth")? Gore clearly believes that the science surrounding global warming is settled; all that's left to argue about is how dire the consequences will be and how much the world should spend to forestall those consequences.

And yet, Gore's movie is riddled with inaccuracies -- large ones -- that belie the title. Many of the examples he uses to illustrate the devastating impact of global warming are simply false. An op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times lays out some of these inaccuracies:
Gore claims that Himalayan glaciers are shrinking and global warming is to blame. Yet the September 2006 issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate reported, "Glaciers are growing in the Himalayan Mountains, confounding global warming alarmists who recently claimed the glaciers were shrinking and that global warming was to blame."

Gore claims the snowcap atop Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro is shrinking and that global warming is to blame. Yet according to the November 23, 2003, issue of Nature magazine, "Although it's tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain's foothills is the more likely culprit. Without the forests' humidity, previously moisture-laden winds blew dry. No longer replenished with water, the ice is evaporating in the strong equatorial sunshine."

Gore claims global warming is causing more tornadoes. Yet the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in February that there has been no scientific link established between global warming and tornadoes.

Gore claims global warming is causing more frequent and severe hurricanes. However, hurricane expert Chris Landsea published a study on May 1 documenting that hurricane activity is no higher now than in decades past. Hurricane expert William Gray reported just a few days earlier, on April 27, that the number of major hurricanes making landfall on the U.S. Atlantic coast has declined in the past 40 years. Hurricane scientists reported in the April 18 Geophysical Research Letters that global warming enhances wind shear, which will prevent a significant increase in future hurricane activity.

Gore claims global warming is causing an expansion of African deserts. However, the Sept. 16, 2002, issue of New Scientist reports, "Africa's deserts are in 'spectacular' retreat . . . making farming viable again in what were some of the most arid parts of Africa."

Gore argues Greenland is in rapid meltdown, and that this threatens to raise sea levels by 20 feet. But according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Glaciology, "the Greenland ice sheet is thinning at the margins and growing inland, with a small overall mass gain." In late 2006, researchers at the Danish Meteorological Institute reported that the past two decades were the coldest for Greenland since the 1910s.

Gore claims the Antarctic ice sheet is melting because of global warming. Yet the Jan. 14, 2002, issue of Nature magazine reported Antarctica as a whole has been dramatically cooling for decades. More recently, scientists reported in the September 2006 issue of the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences, that satellite measurements of the Antarctic ice sheet showed significant growth between 1992 and 2003. And the U.N. Climate Change panel reported in February 2007 that Antarctica is unlikely to lose any ice mass during the remainder of the century.

None of these inaccuracies mean that global warming isn't happening. But they do call in to question to what degree Gore is providing us with the "truth." They highlight the difficulties inherent in ever knowing the "truth."

Again, I do not know whether global warming is occurring, whether humans are to blame, and what the results of that warming may be. But I certainly don't trust Al Gore to tell me the "truth" about it and to provide solutions as to what should be done.

1 comment:

Kari said...

A year ago (fresh out of my senior year at UPS), I never would have thought I'd be blog-battling my former professor of Global Security, but here goes:

I'm in Washington, DC working on global warming and energy policy at the Center for American Progress/Action Fund. I spend a large portion of my time working on the blog ClimateProgress.org with Dr. Joseph Romm (you can Wikipedia him). Naturally, I feel compelled to reply to your global warming posts, bit by bit.

Today I'm going to take up the issue of the debate being over and the science settled. You explained your reluctance to accept the debate's end in a previous post and since then, I've been mulling over how to respond. I think Dr. Michael MacCracken has a good answer in his rebuttal to an op-ed by Richard Lindzen (an infamous global warming commentator whose shakey Newsweek piece triggered considerable debate. See the perspectives of the Real Climate scientists here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/04/lindzen-in-newsweek/)

MacCracken's thorough unraveling of Lindzen's op-ed can be found here: http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/maccracken_on_lindzen/

In it, he explains:
"The phrase “the debate over global warming is now over” does not mean that there is no more to learn scientifically, as Lindzen’s comment suggests, but that theoretical analyses combined with observational evidence have together produced a broad scientific consensus that human activities have become the primary factor influencing the global climate. This does not mean that there is no more science to be done, but instead that, in the risk-based framework that society uses in its decision-making, the uncertainties in the science are now small enough to justify public action that will prevent more serious changes in the future."

I'm currently helping research a piece on global warming and hurricanes, and we're examining the latest scientific findings. We're also looking at the issue in terms of demographics and how society responds, particularly insurance companies because they're the world's largest risk managers. The debate is far from over in the hurricane arena. But more importantly, our findings (which I can link to once they're complete) highlight exactly what MacCracken argues - that there is enough scientific and observational evidence to use our best judgment and implement precautionary policies. Our learning is never over, learning never should be, but we have come to the edge of excuses in terms of policy.

As for messaging, well, that's an entirely separate conversation and very much still in the developmental stages for the global warming movement. I could comment on that, among many other points both you and I have raised, but I'll save those for later bits.

Your student respectfully,