Peder D4

Discussion of politics and other odious things

Thursday, June 14, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth - 2006

(In the intrest of fair disclousure, let me say that I didn't vote for Gore in 2000 and don't forsee doing so in the future. I'll gladly stipulate that warming occured over the 20th century in an amount consistent with the latest IPCC report, about one degree farenheit. The degree to which mankind is responsible is still unknown, perhaps unknowable. I'd support a complete switch over to green energy if it was practical. My personal opinion is that a switch to nuclear would be best for the country.)
I viewed watching this movie as more of a duty than a pleasure. It's been wildly popular and has sunk into the popular culture. It's been widely lauded and even received an Oscar. Various assertions are taken as talking points in enviromental discussions. I expected that I'd disagree with parts of it but be swayed by others. Frankly, I was shocked at how misleading and dishonest it was. (Even the FP Gal, much more to the left than I am, felt that way.)
First the compliments. Al Gore certainly knows how to give a good demonstration. He's at his best when he embraces his wonky reputation and plays off of it. His slides are simple and easy to understand. The only real negative from a movie standpoint were the many cuts to Gore in other parts of his life. These came off as a campaign commercial. You can use elements of any pol's childhood to illustrate whatever you want if you have a forgiving director and good writing.
The biggest problem was the science. Gore is consistently misleading as he moves from issue to issue. Problems of hidden context, poor analogy and obvious half truths were everywhere. Some examples?
  • There is a section where he talks about 0 peer reviewed studies that disagree with global warming. Here's a selection of 13 that disagree with elements of his presentation. There is reason to doubt.
  • He includes a quote from some internal memo from a skeptic, “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of creating a controversy in the public’s mind.” I'm guessing that you can find some damning quote from any group of people if you look hard enough. Here's one from Stephen Schneider, a climate scientist talking to the Discover magazine. "On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people, we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that, we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. … Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest." Somehow that didn't make the film.
  • He shows the effect of a sudden catastrophic addition of freshwater to the North Atlantic and how that shut down the gulf stream. He infers that a slow melt off of Greenland could do the same thing. Scientists don't agree.
  • He suggests that Hurricane Katrina was a city killer because of warming in the Caribbean. There's an open question as to what effect climate change will have on hurricanes but the idea that a few degrees less temp were at fault is ridiculous. There was political failure at the local and national levels. There was catastrophic failure from an engineering standpoint that caused the levees to fail. Katrina was a Cat 3 storm when it hit New Orleans, big and (obviously) dangerous but not unprecedented by any means.
And so on and so forth. Early in the movie, Gore admonishes us,
“What gets us into trouble is not what you don’t know, but what you think you know that just ain’t so.”
This is a call to keep an open and skeptical mind. It's too bad he doesn't follow his own advice and it's bad science that tries to keep others from doing so.

(Crossposted at Futurepoltergeist)


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