Al Gore and the Attack of the Global Warming Cranks

I've postponed writing about Gore/IPCC Nobel largely because I wanted to see how the denialists would respond, and it has been interesting.

The problem is worsened by what Paul Krugman called Gore Derangement Syndrome:

So if science says that we have a big problem that can't be solved with tax cuts or bombs -- well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor's Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of -- who else? -- George Soros.

He makes a few mistakes in the essay. For one he repeats the myth about Hansen rather the the corrective information. Hansen's ethics can were impugned wrongly, and the smears were immediately falsified. Krugman also neglects to mention a lot of people on the left are pissed at Gore for backing down too easily in Florida, and not running more aggressively throughout the 2000 race. But he's mostly correct.

We should start our coverage of the inevitable Gore smears with the most recent myth which Tim Lambert and DeSmogBlog have really stayed on top of. That is, that a UK court found nine errors in Gore's film. In reality, the decision was an overwhelming endorsement of the film. It does have some errors, for instance, Kilimanjaro is a poor example of a real problem. Glaciers are shrinking, yes, but the Kilimanjaro mechanism is thought to be different. No big deal, unless you're a crank that is more interested in celebrating every perceived instance of scientific fallibility rather than communicating the truth. Even 9 real errors would be relatively minor in such a data-rich presentation. But when you actually read the decision, rather than quote-mine it (or repeat the quote-miners credulously), you see the judge was putting "errors" in quote marks, and was saying they may be points of contention, while not judging them to be actually incorrect. From DeSmogBlog:

Justice Burton says, "I have no doubt that Dr. Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that: 'Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate."

We also find, not surprisingly, that this court case wasn't just a spontaneous incident, but a yet another orchestrated attack from denialist organization linked to the George C. Marshall institute and the "Great Global Warming Swindle".

Continued...

Moving on we see the cranks at the National Post declaring global warming "junk science", and falsely claiming the 9 "errors" were major, contrary to the Judge's opinoin. We see sour grapes from the WSJ editorial page.

The IDers, for whom no crankery is off-limits, snidely remark that the money can pay Gore's power bills (that tired tu quoque) even though he's said he's donating his entire award to the cause. Super-crank DaveScot has even discovered Bill Gray. How exciting for him.

Lomborg weighs in, and proves why no one should take him seriously as a "skeptic":

Gore told the world in his Academy Award-winning movie (recently labelled "one-sided" and containing "scientific errors" by a British judge) to expect 20-foot sea-level rises over this century. But his Nobel co-winners, the IPCC, conclude that sea levels will rise between only a half-foot and two feet over this century, with their best expectation being about one foot - similar to what the world experienced over the past 150 years.

Likewise, Gore agonises over the accelerated melting of ice in Greenland, but overlooks the IPCC's conclusion that, if sustained, the current rate of melting would add just three inches to the sea level rise by the end of the century. Gore also takes no notice of research showing that Greenland's temperatures were higher in 1941 than they are today.

He repeats the "9 errors" myth, then conflates Gore's message about potential catastrophic loss of the ice sheets with the IPCC sea-level estimates which the report specifically explains does not take into account such scenarios of rapidly disintegrating sheets. This is an imaginary conflict between Gore and the IPCC. Finally, he cherry-picks the temperature for a single year - a sure sign of climate crankery. Averages people, averages. A five year moving average elevated over a couple decades is a lot more scary than a one-year spike, and all the evidence is that the rate of melting of Greenland's sheet is not being sustained but accelerating.

He then jumps into his latest idea of how global warming is good:

Gore also frets over a predicted rise in heat-related deaths, without mentioning that rising temperatures will reduce the number of cold spells, which are a much bigger killer than heat. The best study shows that by 2050, heat will claim 400,000 more lives, but 1.8 million fewer will die because of cold. Indeed, global warming will actually save lives.

This is debatable. The heat and cold-induced deaths are context-specific. Hot weather in hot areas has a blunted curve, because people expect it and are prepared. Hot weather in cold climates has a distinctly sharp curve, and climage change is just that, change. Areas getting weather they're not used to, that's what causes the deaths - like the recent 2003 heat wave in Europe that was thought to have killed 2003 heat wave in Europe that was thought to have killed 30,000 people. I don't think one can claim that we won't see winter anymore with global warming, cold will still kill people in large numbers (anything less than 60 degrees ups the death rates), but I suspect instead of a net prevention of lives lost it's more likely excess heat in areas that are not prepared for it will just add onto pre-existing weather-related deaths. (see my coverage on the topic here) I somehow doubt Lomborg actually went through and did the rather extensive analysis one would need to do to figure out the net change, the these guys did though and I'll take a peer-reviewed article in Nature over Lomborg's back-of-the-envelop calculation any day. It also happens to ignore the effects heat has on things like famine, disease, drought, etc., and is the simplistic nonsense we've come to expect from Lomborg. Like this:

Likewise, global warming will probably slightly increase malaria, but CO2 reductions will be far less effective at fighting this disease than mosquito nets and medication, which can cheaply save 850,000 lives every year. By contrast, the expensive Kyoto protocol will prevent just 1,400 deaths from malaria each year.

While we worry about the far-off effects of climate change, we do nothing to deal with issues facing the planet today. This year, malnutrition will kill almost 4 million people. Three million lives will be lost to HIV/Aids. Two and a half million people will die because of indoor and outdoor air pollution. A lack of micronutrients and clean drinking water will claim two million lives each.

He'd be correct if this were anything like a realistic analysis. It's not like we're weighing Kyoto on one hand and mosquito nets on the other. This is just a false dilemma, it is entirely possible to both address climate change and combat poverty, disease, and famine. We might not also be able to continue funding an idiotic war and do all these things, but that's a different problem.TCS daily jumps in and repeats Lomborg's false dilemma, snore.

The dedicated cranks have been popping out articles left and right. Nothing of any real substance. Errors in IPCC climate science interrupts their astounding silence to write about how Gore yelled at a reporter. Oooooh. If he'd done more of that running for president maybe he would have actually won. He should have started with Declan McCullough for spreading that idiotic internet myth.

The Christians have weighed in at One News Now reporting that Al Gore's Nobel is a "joke". They then go on to attack fellow Christian and do-gooder Jimmy Carter, in a striking act of ignoring the beam in their own eye.

What might depress me most of all, however, is to see one of our own Sciencebloggers jump on the Gore-bashing bandwagon. In two posts Matthew Nisbet jumps into the fray saying Al Gore doesn't help because people view him unfavorably. I guess it's Nisbet's usual response to an effective smear campaign. Throw in the towel, concede the latest scalp to the opposition, and instead say we should talk to the evangelicals. Heckuva job there Nisbet.

What this fails to recognize is that there is a highly effective set of organizations that exist to smear anyone who pursues an environmental agenda. There is no perfect messenger, and Gore, if anything, has be more effective than one could ever hope considering the highly effective campaign against global warming science. This analysis misses the point. Any spokesman, any "frame", even talking to evangelicals, will lead to an attack and a smear. The answer isn't to dump anyone with an unfavorable approval rating, but to attack the tactics of the denialists who will use any means to denigrate the science they disagree with. And talking to evangelicals? Really? Despite their 3% approval rating? Talk about a group rapidly losing influence and relevance. Has he seen the Barna study?

Anyway, lot's of crankery and bad analysis all around. It's a pretty impressive battery. I, for one, don't think that means we should throw up our hands in quit. It's time to keep fighting against these illegitimate tactics and shoddy arguments against encouraging investment in technology to wean us from oil, encourage conservation, and dare I say it, even a little sacrifice for the sake of prudence. I'm by no means an advocate of the Malthusian nonsense that passes for environmentalism from the scaremongers. But we could encourage people to get off their asses and walk a block or two, and maybe not drive the biggest, stupidest and most dangerous vehicles they can find every damn place.

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maybe not drive the biggest, stupidest and most dangerous vehicles they can find every damn place

Aw... I was gonna get that new Hummer - the one with the Spare Hummer attachment for emergencies.

I particularly like Lomborg's idea that addressing global warming means we can't also afford to tackle air pollution. Marvellous!

pough, you should consider a hybrid. I love my Humscalade.

The attacks against Gore are so frivolous. He would be attacked no matter what: even if his house was 1/100th its size, the climate cranks would just compare it to those that were smaller still. The goal is to make people not only stop trying to fix environmental problems, but to make them stop even talking about it as well.

On that note, the "Manbearpig" meme/frame gibberish has proven annoyingly successful as a tool for people who know absolutely nothing about this topic at all but who wish to comment in discussions of it anyway.

The Chronicle of Higher Education links to the Uncommon Descent/Bill Gray post as a rejoinder to Gore. This is in a wrap-up of "academic blog" responses to the Nobel.

The NY Times has an interesting article this morning on how the Republican presidential candidates are contending with global warming issues.

Mark,

Thanks for explaining about the UK court decision. I live in the UK and admit to being a little perplexed when I heard the decision. Judges in the UK are not political and it would be unusual to have one make ruling as reported by even the BBC. Judges tend to realise they are not scientists and not qualified to decide who is right when there is not a scientific consensus but they are qualified to to judge that there is a not a consensus (Note I am talking about the detauls of GW, not the fact it is happening).

And as for your comments about Matt Nisbett, you are spot on . I really cannot work out where he is coming from. He clearly does not belong with the cranks and denualists but he also seems to reject any attempts to push the science. I also get the impression he thinks that when awarding the Nobel Peace Prize the main issue should be American public opinion.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 17 Oct 2007 #permalink

The Humscalade comment nearly caused the untimely demise of my laptop. Luckily the glass of ice water wasn't that full...

Oh, that's not the worst of it. In browsing the net to see the conservative/evangelical reaction to Gore winning the Nobel Prize, I stumbled across the following:

Christian Discussions

Apparently, Gore is the anti-Christ who is working to usher in the "One World Order" by cooperating with the U.N. whose real goal is "the destruction of the United States".

Who knew? And here I thought he was just a former politician who had taken up a cause....

Guys,
As I have elaborated over at my blog in the comments section, while rooting for Gore and commending him for his achievement, it's also important to bring data and research to bear on understanding the exact nature of his impact and what other communication avenues can be pursued for engaging with segments of the public who continue to dismiss the climate problem. Moreover, this type of analysis--which includes identifying the exact nature of frames that conservatives are using to redefine Gore and his message--is the first step in countering them.

I'm afraid I have to agree with Lomberg: Gore's film was horribly once sided. All those facts and science; yet pretty much zero (0) fantasy.

Where are the unicorns, godsdamnit!

Mr. Gore... Where?!

> Where are the unicorns, godsdamnit!

On the blue pixel?

;-)

By Martin Vermeer (not verified) on 20 Oct 2007 #permalink