Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.
. Mark Twain
Actually, Mark Twain was wrong. Witch doctors, shamans, and mystery priests have always done something about the weather. Of course, so have pious Christians on their knees in prayer. But now, for the first time in history, Al Gore is part of a movement that wants to do something about the weather by international politicking. This movie is his story.
Summary of An Inconvenient Truth
The movie is largely a video of a slide show he gives around the world, but it is interspersed with documentary-like footage of his world travels through airports and in limos, along with nostalgic glimpses of his idyllic agrarian boyhood, and even a few swipes at his political opponents both current and past that border on the vicious. Apart from those occasional lapses, however, most of it is in that “aw-shucks ahm jus’ a good ole boy too” kind of tone that all successful politicians at the national level since 1976 (excepting only HW) seem to have adopted as the persona best suited for political success.
The part of the slide show to which we should pay the most attention is the graphs and numbers, although the human-interest bits, especially the cataclysmic ones, may be part of a hidden agenda that I will discuss anon. Here and there I will put the approximate minute-count from the beginning in parentheses.
The numbers include graphs of CO2 levels that one of his college professors began recording in 1958. These number zigzag up and down in little undulations corresponding to the summer/winter seasons (16); but the trend of the wiggly line is decidedly upwards.
Then, after explaining how scientists claim that both temperatures and CO2 levels can be inferred from ice drills from Antarctica (including the intuitively-absurd claim that “you can see the year Congress passed the ‘Clean Air Act'”) the time scale moves out to 1000 years (20). He shows the “Medieval Warming Period” but claims it was trivial “compared to what’s going on now.”
Then, zooming out even farther, he shows an alleged 650,000 year chart of CO2 and temperature (21). Many ups and downs can be observed, corresponding to “seven ice ages.” At the right-hand end, the curves zoom up into the stratosphere.
Another graph (30) shows ocean temperatures starting in 1940, overlaid on computer models that “long ago” predicted this range of temperature increases.
Hurricane Katrina and (music fades in) the botched governmental response to it are somehow, and ominously, linked to global warming (32) — “the consequences were horrendous; there are no words to describe it.” The political heat is turned up higher as even the N-word is implied of opponents to the global warming agenda, via a 1936 quote (34) from Churchill (I mean of course “Nazi”). A pastiche of images (35) from Gore’s 2000 defeat (or pseudo-defeat) are stitched in.
All kinds of catastrophes are rehearsed throughout the world “like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations [sic]” (37). Studies project that the Arctic ice cap will be gone within 70 years or less (44). The arrival of birds and caterpillars in the Netherlands is already out of sync (51). The rising thaw line means more mosquitoes, and thus more diseases are in the offing (53). The oceans are rising and this has already caused refugees from Pacific Islands to seek refuge in New Zealand (57). Think about the impact of 100 million or more refugees when they are displaced (1:00).
Charts of the culprits are shown (1’8″): the USA contributes 30%, Europe 28%, Asia 14%. The per capita in tons and total per nation in billion of tons is given in this chart:
But though the US is the worst culprit, we have a record of successes that should make us optimistic of our ability to change: the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and going to the moon (1’25”). Indeed, we even have a notch in our belt environmentally — the ozone hole has been fixed due to actions we took (1’26”).
Oh yes, the ozone hole. When they stopped talking about that, I forgot all about it. Never even knew it was fixed.
Let me preface my critique of Gore by saying, I don’t want to be understood to favor the profligate use of resources. On the contrary, a case for the stingy use of resources can indeed by made, but from a perspective quite contrary to that presented by Gore. I will make suggestions along this line in due time in the future; now is the place to address Al Gore.
In evaluating Gore’s arguments, it is convenient to divide the subject between the science, the ethics, and the politics. This will segue naturally into some general observations including predictions of future politics.
1. The Science
In the first “bouncy” curve, it appears as if the CO2 has tripled or quadrupled since 1958. However, this is because the axes are not labeled at all. By chance, the very week I watched this there was an NPR interview on the subject which claimed only about 40%. Gore’s graph is therefore quite deceptive. The problem is where the “zero” reference axis is. It is just like the stock market. If you drew the base line at 12,000, then a move from 12,500 to 13,000 would look like doubling, but it is actually only 4%; likewise, here. Gore has “plausible deniability” in that he simply doesn’t show the reference line at all. But that is not good science.
The second curve, covering the “Medieval warming” (or is it “Medieval cooling”? both phenomena seem to be on the graph), you can finally observe that the CO2 scale goes from 280 to 360; the temperature chart corresponding to it goes from 0 degrees to a little over a half degree. The wiggles span a 1000 year period, with most of the upsurge indicated in the last 100 years.
The vertical scale appears to be labeled incorrectly, showing negatives in the upward direction. Also, there are simultaneous reds and blues (hots and colds) covering the same years in the last-few-years section, but nowhere else. This is very confusing. In any case, we are talking no more than 0.5 degrees C of change from the main axis.
In the third curve set, now covering “650,000 years,” the chart bounces between about 180 and 280 ppm of CO2. At the right extremity (“now”) the dramatic upsurge of the CO2 curve (red) is not matched by a surge in the temperature (blue)—the latter seems to be on a new plateau. So are they really correlated or not? Also, going from 180 to 280 is only a rise of 56%, which is order-of-magnitude consistent with what I heard on NPR.
The biggest punch line (complete with Gore going up in a cherry-picker) is a 50 year extrapolation. But extrapolations are always dangerous if not absurd. Mark Twain already observed that extrapolations based on the build-up of the Mississippi delta observed in his day would imply that the entire Gulf of Mexico would soon be filled up. Nature doesn’t work that way: that is, nature’s Creator has not made it so.
Watch for the same sleight-of-hand tricks that I have outlined above, in the other charts.
Apart from the inconsistent and deceptively-presented data about weather, another serious concern is the part that allocates responsibility. Look at the chart above. In tonnage, the US contributes nearly double Europe, yet the US is shown as 30% which is only 7% more than Europe’s alleged 28%. So either there is more going on than tonnage of CO2 — please explain what, then — or the numbers are erroneous somewhere.
Let’s dig even deeper. According to internet sources, populations of the regions Gore displays are, for Europe, 724,722,000; for America, 301,226,012; for Russia, 145,166,731; for Japan, 125,000,000; and for China, 1,313,973,713. But multiplying the per capita figures that Gore gives by the respective populations gives
|US||5.6 x 301M = 1.7 B tons||cf. 5.5 shown|
|Russia||2.7 x 145M = 0.4||cf. 1.4 shown|
|Europe||2.4 x 724M = 1.7||cf. 3.2 shown|
|Japan||2.4 x 125M = 0.3||cf. 1.1 shown|
|China||0.53 x 1.313B = 0.7||cf. 2.9 shown|
Based on taking the per capita as solid, these numbers show that the USA and Europe contribute equally, which is more consistent with the culpability percentages, but Japan + China is then 1.0, which even neglecting the rest of Asia, should imply 18% if the US is 30%, not the 14% indicated.
Even apart from the correlation to the culpability percentages, why do none of the totals match up at all?! Some are off by a factor of four, others by only a factor of two.
Gore’s numbers are obviously bogus somewhere. Did no one check?
One thing that would be helpful would be to show where these numbers come from to begin with. Presumably, the total tonnage of petroleum and coal that is produced and consumed is known — is it a simple proportionality? Is there no efficiency factor? If not, then what good do auto emissions controls do, at least for this problem?
Gore ups the ante very clearly: to oppose him is to be immoral. The implication of the N-word was mentioned above. He drives it home: “ultimately this is really not a political issue so much as a moral issue; if we allow that to happen it is deeply unethical.” (24).
An interesting ethical deliverance by Gore would be this: suppose (contrary to current belief) the warming is completely due to nature, and the CO2 is actually slowing it down. Would he then advocate emitting even more CO2 to maintain the status quo, or would we still need to shut down to allow nature to take its course? In other words, what is the basic environmental ethic that is supposed to frame the discussion? Is nature=good and manmade=bad the basic set of ethical equations? If so, why?
This is especially so given the evolutionary viewpoint that Gore seems to endorse, not to mention that he twice references atheist Carl Sagan, who was “his friend” (8). But on an atheistic/evolutionary world-view, what possible basis does he have for his ethical pitch?
Moreover, on that viewpoint, “man-made” is itself merely “part of nature.” There is no ontological and thus no ethical difference, since man and his behavior is then just “what it is,” just like that of apes and lions.
A serious concern is the mingling of political vindictiveness into the play. This means the great god Science is being marshaled into service of Gore’s Party (and which Party is which hardly matters to me here). At 1’14” there is the cloak and dagger of a phone call: “what’d you find out? working for who? Chief of Staff? That’s the White House Environment Office. American Petroleum Institute — it’s fair to say that’s the oil and gas lobby– is that fair? Totally fair.” A little later he shows a late-80s clip of himself screaming at a scientist that allowed his testimony to be changed by politicos that “that is like the Soviet Union does it.”
But Gore’s use of manipulative images that are political makes him subject to the same accusation.
When “science” becomes charged in this manner, with its “objective results” a matter to be screamed and shouted, and not subjected to principial falsification, then it is no longer science. This is not to mention that environmental science is not really a hard science to begin with– and computer simulation programs are hardly at the level of science at all.
The scary thing about Gore and Science is that Science is now being treated as a secret priesthood whose deliverances are to be accepted on authority, not argument. And if you demur, you are unethical if not a closet “N.”
Millions of Americans are not part of the Guild yet have the kind of training that would permit them to follow the detailed arguments if presented. For example: let’s have a publicly-accessible database of the temperature data that statisticians from all walks of life can analyze with regressions. This is a process that has a great deal of “noise” on it. What is the probability that the physical trend is actually in the opposite direction? (It is a non-zero probability.) Let’s see the data.
Let’s hear how the numbers, especially the fault-finding numbers are derived.
For starters, let’s fix the obvious numerical mistakes that wreck the credibility of his charts.
I want to suggest that the purpose of this show is actually quite different than it purports to be. Here are two of the reasons I think so:
1. He drops a bombshell but let’s it pass, namely this: 30% of the emissions that go into the atmosphere come from forest fires (1’04”).
Think about it. This means that stopping the forest fires (many of which are intentional, and others burn due to politics that prevents harvesting the forests, with the result that a natural process holds them in check with fires) would alone just about undo the entirety of the excess CO2 that allegedly is being emitted. Unlike what he actually proposes, this seems like a doable agenda. Yet, he passes by that inference without even a mention.
2. Let it be that America is responsible for 30% (though for several reasons I have given above, this has not been established by the play). If America reduced its part to zero, there would still be 70%– and that chunk is the part that is growing the most rapidly. That other part only needs to grow by half to cancel our elimination. So without getting the Third World under control, anything that America did would be purely symbolic anyway. But the Third World is not going to be brought under control, at least by mere force of conviction.
In other words, something like a world-wide integrated control structure, like a gigantic police state, would be necessary to bring about the changes that Gore advocates.
However, that does not seem feasible right now, though I have no doubt our rulers would want it if it were feasible.
The fact that (1) he ignores an easily-addressed and massive contributor to CO2 emissions (forest fires), (2) uses deceptive labeling, inconsistent numbers, and absurd extrapolations; (3) that removing America’s contribution would not by itself change the man-made situation, along with (4) the use of apocalyptic imagery (including “Revelations” [sic]) clearly meant to excite emotions, all lead me to suggest that the real agenda actually lies elsewhere.
I suggest, the actual purpose of this movie is to plant ideas having latent and infectious power into the American political psyche. Mosquitoes, dread plagues and diseases, and the displacement of tens of millions of refugees are to set the stage for the upcoming years of politics.
Do you oppose reverting back to the pre-Industrial Revolution? Then you’re going to have to pay for disease control all around the world, and don’t object if in addition tens of millions of new immigrants need to be given refuge in our land. We should also pay the Third World to compensate them for producing less CO2. TO OPPOSE THESE MEASURES WILL MARK YOU AS IMMORAL IF NOT A NAZI.
This, I predict, is the real agenda. The tricky charts and bogus numbers are like a magician’s twirl of the baton to distract from how he pulls a rabbit out of the hat. Keep your eyes on other issues that our magician-politicians will be bringing forth as side shows to the global warming rhetoric.