Global Warming Debate Isn't Over Until It's Over

First he won the Oscar -- then the Nobel Peace Prize. He's being called a "prophet."

Impressive, considering that one of former Vice President Al Gore's chief contributions has been to call the debate over global warming "over" and to marginalize anyone who disagrees. Although he favors major government intervention to stop global warming, he says, "the climate crisis is not a political issue. It is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."

Give me a break.

If you must declare a debate over, then maybe it's not. And if you have to gussy up your agenda as "our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level," then it deserves some skeptical examination.

Everyone has heard that Earth's atmosphere is heating up, it's our fault, and it's a crisis. No wonder 86 percent of Americans think global warming is a serious problem and 70 percent want the government to do something now.

But is it a crisis? The globe is warming, but will it be catastrophic? Probably not.

In "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore says that "sea levels worldwide would go up 20 feet."

But the group that shared last week's Nobel Prize, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC) says in a hundred years, the oceans might rise 7 to 24 inches.

Gore also talks about drowning polar bears. He doesn't mention that the World Conservation Union and the U.S. Geological Survey say that today most populations of polar bears are stable or increasing.

And while man's greenhouse gasses may increase warming, it's not certain that man caused it. The most impressive demonstration in Gore's movie is the big graph of carbon-dioxide levels, which suggests that carbon levels control temperature. But the movie doesn't tell you that the carbon increases came after temperatures rose, hundreds of years later.

There's much more. A British court ruled that U.K. teachers could show Gore's documentary to students only if they also explain nine errors in the movie.

I wanted to ask Gore about that and other things, but he wouldn't talk to me. Why should he? He says "the debate is over."

"It's absurd for people to say that sort of thing," says Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute.

John Christy and Roy Spencer, who won NASA's Medal for Exceptional Achievement for figuring out how to get temperature data from satellites, agree that Earth has warmed. "The thing that we dispute is, is it because of mankind?" Spencer says.

Some scientists say the warming may be caused by changes in the sun, or ocean currents, or changes in cloud cover, or other things we don't understand. If it's all man's fault, why did the Arctic go through a warm period early last century? Why did Greenland's temperatures rise 50 percent faster in the 1920s than they are rising now?

The media rarely ask such questions.

The media also treat the IPCC as impartial scientists, but Reiter and Christy, who were members of the IPCC, say it is not what the public thinks it is. Many of the people involved in writing its report "are not scientists at all," Reiter says. "They were essentially activists." Members of groups like Greenpeace were involved. Skeptics were often ignored.

Christy says, "We were not asked to look at a particular statement and sign our names to it."

Adds Reiter, "I resigned."

But the IPCC still listed him as part of the so-called consensus of scientists. He says he had to threaten to sue to get his name removed from the report, although the IPCC denies that.

Skeptics like Reiter, Christy, Spencer and Tim Ball, who studies the history of climate change and heads the Natural Resources Stewardship Project, are often smeared as "deniers," lumped in with Holocaust deniers and accused of being "on the take" from energy businesses." Gore impugns skeptical scientists by saying "the illusion of a debate has been purchased."

But the scientists I interviewed don't get money from business.

Some get threatened. Ball received an e-mail that said: "You will not live long enough to see global warming!"

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