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Blowin' in the Wind, Issue #064 An Inconvenient Truth Reviews - February 26, 2009
February 25, 2009
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An Inconvenient Truth Reviews: Consensus Science Isn't Science

After nearly three years of An Inconvenient Truth Reviews we might benefit from a rear-mirror look at the film's impact on society. Al Gore, former vice president and Senator from Tennessee, has made waves a plenty with his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. In this Academy (and Nobel Prize) winning film, Gore presents the case that human industry is changing our climate, and not for the better. Gore's premise is that CO2 and air emissions by power plants, automobiles and agriculture are tilting the fine balance of trace atmospheric gasses, and could trigger everything from an Ice Age in Europe to melting ice caps in Antarctica or Greenland, a drought in the Great Plains the likes of the Dustbowl of the 1930s and more.

Gore makes his points with a lot of data points that have been carefully placed to make a singular point: Our use of fossil fuels is going to wreck the environment.

An Inconvenient Truth Errors

An Inconvenient Truth is long on alarmism, and, unfortunately, short on corroborating data. For example, many of the data sets he uses have been called into question; a few of the charts for global warming (like the infamous Michael Mann 'hockey stick' graph, showing that the 1990s are the hottest decade on record) have been shown to be outright fabrications and the result of cherry picked data.

Gore makes several claims in his movie that don't actually match what's happening. For example, he claims that global warming will increase the frequency and severity of hurricanes, and cites greater incidences of property damage on the Gulf Coast as corroborating evidence; the Atlantic Oscillation creates a natural 25 year cycle in hurricane frequency, and the number of Category 3 and higher storms has remained within expected boundaries for the last 30 years. What HAS changed, and made hurricanes much more dangerous and expensive in terms of property damage, is that the Gulf Coast has seen extensive development since the 1980s.

Debunking An Inconvenient Truth

Another point where Gore's data runs into problems is that comparing the data sets on CO2 concentrations in the air and climate change show that CO2 concentrations are a trailing indicator – often by centuries – compared to when his temperature changes ran. Yes, this means that the CO2 levels rose after the temperature rises, not the other way around as he claims. And it's abundantly clear, from subsequent interviews, that Gore gets evasive about this point and others, claiming that the science is settled, and minor quibbles over the data actually representing his position are the province of cranks and charlatans in the pay of Big Oil companies.

It's this last that's a trifle hard to swallow; if Gore means to have us cut our collective carbon footprint, why does he still use a private jet charter to get around? Why does his Tennessee estate have five figure electrical bills each month? When he's proscribing the use of American industry by demanding the Kyoto treaty be ratified by the Senate, he seems to ignore that Kyoto has loopholes, and even the countries that have signed it aren't meeting their carbon emission goals.

In the end, it's not consensus that makes for science. It's careful data gathering, and testable hypotheses that make for science. Gore's piece, awards notwithstanding, is not science. It's polemicism (clever debate), clear and simple, aimed for an ideological position he holds dear: The Earth is being destroyed by Western Civilization. It's an appealing position that's as old as Malthus, and has a long history of predicting doom, gloom and collapse in decadal timeframes…and so far the safest bet has been against disaster.

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