Policy Documents

July 2006: The Inconvenient Truth About Al Gore

Joseph Bast –
July 1, 2006

Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say “we are all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.” It is a fitting retort to Al Gore’s new movie about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

A friend invited me to attend a screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” when it first arrived in Chicago a few weeks ago. The event was sponsored by an environmental advocacy group and the theater was filled with Gore fans. They seemed to love it. I found it disturbing.

The Real Al Gore?

The film is one part Al Gore biopic and one part pseudo-documentary about global warming. The parts about Gore portray him to be deeply thoughtful, committed to family and the pursuit of the truth--even unpopular truths--and still upset about losing the 2000 presidential election.

During the biographical parts we hear Gore talking softly about important moments in his life, lessons he learned, and values he holds dear. We hear about his son nearly dying in an accident, his sister dying of lung cancer, and his lost election. We watch as he walks through airports, onto stages before cheering crowds, and around the family farm, or sits in shadows, apparently deep in thought.

For those who already admire him, these parts of the movie are likely to build a deeper bond of trust and confidence in Gore as a man of good character. Even those who don’t like him may find him less wooden and doctrinaire than he appeared during the presidential campaign.

Credible on Climate?

Few people would want to watch a movie about Al Gore’s life, but substantially more are interested in global warming, the coming global calamity that could cause, or perhaps already is causing, droughts and floods, scorching hot summers and fierce winter storms, rising sea levels, hurricanes, species extinctions, deformed frogs, and a long list of other terrible things. At least, that’s what Gore thinks, and what newspapers serve up on an almost-daily basis.

I have difficulty taking Gore seriously on environmental issues ever since it was reported that Ted Kaczynski, the murderous “Unabomber,” kept a heavily marked-up copy of Gore’s book, Earth in the Balance, in his tar-paper shack and liberally borrowed from it when writing his anti-humanity treatise. There’s even a Web site (http://www.crm114.com/algore/quiz.html) that offers a quiz to see if you can tell Gore’s words from Kaczynski’s. I bet you can’t.

Was that a cheap shot? Maybe, but no more so than Gore’s repeated assertion that only oil company stooges dissent from his alarmist views on climate change. At one point he compares scientists who disagree with him with apologists for the tobacco industry.

So what are we to make of (in alphabetical order) Dr. Tim Ball at the University of Winnipeg, Dr. Robert Balling at Arizona State University, Dr. Bob Carter at James Cook University in Australia, Dr. Randall Cerveny at Arizona State University, Dr. John Christy at the University of Alabama, Dr. Robert Davis at the University of Virginia, Dr. Christopher Essex at the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Oliver Frauenfeld at the University of Colorado, Dr. Wibjörn Karlèn at Stockholm University, and Dr. Christopher Landsea at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)?

And what about Dr. David Legates at the University of Delaware, Dr. Henry Linden at IIT, Dr. Richard Lindzen at MIT, Dr. Ross McKitrick at the University of Guelph, Dr. Patrick Michaels at the University of Virginia, Dr. Dick Morgan at the University of Exeter, Dr. Tim Peterson at Carleton University, Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. at the University of Colorado, Dr. Eric Posmentier at Dartmouth College, Dr. Willie Soon at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Dr. Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama, and Dr. Boris Winterhalter at the University of Helsinki? All are respected authorities on climatology, working at respected universities, who appear regularly in peer-reviewed science journals ... and they all dispute Gore’s alarmist claims.

So who are you going to believe, politician Al Gore or real scientists?

Slick Propaganda

Gore’s movie substitutes vivid images of the alleged effects of global warming for an accurate account of the scientific debate. We see glaciers calving into the sea, giant storms sweeping through resort areas, burning deserts, and even a cartoon polar bear swimming aimlessly, searching for a place to rest.

Problem: All of the events pictured in this movie have been occurring since before human activities could possibly have caused them. Glaciers have calved into seas for millions of years, storms obviously predate modern civilization and our emissions, and real-life polar bears know better than to head out into open water during the Arctic summer. At any given time in Earth’s history, some glaciers have been expanding while others have been shrinking. (We have accurate information on only 42 of the approximately 160,000 glaciers presently in existence.)

Early in the movie, Gore shows us images of the disappearing snow cap atop Mount Kilimanjaro and blames the loss on global warming. Wrong. Scientists know temperatures at the top of Kilimanjaro have been falling, not rising, and the disappearing snow is due to changes in land use at the bottom of the mountain, causing drier air to rise up the mountain’s side.

Later we see ice melting in the Arctic, Greenland, and the Antarctic. More evidence of global warming? Not necessarily. Scientists say temperatures in the Arctic were higher during the 1930s and the current melting is probably part of a natural cycle caused by ocean currents, not greenhouse gases. And only small parts of Greenland and the Antarctic are melting: Snow and ice are accumulating as rapidly in other parts, for a net loss of around zero.

More Deceptions

Two of the worst deceptions in “An Inconvenient Truth” involve the global temperature record and rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Gore walks across the stage as red lines plot temperature and CO2 concentrations, showing a close correlation across many years and a rapid increase in the past century. It is a triumph of data manipulation.

Viewers can’t tell from the film whether temperature increases follow or precede rises in CO2. If they precede, then Gore’s entire thesis is disproved. In fact, the historical record shows temperature increases often have preceded increases in CO2. No mention of that inconvenient fact in this movie.

Viewers also can’t see the scales Gore is using for his graph. Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased over time, but by only 87 parts per million since 1870 (according to the United Nations Environment Programme). If the vertical scale of Gore’s graph started at zero, the increase would have been too small for viewers to see.

The temperature record Gore uses is the so-called “hockeystick” graph produced by Dr. Michael Mann, now at Pennsylvania State University. Mann’s methodology has been attacked in peer-reviewed journals, forcing him to issue a partial withdrawal of his findings. Other, more accurate, reconstructions of the historic temperature record show substantially more variation in the past, revealing that today’s temperatures are not unprecedented.

The Debate Is Not Over

There are plenty of other errors and exaggerations in Gore’s movie, which people more expert than I are documenting and exposing. Suffice it to say, “An Inconvenient Truth” contains very little truth, and a big helping of propaganda.

Does Al Gore himself really believe the hype he tries to sell in this movie? Those who have watched him give his PowerPoint presentation and have discussed it with him say he does.

The Unabomber also was absolutely sincere in his belief that technological progress was an evil that had to be stopped, with violence if necessary. Fortunately, Kaczynski didn’t have access to the incredible powers of the Presidency of the United States. Unfortunately, Al Gore still aspires to that post.

Joseph L. Bast (jbast@heartland.org) is president of The Heartland Institute.