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Convenient Untruths

Filed under: — group @ 15 October 2007 - (Svenska) (Español)

Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann

Update 10/18/07: We are very disappointed that the Washington Post has declined to run an op-ed placing the alleged 9 ‘errors’ in a proper scientific context, despite having run an extremely misleading news article last week entitled “UK Judge Rules Gore’s Climate Film Has 9 Errors”.

Last week, a UK High Court judge rejected a call to restrict the showing of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (AIT) in British schools. The judge, Justice Burton found that “Al Gore’s presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate” (which accords with our original assessment). There has been a lot of comment and controversy over this decision because of the judges commentary on 9 alleged “errors” (note the quotation marks!) in the movie’s description of the science. The judge referred to these as ‘errors’ in quotations precisely to emphasize that, while these were points that could be contested, it was not clear that they were actually errors (see Deltoid for more on that).

There are a number of points to be brought out here. First of all, “An Inconvenient Truth” was a movie and people expecting the same depth from a movie as from a scientific paper are setting an impossible standard. Secondly, the judge’s characterisation of the 9 points is substantially flawed. He appears to have put words in Gore’s mouth that would indeed have been wrong had they been said (but they weren’t). Finally, the judge was really ruling on how “Guidance Notes” for teachers should be provided to allow for more in depth discussion of these points in the classroom. This is something we wholehearted support – AIT is probably best used as a jumping off point for informed discussion, but it is not the final word. Indeed, the fourth IPCC report has come out in the meantime, and that has much more up-to-date and comprehensive discussions on all these points.

A number of discussions of the 9 points have already been posted (particularly at New Scientist and Michael Tobis’s wiki), and it is clear that the purported ‘errors’ are nothing of the sort. The (unofficial) transcript of the movie should be referred to if you have any doubts about this. It is however unsurprising that the usual climate change contrarians and critics would want to exploit this confusion for perhaps non-scientific reasons.

In the spirit of pushing forward the discussion, we have a brief set of guidance notes of our own for each of the 9 issues raised. These are not complete, and if additional pointers are noted in the comments, we’ll add them in here as we go along.

  • Ice-sheet driven sea level rise Gore correctly asserted that melting of Greenland or the West Antarctic ice sheet would raise sea levels 20ft (6 meters). In the movie, no timescale for that was specified, but lest you think that the 20 ft number is simply plucked out of thin air, you should note that this is about how much higher sea level was around 125,000 years ago during the last inter-glacial period. Then, global temperatures were only a degree or two warmer than today – and given that this is close to the minimum temperature rise we can expect in the future, that 20 ft is particularly relevant. The rate at which this is likely to happen is however highly uncertain as we have discussed previously.
  • Pacific island nations needing to evacuate Much of Tuvalu is only a few feet above sea level, and any sea level rise is going to impact them strongly. The impacts are felt in seemingly disconnected ways – increasing brine in groundwater, increasing damage and coastal erosion from tides and storm surges, but they are no less real for that. The government of Tuvalu has asked New Zealand to be ready to evacuate islanders if needed, and while currently only 75 people per year can potentially be resettled, this could change if the situation worsened.
    In the movie there is only one line that referred to this: “That’s why the citizens of these pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand”, which is out of context in the passage it’s in, but could be said to only be a little ahead of it’s time.
  • Climate impacts on the ocean conveyor The movie references the Younger Dryas event that occurred 11,000 years ago when, it is thought, a large discharge of fresh water into the North Atlantic disrupted the currents, causing significant regional cooling. That exact scenario can’t happen again, but similar processes are likely to occur. The primary unresolved scientific issue regards how quickly the circulation is likely to change as we move forward. The model simulations in the latest IPCC report show a slowdown in the circulation – by about 30% by 2100 – but there is much we don’t understand about modeling that circulation and future inputs of freshwater from the ice sheets, so few are willing to completely rule out the possibility of a more substantial change in the future. Further discussion on what this really means and doesn’t mean is available here and here.
  • CO2 and Temperature connections in the ice core record Gore stated that the greenhouse gas levels and temperature changes over ice age signals had a complex relationship but that they ‘fit’. Again, both of these statements are true. The complexity though is actually quite fascinating and warrants being further discussed by those interested in how the carbon cycle will react in the future. We’ve discussed the lead/lag issue previously. A full understanding of why CO2 changes in precisely the pattern that it does during ice ages is elusive, but among the most plausible explanations is that increased received solar radiation in the southern hemisphere due to changes in Earth’s orbital geometry warms the southern ocean, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, which then leads to further warming through an enhanced greenhouse effect. Gore’s terse explanation of course does not mention such complexities, but the crux of his point–that the observed long-term relationship between CO2 and temperature in Antarctica supports our understanding of the warming impact of increased CO2 concentrations–is correct. Moreover, our knowledge of why CO2 is changing now (fossil fuel burning) is solid. We also know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that the carbon cycle feedback is positive (increasing temperatures lead to increasing CO2 and CH4), implying that future changes in CO2 will be larger than we might anticipate.
  • Kilimanjaro Gore is on even more solid ground with Kilimanjaro. In the movie, the retreat of Kilimanjaro is not claimed to be purely due to global warming , but it is a legitimate example of the sort of thing one expects in a warmer world, and is consistent with what almost all other tropical mountain glaciers are doing. There is indeed some ongoing discussion in the literature as to whether or not the retreat of ice on Kilimanjaro is related to the direct effects (warming atmospheric temperatures) or indirect effects (altered patterns of humidity, cloud cover, and precipitation influencing Kilimanjaro’s ice mass) of climate change, and that argument isn’t yet over. But these arguments would be of more relevance if (a) we were not witnessing the imminent demise of an ice field that we know has existed for at least the past 12,000 years and (b) most of the other glaciers weren’t disappearing as well.
  • Drying up of Lake Chad It is undisputed that Lake Chad has indeed shrunk rapidly in recent decades. While irrigation and upstream water use are probably contributing factors, the dominant cause is the reduction of rainfall across the entire Sahel from the 1950s to the 1980s and with rainfall today still substantially below the high point 50 years ago. There is substantial evidence that at least a portion of this drying out is human-caused. A few recent papers (Held et al, PNAS; Chung and Ramanathan and Biasutti and Giannini) have addressed causes ranging from Indian Ocean changes in sea surface temperature to the increase in atmospheric aerosols in the Northern hemisphere. Gore uses this example to illustrate that there are droughts in some regions even while other areas are flooding. Unfortunately this is exactly what the models suggest will happen.
  • Hurricane Katrina and global warming Katrina is used in the film as a legitimate illustration of the destructive power of hurricanes, our inability to cope with natural disaster, and the kind of thing that could well get worse in a warmer world. Nowhere does Gore state that Katrina was caused by global warming. We discussed this attribution issue back in 2005, and what we said then still holds. Individual hurricanes cannot be attributed to global warming, but the statistics of hurricanes, in particular the maximum intensities attained by storms, may indeed be.
  • Impact of sea ice retreat on Polar bears As we presaged in August, summer Arctic sea ice shattered all records this year for the minimum extent. This was partially related to wind patterns favorable to ice export in the spring, but the long term trends are almost certainly related to the ongoing and dramatic warming in the Arctic. Polar bears do indeed depend on the sea ice to hunt for seals in the spring and summer, and so a disappearance of this ice is likely to impact them severely. The specific anecdote referred to in the movie came from observations of anomalous drownings of bears in 2004 and so was accurate. However, studying the regional populations of polar bears is not easy and assessing their prospects is tough. In the best observed populations such as in western Hudson Bay (Stirling and Parkinson, 2006), female polar bear weight is going down as the sea ice retreats over the last 25 years, and the FWS is considering an endangered species listing. However, it should be stated that in most of the discussions about polar bears, they are used as a representative species. Arctic ecosystems are changing on many different levels, but it is unsurprising that charismatic mega-fauna get more press than bivalves. In the end, it may be the smaller and less photogenic elements that have the biggest impact.
  • Impact of ocean warming on coral reefs Corals are under stress from a multitude of factors; overfishing, deliberate destruction, water pollution, sea level rise, ocean acidification and, finally, warming oceans. The comment in the movie that rising temperatures and other factors cause coral bleaching is undoubtedly true. Bleaching episodes happen when the coral is under stress, and many examples have been linked to anomalously warm ocean temperatures (Australia in 1998 and 2002, all over the Indian Ocean in recent years). Corals are a sobering example of how climate change exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in eco-systems, potentially playing the role of the straw that breaks the camel’s back in many instances.

Overall, our verdict is that the 9 points are not “errors” at all (with possibly one unwise choice of tense on the island evacuation point). But behind each of these issues lies some fascinating, and in some cases worrying, scientific findings and we can only applaud the prospect that more classroom discussions of these subjects may occur because of this court case.

492 Responses to “Convenient Untruths”

  1. 101
    Kyle Gyurics says:

    Check out this guy and his “How It All Ends” series…

  2. 102
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re 44

    J.S McIntyre – Three cheers! And, Amen. This accusation that AIT serves a political agenda is getting tedious in the extreme.

  3. 103
    David Kelsey says:

    Re 74 by Barton Paul Levenson

    >Where did you get the idea that photosynthesis reverses itself at night? If your model were correct, plants would get no nutrition and would all die.
    Of course – I am a berk. The concept of plants giving off CO2 at night was so ingrained in me from my early childhood in the thirties, I never thought to question it until now. The words ‘egg’ and ‘face’ spring to mind. Thanks!

  4. 104
    David Kelsey says:

    Re 71 Barton Paul Levenson

    [[Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t sea level a worldwide thing? How can the sea level rise in the area of some Indian islands without its being noticed, say, around England or New York?]]

    Sea level is not the same everywhere in the world. It varies with local gravity, temperature, salinity, currents, and winds.

    [[ Could the flooding of low lying islands not equally be due to tectonic plate activity?]]

    No, probably not.
    I think I had better leave you to argue this one with various others on this blog who take differing views. However, would you agree that the drowning of islands is not likely to be down to warming at this early stage? I saw a TV film recently which showed a man standing up to his waist in water saying that he was standing on the former main street of the island. This would have required a rise in sea level of about four feet minimum, which seems a lot when it is not reflected elsewhere.

  5. 105

    Can anyone calculate the world wide average temperature drop it would take in melting say 5 million square kilometers (minima reduction compared to 2005) of ice on average 2 meters thick? Mike suggests that advection (winds) played a role in this years melt. If so it affected the Northern hemispheres average temperature….

  6. 106
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 87

    “So, apparently rising sea-levels on coral islands are much more to do with local subsidence than an overall global rise in sea-levels. How can it be so difficult to miss this obvious point?”

    Um, I don’t think so.

    Would you be so kind as to revisit this in terms of timescale, human vs geological?

    Can you provide us some refernece citations that show a dramatitic subsidence in the relatively short span of time we are watching the rise in sea levels?

    Can you provide us a breakdown re observed sea level rise vs. observed subsidence?

    You might consider looking at this as you formulate a response:

    “The process of atoll formation may take as long as 30,000,000 years to occur.”


    Thanks in advance!

    Regarding your comments re population vs economics, this strikes me as a bit of a Red Herring. The point raised in AIT was not whether populations were dwindling due to obvious sustainability factors (something, btw, Jared Diamond discusses at length in “Collapse”), but whether the rising sea levels would force populations in toto to evacuate because the islands would lose their ability to support poulations altogether.

  7. 107
    Bob Beal says:

    First, Gavin and Michael, thanks. This non-scientist appreciates your efforts.

    People are missing a bit of context on this one. I am a historian who regularly works in litigation.

    Judges are bound to view situations such as this very narrowly. In this particular case, the judge had to look at everything in the context of the British statute that prohibits politics in schools. Judges in these cases look for certainty and uncertainty, based only on what evidence is distinctly before them in court.

    In a controversial case in which I was involved, a Candian Supreme Court judge remarked that historians complain “that the judicial selection of facts and quotations is not always up to the standard demanded of the professional historian, which is said to be more nuanced. Experts, it is argued, are trained to read the various historical records together with the benefit of a protracted study of the period, and an appreciation of the frailties of the various sources. The law sees a finality of interpretation of historical events when finality, according to the professional historian, is not possible.”

    In other words, this case was not about science, and it was not about a film about science. It was about a particlar law and the evidence presented in court.

    But before the judge found the nine uncertainties, “errors,” he found one major certainty (Section 17 of the judgement): that there is no possible doubt about the basic theses of Gore’s film. That essential foundation is not political, the judge said.

  8. 108
    JamesG says:

    I would have thought that a basement in battery park city was already under sea level.

  9. 109
    Rod B says:

    Dave Rado Says (93): “Are you really serious that you have no idea [what his stance on global warming has to do with wars, conflicts…]? See here, for example. It really isn’t rocket science!”

    Well it’s pretty much of a stretch, but probably good enough for a handful of Norwegians who spent too long in the sauna. Congrats anyway to Mr. Gore.

  10. 110
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. Mike’s response to #70:

    [Response: Ray Pierrehumbert, our resident atmospheric water vapor expert, has clearly articulated here before an argument for why the imminent demise of Kilimanjaro likely is related to anthropogenic climate change. This was from before Ray was a regular here–the article was posted as a guest article by our resident glaciology expert Eric Steig. -mike]

    I wrote to Philip Mote about Ray’s article, and he replied:

    Yes, I read it partway through writing our article. It’s an excellent treatise on tropical glaciology, but it was written 2.5 years ago and missed some recent observations and analysis. The main point is that the rate of ice loss by sublimation is not controlled by air temperature (unless the temperature rises above freezing, and we have measurements
    that show that is very rare). Furthermore, it is far from clear that air temperature has risen at Kibo’s summit.

    Maybe an update from Ray would be helpful?


    [Response: Despite what Philip says, there’s not really much to update. Simply put, most of the arguments put forth by Kaser et al (similar to ideas by Mote, who has been a co-author on some of these things), purporting to show that Kilimanjaro decay is definitely not associated with global warming, are incorrect. They ignore the earlier history of precipitation, the evidence from dynamics and satellites that the tropical upper trop is generally warming, and the possibility that changes in circulation patterns and seasonality ( indirectly due to global warming) affect the ablation. Moreover, it is not true that sublimation is insensitive to air temperature, since air temperature affects the energy supply sustaining the sublimation. Moreover, it is not true that sublimation is the only thing going on at Kilimanjaro. Ask Lonnie why his boreholes are full of water! For that matter, melt is predicted by the energy balance models of Molg and Hardy, but they just ignore the meltwater by fiat. Note also that the American Scientist article is almost entirely a rehash and popularization of the same tired old arguments presented by Kaser et al. That doesn’t stop it from being trotted about by the Heartland Institute as a “new study.” I can’t believe that Phil is happy about the way that article is being shopped around, nor about the over-the-top banner it was published under.

    Note that in the article I wrote way back when, I didn’t claim that Kilimanjaro was one of the clearest cases for tying glacier retreat to global warming. The evidence there is still somewhat circumstantial, but the people who claim they know it’s not global warming are just dead wrong, at least on the basis of the arguments to date (and the arguments available at the time AIT was being made). With regard to Gore, he’s certainly on firm ground in that he didn’t literally claim that the retreat had been rigorously attributed to global warming. It’s certainly consistent with the sort of change one would expect from overall tropical warming, and Gore is on solid ground (at the level of a movie) in that there is credible peer reviewed work by a National Academy member which makes a strong claim of attribution. –raypierre]

  11. 111
    Count Iblis says:

    I would love to see a review of the “Great Global Warming Swindle” by the same judge according to the same rigorous standards. I don’t think that that documentary would be judged to have more than 9 correct statements. :)

  12. 112
    Hank Roberts says:

    > global warming has to do with wars,
    > conflicts, disarmament, armies, peace, and such.

    Rod, read the classic book on the subject at least, it’s still in print and your library will have it or can borrow it. If you don’t read the book, at least look it up online. It’s much quoted, much excerpted, you can get the sense of it. Biologists have known this for a very long time.

    When any local area can’t feed itself off local sources without degrading the local area, any disruption in commerce causes people to degrade their local area.

  13. 113
    Hank Roberts says:

    Since audio often communicates more than text, try this:

  14. 114
    David B. Benson says:

    wayne davidson (105) — The Pacific Northwest had an unusally cool (mild) summer this year. (I’m not including Alaska, because I don’t know about that far north.)

  15. 115
    truthout says:

    Re Rich Briggs #94.

    Thank you for your comments which throw light on the issue. I think that we can agree that there are a range of interacting geological processes that can cause apparent rises and falls in sea-level, at least over geological time.

    However, we have seen in recent weeks that on occasion, geological time can move quite quickly. The volcano off the coast of Yemen is an example, and there was an even better example on You-Tube where sailors on a yacht witnessed the birth of a new island.

    Also, there is the documented example (not volcano related) of Port Adelaide where local subsidence is giving an apparent rise in sea level over a period well within our own lifetimes. Have a look at:

    I think that we can agree that local subsidence (and emergence) can cause changes in apparent measured sea-level, and should not be dismissed.

  16. 116
    dean_1230 says:

    RE: #114

    And the Antarctic has had a surprisingly strong winter this year. I’m not sure how that fits the predictions, but it would be quite interesting to hear why a cold antarctic verifies AWG.

    One thought (and with little to back it up): could the cold in the antarctic be caused by a surprisingly strong wobble in the earth’s orbit? one that causes the north pole to have a more direct face toward the sun? that would not only explain the cold antarctic winter, but also the northern ice cap melting.

  17. 117
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #112 & “When any local area can’t feed itself off local sources without degrading the local area, any disruption in commerce causes people to degrade their local area.”

    Which is also why we need to tackle GW more vigorously now, while we’re rich and have surpluses (beyond our survival needs). Once we get too poor to afford a compact fluorescent bulb over an incandescent — or other measures that have upfront costs but pay for themselves in savings from efficiency — we’re really doomed.

  18. 118

    #103: Don’t feel too bad… you were sort-of right. Plants do produce CO2 at night, just like animals. But it’s only a small fraction of the CO2 they convert to oxygen and sugar in the daytime.

  19. 119
    ChrisO says:

    There’s now an article at Wikipedia on this case and the nine ‘errors’. See – you may find the background to be interesting. Feel free to edit it as required! :-)

  20. 120
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 115

    “I think that we can agree that local subsidence (and emergence) can cause changes in apparent measured sea-level, and should not be dismissed.”

    But none of these examples you give really address the thesis you were putting forth in your earlier posting on the subject re

    “… apparently rising sea-levels on coral islands are much more to do with local subsidence than an overall global rise in sea-levels.”

    The examples of Yemen and Port Adelaide are isolated incidents that do nothing to actually address the inference that we should look at the phenomena of subsidence on a global scale. Nor do they address the understanding it isn’t just islands that are affected by the rise of sea levels, but large coastal areas, as well.

    It would follow that if coral atolls were experiencing rising sea levels due to subsidence, then the effect on continental coastlines would be of a different measure. I do not see anything being offered that would suggest this.

  21. 121
    Andrew Sipocz says:

    In my opinion, AIT does what no climate scientist or environmental news writer had been able to fully accomplish, make a future threat real to today’s people (though I think James Hansen has been pretty darn good). When I read the posts to RC, and the comments, I usually come away with the thought, “many people don’t understand how profoundly climate change is going to affect the lives of future generations”. I grit my teeth when I hear for the umpteenth time the comment “so it will be a 1-2 degrees warmer in Minnesota, they would appreciate it”.
    Take a look at this GISS study. Future summer temps in Chicago or New York will resemble those currently experienced in my home, Houston. If that happens that means kids won’t want to play outside and you’ll never see your neighbors as they’ll be holed up in the AC for the summer; camping means sweating it out in a tent in 100% humidity and nightime lows of 74 f; older people will often die from heat stress anytime a T-storm cuts the power; you can’t sit outside on the ground as the fire ants will chew you up (they and other imported tropical nasties will find the new climate pretty tasty); and on and on. Spend a day outside in Houston anytime between May 15 and Sept. 30 and see what you think. I knew the numbers before I saw the movie and yet it still shattered my understanding of AGW. It made the numbers real.

  22. 122
    Rich Briggs says:


    I think that we can agree that local subsidence (and emergence) can cause changes in apparent measured sea-level, and should not be dismissed.

    Absolutely. But you’re still arguing that these effects are somehow ignored or dismissed. Your repeated contention that non-eustatic effects on RSL are overlooked by careful researchers is way off base. You’re also implying that sites such as Port Adelaide (which I admit I know nothing about) somehow negate the global eustatic signal. In fact, the data at Port Adelaide (or any other individual site) tell us something important about what is happening at that site alone, but don’t detract from the global signal. This line of argument (‘site x shows y so AGW can’t be true) comes up on RC all the time; it seems to be a standard way for folks to confuse themselves.

    Geologists are frightfully good at recognizing and measuring vertical deformation, going way back. Even Darwin had a headfull of vertical tectonics straight from Lyell, which helped him immensely as he traveled along the South American coast. The interplay of tectonics, sedimentation/compaction, and sea level is an oldie and a goodie.

    The Yemen volcano example is interesting, but doesn’t illuminate the issue at hand.

  23. 123
    Michael says:

    The differences in RC critiques of Michael Crichton’s and Al Gore’s works is very illuminating and discouraging. The spin on this website has become ridiculous, and it would not be much of a stretch to imagine RC suppressing truths and discouraging truth-searching as long as the goal was saving the planet.

    [Response: Yes it would be a stretch. When people have exaggerated and got things wrong we are just as willing to call them on it – see the piece about Flannery last week, or the media reaction to the Bryden paper last year. There is no equivalence between Crichton and Gore. I have talked to both of them, one of them listened, took note and changed his text, the other did not and distorted the truth even further. You guess which is which. – gavin]

  24. 124
    veritas36 says:

    #114 — favorite point of people who don’t want to think about global warming: it’s cold here today, so what’s the problem? Problem is the average global temperature. (The American South & Southwest roasted this year).

  25. 125
    Figen Mekik says:

    Re#123: And sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. Michael Crichton wrote a “fictional” novel where he twisted science and the motivations of scientists to build a story; Al Gore’s work is an instrument for making the science of global warming accessable and understandable to the general public (a task he suceeded at, I might add). Gore may have made some very small mistakes, but there is no deception or even stretching of the truth in his movie. It isn’t fair or even really possible to put Crichton’s work on the same scale as Gore’s. One is intentional fiction (which should be for entertainment purposes only, though even Crichton seems to miss that point) while the other is not fiction at all. And I don’t think one needs to be a scientist to understand the difference. So I don’t see how the spin on this web site has become “ridiculous.” Ridiculous in what reality?

  26. 126
    Hank Roberts says:

    Michael, if you have specific facts, can point to published science in refereed journals, it’ll be possible to talk about them. But it sounds like you want to ignore the science and have people be nice to the authors because they both wrote books.

    Every author is entitled to his or her own opinion and to publish their opinions. Authors aren’t entitled to their own facts — the facts have to be checked by people like you, and me, and the scientists whose research is being pointed to.

    So point to the science. You’ll find a whole lot of work has been done on this site and others looking into the science claimed by these and other authors.

    You may not like one author and may like another. That can’t make a difference looking at the facts. You have to check the papers, read the footnotes, and consider the sources.

    There is a whole lot of PR out there. There’s a whole industry dedicated to fooling most of the people most of the time. Got lead paint in your house? Ever breathed tobacco smoke? Look up what was said about those over time, who said it, who paid the people who said it, and how time has treated their claims.

    There are very nice people out there who are paid to lie, or who truly believe what they’re telling you, and tell you what you want to hear. On _all_ spokes of the political wheel.

    Read the footnotes. Point to your sources and say why you believe them.

  27. 127
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #115: It’s certainly true that any of a variety of factors that can cause a relative increase in sea level will be a problem for an inhabited island with only a couple of meters elevation rise. This is the case regardless of whether it’s a coral atoll. What’s different about SLR from AGW is that it is in the early stages of affecting all such islands around the planet.

    I don’t think anyone mentioned it above, so it’s worth noting that the large immediate problem for these islands isn’t inundation as such but rather the loss of a fresh water supply. If that becomes too contaminated by sea water, evacuation becomes inevitable even though a given island might still appear to a casual observer to be habitable. Humans and their crops require lots of fresh water.

    Finally, the evacuation process will tend to not be abrupt. Islands will simply become able to support fewer and fewer people, and gradual immigration will remove the excess. As well, and I suspect we’re seeing this effect already in the South Pacific, if someone is told that their home will become uninhabitable for their children or grandchildren, they’re going to start looking for good opportunities to relocate before being forced to.

    IOW, the evacuation process could be and I suspect is already underway even though it does not now and may never take the form of short-term mass evacuations.

    Speaking of sea level rise, pasted below is a short description of the results of a new paper (just posted in GRL pre-pub, so sorry no abstract yet) that’s frankly pretty alarming. I’m not sure what the 60 cm figure means, but it’s pretty bad even if it’s simply a projection of the present discharge rate through 2100. Plus one wonders about the rest of Greenland.

    “Greenland is melting at record speed

    “The inland ice on Greenland is vanishing much faster than scientists previously believed. This can be seen from new research results from the Danish National Space Center.

    “Each year, in the south eastern part of Greenland alone, the glaciers produce a mass of icebergs which is equivalent to a gigantic ice cube measuring 6-1/2 km on all sides. And the reduction of the inland ice is accelerating. At the moment, four times as much inland ice is disappearing compared to the beginning of the decade.

    “‘If this development continues, the melt water from the inland ice will make the world’s seas rise by more than 60 cm this century’, says senior researcher Abbas Khan of the Danish National Research Center, who was responsible for the research project. The results were obtained in co-operation with the University of Colorado and have just been published in the international research magazine Geophysical Research Letters.

    “The researchers have measured the rate of melting with special, highly sensitive GPS stations placed on the mountains along the inland ice. When a quantity of inland ice disappears, the pressure on the surrounding mountains eases and they therefore rise slightly. This can be measured by the GPS stations. The measurements show that the mountains along the fast glaciers in south east Greenland are rising by 4-5 cm a year. Meanwhile, the rim of this inland ice will be 100 m thinner a year.”

  28. 128

    re 100:” [Response: You appear to be talking about The Day After Tomorrow, rather than AIT.”

    There are stills of TDAT’s Great Wave of Manhattan embedded in AIT- and footage from it appears in AIT’s ads and trailers.

    I rest my case as to the need to keep your eyes peeled lest your brain be skint at the movies.

    [Response: I just reviewed the trailer, there is no TDAT imagery in there. What are you referring to? This seems like you just want to link the ridiculousness of the TDAT to Gore for no reason other than it looks bad. – gavin]

  29. 129
    Michael says:

    Figen Mekik,

    We have two critiques of pop-culture media: one forgiving and lenient on partial truths, and the other damning and judgmental. The author’s intent is irrelevant. The intended audience of the published work should not determine a scientist’s analysis of the validity of the science content.

  30. 130
    Figen Mekik says:

    My point is there is hardly any science content in Crichton’s “State of Fear.” Even the science he presents is fictionalized, which is fine as long as it is presented and accepted as fiction (entertainment if you will), not fact. And entertainment is not popular culture. It is just entertainment.

  31. 131
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 113

    Michael, could you explain what was unfair about RC’s critique of Crichton’s book and use of the science within it?

    And how the Gore discussion by RC is somehow characterized as spin? What did they get wrong? Specifics, please?

    Thanks in adavnce.

  32. 132
    truthout says:

    Re #122 Rich Briggs:

    The key point that I am trying to make is that we need to be careful when different, and greater, levels of sea level change are experienced in different places. The effects of AGW on sea level change should be pretty much uniform world-wide. Anomalously high rates of sea-level change at a particular site should be investigated as being perhaps more likely to do with local subsidence.

    In fact, the references that I posted demonstrate the august CSIRO, Australia’s leading scientific organisation, engaging in what can only be called alarmism. If you look at the first reference (I haven’t been able to find the actual press-release. It appears to have been taken off-line) you will see that they claim that the average sea-level rise from 28 Australian tide gauge locations is 0.3mm per year, and they comment that this is quite a bit lower than the IPCC (2001) global estimate of 1-2mm over the last 100 years.

    They also point out the significant difference between the fall of 0.19mm in sea level at Port Pirie and the ‘>2mm’ per year sea level rise at nearby Adelaide. They go on to talk about factors that could explain these anomalies. Interestingly, they do not mention local subsidence.

    Googling subsidence at Adelaide yields the other links that I posted which demonstrate that it is well known that Adelaide is undergoing local subsidence due, it is thought, to factors associated with drawing water from the underlying acquifers. My understanding is that Fremantle is also subject to local subsidence.

    If you remove the three anomalous outliers from the table provided (two of which are Port Adelaide – Inner, and Port Adelaide – Outer, and the other being Fremantle), the average Australian sea level rise drops to only 0.0975mm per year.

    The CSIRO people must surely have known this, but chose instead to allow publication of the most alarming interpretation of the facts.

    This experience has caused me to be cautious about accepting claims of AGW related sea level rise until local subsidence factors have been excluded.

  33. 133

    Al Gore was an oasis in the political desert when he served in government, and remains one of the few willing to be a lightning rod, for the extremists among skeptics, in the cause of public relations to spread the truth about AGW.
    Having said that,I read the article in “American Scietist” when it first came out and thought it was even handed. The authors, Philip W. Mote and Georg Kaser don’t seem to have any axe to grind. They acknowledge that it is generally correct that glaciers are disappearing because of warming, but they have a different take on the disappearance on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and say that another possible suspect is sublimation. The ice turning directly to vapor which occurs when the moisture in the air is less than the moisture delivered from the ice surface.
    Their analysis is restricted to high elevations near the equator and since the topic is still up in the air(pun unavoidable?), this could be a factor in that circumstance. Every warming ocurrence doesn’t have to be caused by greenhouse gases in order for AGW to be true. In fact this criterion would be very difficult to meet.Their paper as well as Raypierre’s both cite Lonnie Thompson as a reference as does Al Gore, who shows him standing at the top of Kilimanjaro in 2000 next to a lonely icicle.
    Please pardon the following whimsy-

    Once upon a time there was a mountain
    Where we used to ski,it was our due.
    Remember how we skied away the hours,
    Think of all the great things we would do.

    Those were the days my friend
    We thought they’d never end
    We’d slalom and jump forever and a day
    We’d live the life we choose
    Our mount we’d never lose
    For we were arrogant and sure to have our way.

    The busy years went rushing by us
    We lost our glacier cover on the way
    If, by chance, I’d see you on the mountain
    We’d smile at one another and we’d say

    Those were the days my friend
    We thought they’d never end
    We’d slalom and jump forever and a day
    We’d live the life we choose
    Our mount we’d never lose
    For we were arrogant and sure to have our way.

    Just tonight I stood before the mountain
    Nothing seemed the way it used to be
    On the top I saw a strange rerlection
    Could that lonely icicle really be.

  34. 134
    J.C.H. says:

    Most Americans use quotation marks incorrectly. That’s apparent. Most seem to think using quotation marks around a word emphasizes its meaning: like shining a spotlight on an entertainer on a stage.

    So they see it as ERRORS ERRORS ERRORS singin’ and dancin’ their fool heads off.

    Do the British use quotation marks in a different manner? To me the judge is alerting the reader that he does not really mean errors in the conventional sense when he writes it as “errors”.

    So what does he mean by “errors”? I take him to mean the errors are not especially significant.

    If he had agreed the film is “broadly accurate”, that would mean something like he thinks the film is at best a mile wide and an inch deep. He said he agrees the film is broadly accurate, which to me means the judge thinks the film is essentially accurate across its width and depth.

    But then, I drew no implication in the film at all that land-based ice was going to melt in any imminent timeframe. We all joked about our dwelling being on the 4th floor, but it was a joke. I didn’t run out in the garden and put up a sea-level depth gauge. The fair and balanced seem to have dreamed up this implication that is not there. And it’s not exactly an especially “inconvenient” dream for their non-alarmist agenda.

  35. 135
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 128

    We have two critiques of pop-culture media: one forgiving and lenient on partial truths, and the other damning and judgmental. The author’s intent is irrelevant. The intended audience of the published work should not determine a scientist’s analysis of the validity of the science content.


    In each case, what was discussed was the way science was used by both men. “Pop-culture media” is an interesting use of terminology, an effort to label and thereby define and limit the discussion, but has little bearing on the actual approach RC took with both men.

    Your characterization re author intent and targeted audience is a non-sequitur in relation to those critiques. It’s not about intent or targets, it’s about what was said and how much scientific credibility what was said has. Much different issue.

  36. 136
    Jim Eager says:

    Re 123 Michael
    When Michael Crichton writes a non-fiction book that seriously deals with the science of climate change we’ll have something to discuss.

  37. 137
    David B. Benson says:

    Michael (125) — Crichton does not know much science, even in his earlier books labeled science fiction. It is very easy to find pages in those novels with four science errors, ones which are not part of the intension and do not advance the story. While the man often writes well, his notion of science fiction lacks the high standards of such luminaries as Asimov.

    But worse, he passed his more recent book off as semi-factual, when it is nothing of the sort. This is simply dishonest, IMO.

    Finally, I seem not to know what aspects of the movie you consider to be ‘partial truths’. If you are referring to the nine, go re-read the main post of this thread. Then come back if still not saatisfied…

  38. 138
    Michael says:

    Jim Eager,

    Than why have a RC point-by-point rebuttal on “State of Fear” at all?

  39. 139
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 133

    “Than why have a RC point-by-point rebuttal on “State of Fear” at all?”

    Perhaps because Mr. Crichton has used the book and the material inside to promote a false picture of the issue of AGW. This is, after all, the science-fiction author trotted out before Congress to provide “proof” that AGW was a hoax, nothing to worry about.

    It’s one thing to write a piece of fiction; quite another to then make a career out of trying to present it as fact.

  40. 140
    spilgard says:

    Possibly, the point-by-point rebuttal was in response to “State of Fear” being widely touted as a science-packed refutation of the left-wing global warming myth?

  41. 141
    Ray Ladbury says:

    David Benson, The first and last thing I ever read by Michael Crichton was “The Andromeda Strain”. Actually, I even junked that book about the time that all the ET bugs mutated exactly the same way at exactly the same time. I figured, “How can anyone this ignorant of even the most basic principles of science be worth reading?” Crichton has given me no reason since to re-examine my decision.
    Al Gore at least made an attempt to get the science right. He consulted scientists. His errors are those of a politician who is trying to get scientists to state a conclusion without so damned many weasel words. Indeed, many of his “errors” were within the realm of possibility when the film was made (e.g. the Kilimanjaro thing). See the difference: Good faith effort vs. a deliberate smear job not just individual scientists, but of the scientific method as well. Michael Crichton, deep down, is afraid of science. It is a theme that pervades everything he has written. I doubt he could write down his phone number without somehow reflecting fear of science.

  42. 142
    Michael says:

    Competent scientific analysis of current movies, books, politicians, etc, is very much needed especially anything climate change related. AIT is not a peer reviewed scientific paper and neither is SOF yet RC chose to comment on both (and rightly so). I am not looking for balance – balance is unachievable, and a waste of time. But lately I am wading thru opinion after opinion, and have look for reality somewhere in between the lines. Obstructing truth is unforgivable for any reason.

  43. 143
    PaulM says:

    What does it really matter? In the seventies there were those commercials with the guy littering and then they showed the Indian shedding one tear because of the litter. Nobody stopped using the land as a dumping ground, and now that it is too late we may try to clean up our mess. Human nature dictates we don’t do anything until it is too late, and Man induced global warming is no different. Furthurmore, does anyone realize we are on the verge of World War III? It is going to get a lot worse for humanity before it gets better, if it gets better.

  44. 144

    In comment #138, Michael,who refers to Jim Eager’s comment about fiction, asks [[Than why have a RC point-by-point rebuttal on “State of Fear” at all?]]

    Because there times when fiction can be useful. When most people want to learn about social injustice in the 19th century, do they read Marx or Dickens?
    Crichton is a far,far cry from Dickens. He misuses his literary form to distort and confuse.

  45. 145
    dhogaza says:

    Than why have a RC point-by-point rebuttal on “State of Fear” at all?

    Crichton was asked to testify to a committee of Congress as an *expert* on climate science and global warming *based on* his book, “State of Fear”.

    You are seriously suggesting scientists should ignore his errors, given the level of influence and power held by those who depend on him in part for an expert appreciation of the state of climate science?

    Gore made a few little piddly little errors, but largely go the science right.

    Crichton’s errors are substantial, including his conclusion that climate science is a fraudulent field driven by left-wing activists who have been engaged in a world-wide conspiracy.

    Your claims that the errors in the two works are roughly equivalent and that therefore RC’s treatment of the two show bias makes no sense.

  46. 146
    S. Molnar says:

    Re #124: I think you’re missing the point of #114 (or else I am). It is a reply to the perfectly reasonable question of whether the massive arctic melt of this summer left a discernable fingerprint as regional cooling somewhere in the northern hemisphere.

    One other point that I think is worth making: The film in question is really not Al Gore’s. It’s a documentary that, as I understand it, Gore initially resisted. The talks he gave were constantly evolving, and I think it’s fair to say no one, least of all Gore, ever expected the film to become so immensely popular or so closely scrutinized. Few people who give a lecture or write a paper would not change a few things given a chance; after all, that’s why books have second editions.

  47. 147
    David B. Benson says:

    I notice that of page A6 of today’s TNYT there is a quarter page ad sponsored by Heartland stating that climate change is not a crisis.

    Just so you know…

    [Response: Yes, Heartland is having a real hissy-fit over Gore’s prize. The Chicago Tribune had a letter yesterday from Diane Carol Bast (wife of the director of Heartland) claiming that the Nobel prize in chemistry was given for showing that CO2 is “harmless.” It turns out that the Chemistry prize citation did not actually refer to CO2 as harmless. This bit of fabrication stemmed from a tortured interpretation of the fact that the surface chemistry for which the prize was awarded (to Gerhard Ertl) has, among its other uses, catalytic conversion of carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Heartland has no shame, but I guess we knew that. –raypierre

  48. 148
    Timothy Chase says:

    Dave Rado (#110) wrote:

    I wrote to Philip Mote about Ray’s article, and he replied:

    “Yes, I read it partway through writing our article. It’s an excellent treatise on tropical glaciology, but it was written 2.5 years ago and missed some recent observations and analysis. The main point is that the rate of ice loss by sublimation is not controlled by air temperature (unless the temperature rises above freezing, and we have measurements that show that is very rare). Furthermore, it is far from clear that air temperature has risen at Kibo’s summit.”

    Maybe an update from Ray would be helpful?

    From what I understand, sublimation is largely controlled by dry air, but as a form of evaporation where ice undergoes a direct phase transition from solid to gas. The rate of sublimation is determined largely by the partial pressure of water vapor in the atmosphere. Thus the lower the relative humidity, the greater the sublimation, where if the atmosphere is saturated, the system will be in equilibrium.

    Thus if the temperature remains constant but the humidity (relative or absolute) drops, the rate of sublimation will increase. Likewise, if one raises the temperature while keeping the absolute humidity constant, the rate of sublimation will increase – and as the partial pressure of saturation increases exponentially with temperature, it would seem that temperature will be a factor, even at temperatures below zero.

    Likewise, I note that the authors blame both less precipitation and solar radiation. However, solar radiation has remained roughly constant since the roughly 1950. So this would seem to be less of a factor. Likewise, ice has a relatively high albedo, unless of course it is subject to melting – at which point the amount of solar radiation which it absorbs will increase roughly by a factor of three, or alternatively either aerosols (e.g., black carbon) or dust lower its albedo.

    Of course, another thought comes to mind: while ice has a high albedo in the visible part of the spectrum where sunlight dominates, ice behaves as a blackbody in the infrared spectrum. Thus if something were to increase the amount of infrared radiation which exists in the atmosphere, this would seem to have more of an effect than that of increasing sunlight. Additionally, we know that with higher temperatures in the tropics, there exists a super greenhouse effect where the amount of downwelling infrared radiation increases more quickly than surface emissions relative to sea surface temperature.

    Thus the increased rate of sublimation may be due in part to higher temperatures, but it may also be in part due to a drier atmosphere which is in part due to climate change. Likewise, while increased sunlight should directly have little effect upon ice given its high albedo in the visible part of the spectrum (unless augmented by black carbon or dust), a stronger greenhouse effect (particularly in the tropics) may be an important factor. Now with regard to dust, increased dust would in all likelihood be due to a higher prevalence of drought.

    The authors are undoubtedly correct that melting has not been a factor with Kilimanjaro – given its altitude. If higher temperatures are a factor (and they may very well be even at below-freezing), this may very well be the result of global warming. Lower humidity and lower precipitation would be the result of climate change, and given what is currently happening, quite likely anthropogenic climate change. Increased infrared radiation would in all likelihood be due to an increased greenhouse effect, and given the latitude, quite possibly a super greenhouse effect – which is quite significant at that latitude.

    I would suspect that all of these are playing a role in the glacial retreat on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. With a all of these factors other than temperature, technically one might state that “warming” is not the direct cause, but nevertheless anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions would in all likelihood be the major factor.

    Now it is of course at least theoretically possible that what is driving ice loss with Kilimanjaro is local climate change that is unrelated to global climate change, or alternatively, that black carbon pollution is “the cause.” However, it would be quite difficult to argue for a local climate change which is unrelated to global climate change. Likewise, since after having hit their high, black carbon emissions dropped so much fairly early in the twentieth century, this would seem to be much less of a factor in the latter part of the 20th century.

    Setting these last two potential factors aside, I suspect that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., carbon dioxide and methane) are major factors in the demise of the glaciers of Kilimanjaro, albeit through a variety of processes. Or I suppose you could just chalk it all up to some unknown “natural variability.” But in any case, I believe this wouldn’t change the fact that most glaciers are melting rather than disappearing as the result of sublimation. Likewise, I believe it wouldn’t change the fact that the lion’s share of global mass balance loss is due to global warming.

    What do you think, Dave?

  49. 149
    Ike Solem says:

    Regarding the Michael Crichton vs. Al Gore discussion – I did read Crichton’s recent book, “Prey”, in which industrial nanoparticles turn themselves into self-organizing humanoid photovoltaic-powered nano-monsters somewhere out in the Nevada desert – yet I notice that Crichton hasn’t been invited to testify before Congress on the unforeseen dangers of silicon photovoltaic nanotechnology. That book has some real scientific blunders – but then, science fiction novels aren’t required to be scientifically accurate.

    My only problem with ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is that the film should have pointed out at the end that we can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy generated from wind, sunlight and photosynthesis. This is entirely possible, especially in the sunnier lattitudes (and more northerly regions can use wind). It will require massive infrastructure investment, however – but countries like The Netherlands are already well along this path. It’s entirely plausible from a technological viewpoint – the only barriers are economic and political.

    Perhaps the film should have focused less on Kilimanjaro and included all the other high-altitude regions – the Alps, the Andes, the Himalaya, Alaska, the Sierra Nevada glaciers, and so on – where glaciers are also in retreat. However, the film had to stick to a time limit – and glacier retreat is just one subject.

    In any case, this post is a very useful summary of the science behind An Inconvenient Truth, complete with lots of useful links. Perhaps Al Gore and the distributors of AIT should use it as the basis of an informational teaching packet to be included with all copies of the film? That’d really annoy some of the above posters, I think.

  50. 150
    David B. Benson says:

    More inconvenient truths:
    Hidden Costs of Climate Change in the U.S.: Major, Nationwide, Uncounted