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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. 151
    Rod B says:

    re Peace Prize
    One last whimper on the sidebar (re 112, Hank, et al) before it gets lost in the dust. Almost any cultural/societal perturbation can be projected to upset the peace and create conflict given a long enough time to fester: global warming, global cooling, major oil discoveries, running out of oil, to name a few. It seems the Nobel Peace Prize was focused more on the near term, even the present. It’s charter says, “…[awarded] “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” (sourced from Wikipedia). But then they have in the recent past awarded it for some very general (and likely very worthy) human rights activists. So, what do I know? And frankly I care little. Just a small observation of reality. Didn’t mean to rain on your parade.

  2. 152
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #134, J.C.H.:

    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.

    No, he meant alleged errors. See Deltiod.

  3. 153
    cce says:

    As far as I know, the only footage from “The Day After Tomorrow” used in AIT is the sweeping (virtual) shot of the Antarctic ice shelf.

    Critique my presentation on climate change scepticism here:

  4. 154
    jonathan says:

    Al Gore in his documentary said not only that the CO2 data and temperature “fit” but that the data showed “when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature goes up”. Your defense of this point does not mention this. He would be accurate only if he said the converse.

  5. 155
    Rich Briggs says:

    truthout, I’ve had a chance to glance at your links (day job intruded earlier).

    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.

    Okay, now I see the confusion. Apparent spatial variation in rates is the rule, not exception. Every sea level curve is local. Every measurement location has a different set of geodynamic and geologic processes that need to be accounted for.

    In fact, the references that I posted demonstrate the august CSIRO, Australia’s leading scientific organisation, engaging in what can only be called alarmism. . . They go on to talk about factors that could explain these anomalies. Interestingly, they do not mention local subsidence.

    I checked out the page; they say the following:

    “Regional variation in sea level rise
    Factors that can cause regional variations in sea level include [2]:

    * geological effects caused by the slow rebound of land that was covered by ice during the last Ice Age (‘isostatic rebound’);
    * flooding of continental shelves since the end of the last Ice Age, which pushes down the shelves and causes the continent to push upwards in response (‘hydroisostasy’);
    * changes in land height in tectonically or volcanically active regions;
    * changes in atmospheric wind patterns and ocean currents; and
    * local subsidence due to sediment compaction or groundwater extraction.”

    Doesn’t that say “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.

    The second link is a short paper by Nick Harvey that makes the simple point that local impacts of sea level rise will need to take local processes into account. Sounds sensible.

    The third link is a ramble by somebody named John Daly that looks like a fair amount of rubbish. Perhaps other RC readers familiar with this piece could comment.

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

    But they are! The cool thing about RC is that there is a group of folks here willing to talk about the science, but you keep talking around the science. Anybody else care to chime in about the science?

    And it occurs to me that it’s ironic that Australian data are being held up as somehow disproving the whole ball of wax, when such solid work has been done by Lambeck, and Church and White, and Harvey, and others down under.

  6. 156

    re 128
    I think it looks funny, not ‘bad’- Al has certainly played TDAT slides for laughs, but what film publicists do istheiroen responsibility.

    Grist has the complete slideshow at
    So frame matching can settle the matter, albeit I have no frame grabbing software to automate the search.
    I believe I saw the same frames on TV that I saw Al use in his successive annual presentations of his slideshow here, and I’ll ask Mike McElroy if we have a video that can be checked.

    As to the public record on the visual concordance of the two films the Washington Post offers this:

    ” The film came about after Laurie David, wife of Larry David, saw Gore’s slide show in New York after the 2004 premiere of the mega-budget global-warming feature film “The Day After Tomorrow” (starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal).

    Laurie David gathered a team, including Lawrence Bender (producer of Quentin Tarantino films, including “Pulp Fiction”) and Jeffrey Skoll, the billionaire eBay founder and movie mogul. They met with Gore. “We said you have to let us make this into a movie,” David says in an interview over breakfast.

    It took some convincing. The slide show, she says, “was his baby, and he felt proprietary about it and it was hard for him to let go.”

    “This isn’t about box office,” David says. “None of us are going to make a dime.” What is at stake, she says, “is, you know, the planet.”

    We evidently have come a long way since the days when Alfred Hitchcock could say:

    “It’s just a movie”

  7. 157
    Kiminori Itoh says:

    An important aspect for Lake Chad is that its water level did not recover even after rainfall recovered to some extent. This appears to be because the soil is worn out and degraded ( due to cultivation at dried area of the lake. This is of course a human factor, but very different counteracts are necessary.

  8. 158
    Nick O. says:

    For treatment of the word “errors”, see this report from the BBC this morning:

  9. 159

    #153 cce: looks good!

    My Ubuntu system plays it, which is better than what the Potsdam people managed.

    Clearly an amateur production, and I do not mean that condescendingly. There is some good stuff there.

    I loved the slide “Science is not made by consensus — BUT POLICY IS”.

    Personally I use the example of consulting a doctor there. If you are not sure your own doctor is getting it right — or the matter is too important to only rely on one person — you get a second opinion. And a third, and a fourth… taken to its logical extreme, you would consult the whole medical community, if you had the money for that. Now, that’s precisely what we’re doing with the IPCC ‘climate doctors’.

    Anyone is free to trust his own judgment on medical matters more than that of trained professionals, if only his own health is at stake. But I resent him doing the same with my climate!

    …and then the server went down :-(

  10. 160

    Re 123

    Amen- Mike Crichton’s “Congo” is completely and hilariously off the wall– rift volcanoes spouting hollow geodes full of diamonds guarded by telepathic cousins of King Kong.

    This earned the film of his yarn a cult following as Bad Geophysics beer movie of the year , but failed to stop the American Association of Petroleum Geologists brass in Dallas and Imhofe’s back yard from giving Mike the AAPG Gabriel Dengo Journalism award for Climate Of Fear.

    This makes the matter vexing, for Dengo’s respect for ground truth made him the grand old man of Mesoamerican geology.

  11. 161

    > …and then the server went down :-(

    Probably my media player. When downloading and playing offline, no problem.

  12. 162
    Pete Best says:

    The truth about AGW is that disaster for the west is many decades away. Yer Africa, Asis and others may suffer somwhat but hey they are suffering anyway as the media portray it.

    On the one hand western governments talk the talk on sustainables but on the other hand plans are afoot for a new generation of coal fired power stations (USA,UK and Germany) and fretting over the Arctic and Antartic (UK Governments porposals anyway) to be able to drill underwater once the technology becomes available.

    An AIT may have been a wake up call but who has really seen it, a few millions out of several billions and a Nobel Peace Price might make some more impact to influence the US president. So what does GW say, no impact on our economic prosperity but other technologies to oil will and are being considered.

    We await CCS as it does not exist yet. We await PV as it is too expensive at the moment, we await solar as it is also too expensive, we await biofuels to be energy efficient and deliver on their promise, we await hydrogen, we build more coal and gas fired power stations, we prospect and drill more oil and queue up to exploit the Arctic and possibly the Antartic and we continue to destroy forests and rain forests in particular.

  13. 163
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #154, jonathan, when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, then all other things being equal, the temperature does go up. This fact is very basic physics and has been known since the 19th century.

    For an introduction to the basics of climate science, click the “Start Here” link on the menu at the top of the page. Or read the following article:

  14. 164

    …and now the server is permanently down. Overload?

  15. 165
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #148, Timothy Chase, a very helpful and thorough explanation, thanks. Thanks also for Ray’s response to my post (#110), which was also very helpful.


  16. 166

    [[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.]]

    No. Such a shift would be noticed by thousands of astronomers all over the world. Everything in the sky would shift position enough to be noticed at observatories.

  17. 167
    Dave Rado says:

    Slightly off-topic but tangentially related, I would urge people here to add a review to the Amazon UK reviews for Swindle, as the reviews there are being dominated by denialists, which is likely to influence less well informed people who are thinking of buying the DVD. The review by “Dave G” listed under “Most helpful reviews” is particularly disturbing – science teachers talking such rubbish …

  18. 168
    Jim Eager says:

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

    Because a good many ill-informed people think the book IS factual about the science and that Crichton IS knowledgeable about the science, including the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

  19. 169

    [[Al Gore in his documentary said not only that the CO2 data and temperature “fit” but that the data showed “when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature goes up”. Your defense of this point does not mention this. He would be accurate only if he said the converse.]]

    Jonathan, when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature does go up. CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

  20. 170

    [[The third link is a ramble by somebody named John Daly that looks like a fair amount of rubbish. Perhaps other RC readers familiar with this piece could comment.]]

    The late John Daly maintained a crackpot anti-global-warming-science site called “Still Waiting for Greenhouse.” He died last year, I believe, and his relatives keep the site up, and post a lot of articles that seem scientific (e.g. they often use equations or charts), but aren’t accurate. For a nice overall rebuttal, google for the site “What’s Wrong with Still Waiting for Greenhouse.”

  21. 171
    Jim Eager says:

    Re 154 jonathan: “Al Gore in his documentary said not only that the CO2 data and temperature “fit” but that the data showed “when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature goes up”. Your defense of this point does not mention this. He would be accurate only if he said the converse.”

    No, Gore is quite correct: when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature DOES goes up.

    This is true even if the initial cause of the warming is not increased CO2, as in the case at the end of a glacial period and the start of an interglacial period, when the initial warming is caused by increased solar insolation due to orbital and rotational changes. Once the warming starts, however, atmospheric CO2 and H2O increases, which leads to yet more warming.

    That said, this particular distinction was ignored in that passage. Had it been better explained, this particular club would not be available for the skeptics to wield in ignorance.

  22. 172
    Ike says:

    You say that – “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.” However, we must keep in mind that this movie is being shown to very young children who may not be able to make this distinction. They will believe what they see in this movie, whether they think it a movie or a scientifically accurate presentation. This article here illustrates that point nicely.

  23. 173
    Taber Allison says:


    Sorry if this is a bit off topic, but I thought I’d add this here as this thread is the most recent on the web site. I was sent the following comment from a climate skeptic acquaintance of mine after he attended a presentation I gave on climate change. I’m sure others will see this. I know Dan Botkin, and I wrote back to my acquaintance with my response. Let’s just say I was disappointed in Dan, and I suspect he will get an earful.

    I will say that I don’t understand the argument (made by Lomborg, Botkin in this piece, and others) that there are more pressing needs to spend time and resources on, e.g., habitat loss, malaria, clean drinking water. I find this argument to be a red-herring – yes those are threats, but can’t we also deal with climate change at the same time. It certainly is not an either or question.

    I think someone should also point out that being a contrarian is not being scientific – merely throwing out negative arguments (which sometimes contradict one another) is primarily a distraction and does little to advance the state of the argument. As we know, skeptics have little or no interest in advancing the argument about the threat of global warming – their intent is to undermine, and that is why I found Dan Botkin’s piece so disappointing.

    Here’s the url

  24. 174
    caerbannog says:

    Re 154 jonathan: “Al Gore in his documentary said not only that the CO2 data and temperature “fit” but that the data showed “when there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, the temperature goes up”. Your defense of this point does not mention this. He would be accurate only if he said the converse.”

    jonathan, google up “PETM” and read up a bit (ignore the PET SMART hits).

  25. 175
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Ah the miracle of climate change. Suddenly, even the Wall Street Journal has discovered the plight of the poor! Unfortunately, what these arguments ignore is the fact that climate change, environmental degradation and development are all coupled and fall under the heading of “sustainability”. If we concentrate on mitigating climate change without ensuring “clean” development of poor countries, our efforts will be frustrated as poor people continue to have large families and burn whatever fuel they can find–coal, wood, dung…. Likewise, if we concentrate on development as Lomborg et al would (now that they’ve suddenly discovered it), adverse climatic changes will frustrate our efforts there–by inundating low-lying areas, creating populations of refugees, decreasing agricultural yields, increasing disease…
    Lomborg’s argument goes beyond cynical, verging on evil.

  26. 176
    cce says:



    Thanks for the kind words and input.

    It probably was the server giving you trouble. I chose that free hosting site because it offered both uploads of videos (many do not) and a high monthly bandwidth limit. It can be pretty flakey at times. I will probably switch to something else.

    Critique my presentation on climate change scepticism here:

  27. 177
    MG says:

    something i posted elsewhere on the recent judicial process and sea level rise issue

  28. 178
    James says:

    Re #162: [We await CCS as it does not exist yet. We await PV as it is too expensive at the moment, we await solar as it is also too expensive, we await biofuels…]

    But we’ve got nuclear, which could be built as easily as that new generation of coal fired power stations.

  29. 179
    Sonja Christiansen says:

    What a lovely piece of sophisticated sophistry, the first bit…when will scientists begin to admit
    how little they/we really know? (as distinct from believe)

  30. 180
    MG says:

    James (Re 178)
    We haven’t got nuclear. A large number of the nuclear plants (about 423) we have could end up under the sea if Hansen is correct about a 5 metre sea level rise this century. Nuclear power stations need to be decommissioned, not built.

  31. 181
    MEG says:

    People may be interested to know that John Stossel is going to be discussing Al Gore and Climate Change on 20/20 Friday at 8PM on ABC. Stossel is a contrarian and his newsletter indicates that he hasn’t changed his mind.

  32. 182
    Majorajam says:

    Lomborg is simply taking a page out of the Tobbaco Industry handbook for defeating environmental movements, e.g. Africa Fighting Malaria. His reference is emotive for the demonstrable and express purpose of distracting and disabling discourse, rather than to make any sort of productive point (and clearly the association with charity is convenient for manipulative purposes). As any social scientist worth a spit should know, fighting poverty or malaria is no more the opportunity cost of mitigating GHG emissions than ski vacations, a trip to the movies or a bunker busting nuclear missile. If this obfuscator honestly wanted to make a point about priorities, he should be arguing it in the context of a capital allocation where he has demonstrated such things as malaria and GHG mitigation reside at the same margin. Otherwise, he should plug a discount rate, argue for its appropriateness, and move on.

    You don’t have to go too far for additional evidence of Lomborg’s insincerity. For example, Lomborg’s near-continuous, in interview and in print, misquotation of Al Gore as claiming sea levels will rise 20 feet within the century is a transparent ploy to discredit him (as it’s far more sensational than arguing about Kilimanjaro to the every man). It’s possible to make a mistake once, but when you keep repeating it in high profile settings, well, you’ve given the game away.

    Still, my favorite has to be the bit in “Cool It” where Lomborg cites a report that states, “It is difficult to envisage the survival of polar bears as a species given a zero summer sea-ice scenario”, to substantiate his position that concerns about polar bears illustrate the exaggerated claims of global warming, i.e. that they will be just fine regardless. Apparently, Lomborg bases his view on the study authors’ speculation in the sentence following the above that the ONLY way polar bears could survive is if they managed to evolve backward. The authors make no statement as to how probable that would be, and are clearly merely gilding a dire prognosis. But from Lomborg, the reader gets that the worry over polar bears exemplifies global warming hysteria.

    The guy is not a ‘global warming denier’, simply an opportunist especially lacking in scruples (not that the two are remotely mutually exclusive).

  33. 183
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 179

    Sonja, I really am VERY curious regarding your post.

    Could you possibly expand on what it is you are saying, as it comes off somewhat vague and ambiguous? Are you suggesting the scientists don’t know what they are talking about, and that the evidence they are presenting is little more than, as you put it, “sophisticated sophistry”?

    More to the point…what informs your opinion?

  34. 184
    Figen Mekik says:

    Sonja Christiansen,

    I may be over reacting to your comment because I don’t have enough info in what you are saying to know exactly where you are coming from, but I get comments like yours a lot… Where do people get the idea that scientists think they “know” everything? Good science is based on repeatable observations which are tested, retested and tested again. So that gives scientific predictions more plausibility and likelihood to be correct than other predictions. Scientific predictions are based on facts and testable (and tested) hypotheses. What anyone believes is irrelevant.

    I have a friend who recently had a horrible accident and was in a coma for over ten days. He just came out of it two nights ago and is still on a painfully slow course to recovery. His doctors are saying “We simply do not know how fast and how much he will recover. Every person’s brain is different, we simply have to wait and see.” So what should I do? Ask the doc what he believes? Is it relevant?
    And what do you mean by really know? If you are refering to the fact that climate change of the last several decades is caused by human activities, then yes, that is a fact. People can debate it, take a poll, do whatever they want to see who believes what and how much, but the fact remains: anthropogenic global warming is happening and we need to take action to prevent further damage.

  35. 185
    FP says:

    I was just wondering. If breathing creates CO2, but that CO2 is a ‘closed system’ so the net effect of breathing on CO2 is zero, then how come so much CO2 is buried in fossil fuels. Was that CO2 not part of the closed system at one time?

    I am missing something or else breathing and life are adding to the CO2 as well.

  36. 186
    Hank Roberts says:

    FP, before life emerged the atmosphere of Earth was much like the atmosphere of Mars and Venus is now — mostly carbon dioxide.

    Most of the CO2 is now in limestone, dolomite, and chalk — look up “White Cliffs of Dover” — because the early forms of life were mostly in the ocean, and made shells out of calcite and aragonite that sank to the bottom and became sedimentary rock.

    Some dead plant material also got into sediments. That was carbohydrates (carbon with hydrogen and oxygen attached); over geologic time that became petroleum (“octane” is a chain based on eight carbons, for example). Some of it lost all its hydrogen and remains as fairly pure carbon (coal).

    Look up “biogeochemical cycle” for more on the amounts and rates.

  37. 187
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Sonja Christiansen,
    What a sophisticated piece of…crockery. When will people who don’t understand science stop projecting their own ingorance onto the rest of the world. Might I suggest a perusal of Helen Quinn’s piece from the January 2007 Physics Today as a starting point, and then come back as I have lots of other suggestions to further your education about science.

  38. 188
    Ray Ladbury says:

    FP, well there’s something about getting inundated and buried in an anaerobic swamp that tends to take the carbon out of the system. Vast forests were buried and the carbon locked up in petroleum and coal and natural gas reserves. In essence we are now returning to the atmosphere we had hundreds of millions of years ago.

  39. 189
    Chuck Booth says:

    No matter how alarmist Gore might be sound, some people still refuse to heed his message. As a case in point, consider the following letter-to-the editor that appeared in yesterday’s Hartford (Connecticut) Courant. Responding to an article about the growing size of homes and their demand for energy, a local resident responded:

    “…His scolding of us all for leaving a larger carbon footprint than he would select for us is just the tip of the environmentalist’s agenda. “I’m proud of my carbon footprint. I wish it could’ve been larger, but my inherent fiscal restraint in not leaving an inordinate residue for my progeny to contend with has constrained me. Speaking of progeny, I’m also proud of all six of them, and I hope they will outdo me in the footsteps they leave behind.” The presumption inherent in Mr. Cox’s article is that there’s only so much of the Earth for each of us, and our purpose here is to sequester as much of it as we can so that only the occasional lightning strike, forest fire or volcano will ultimately survive us and release and redistribute it. The question: Do life-forms have a place in this system at all, and if so, how great should it be? “I would not choose the overly prescriptive wisdom that Mr. Cox presents, believing as I do that only our choices are about us and should remain in our free purview. The Earth will always win; we may choose lives of abundance or paucity as long as we inhabit it. Anything less than that is a true waste of life’s gift.”

    Fortunately, the author of the letter is out of step with the state of Connecticut – as I noted on another thread, the governors of the New England states have teamed up with the Premiers of the eastern Canadian provinces to set a series of targets aimed at reducing total GHG emissions by 75% (relative to the 1990 level) by the year 2050 ( It is their position that action must be taken now to assure economic stability in the future.

    RE: # 180 FP “I am missing something or else breathing and life are adding to the CO2 as well.”

    I think you are missing something. CO2 is recycled between the atmosphere, plants (which capture CO2 during photosynthesis), and organisms that consume the plants (animals, bacteria, fungi) and release CO2 as a by-product of respiration (plants also respire as a result of metabolizing their carbon-containing cellular fuels). If plants die and, instead of undergoing decay, are buried in an anaerobic environment, their carbon is sequestered, and sometimes ends up as a fossil fuel (coal, natural gas, etc). So, that carbon is taken out of the carbon cycle until that fossil fuel is burned, returning the sequestered carbon to the atmosphere as CO2 (and other by-products).

  40. 190
    k rutherford says:

    Re 179 comment by Sonja Christiansen – could she be at all related to Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen the editor of that obscure journal the eschews peer review, Energy & Environment?

    [Response: In the words of Henry the mild mannered janitor: “Could be…!” – gavin]

  41. 191
    Phillip Shaw says:

    A bit off topic but interesting . . . as I write this, according to the weather site, the temperature in Narsarsuaq, Greenland, is 52 degrees F, which is warmer than any of the locations they list in Alaska. Of course it is earlier in the day in Alaska, but for southern Greenland to be that warm with just eleven weeks left in the year is astonishing.

  42. 192
    Mary C says:

    Re 173. At the risk of appearing dense, I admit to being confused by the Botkin piece. I understand the argument that we can deal with climate change and other threats at the same time and have no problem with that idea. For the most part, Botkin does not seem to me to be making the argument that it is either or but rather that if the threat of GW is “over-hyped,” we may concentrate on relatively minor threats at the expense of more immediate and consequential ones. Botkin also does not appear to be among those people who have suddenly discovered the cause of the previously invisible poor in the world’s developing countries. Rather, the argument I get from the column is the idea that, yes, GW is happening but it is not nearly the threat that it is being made out to be. Botkin presents a background that gives his arguments some credibility to someone like me. What is it that I’m missing in reading it?

  43. 193
    tamino says:

    Re: #153 (cce)

    I have a strong criticism of your presentation. It’s about the presentation, not the content. Don’t take it the wrong way, this is meant to be constructive criticism.

    The narration is poorly done. There’s a lot of “um” and “er” and so on, the speech doesn’t flow very well — it’s a poor tribute to the words behind the voice. So I’d suggest re-recording the sound track, and actually rehearsing it before you do so. I know you’re not aiming for a professional job, but the more easily the narration flows, and the more *engaging* it is, the more persuasive you’ll be.

  44. 194
    David B. Benson says:

    Mary C (192) Did you read the article I linked in comment #150 of this thread?

  45. 195
    Taber Allison says:

    Mary C (192)

    I had written a “brilliant” post (:-) to respond to your query, which go lost as I was posting (I got a error due to heavy traffic).

    Suffice it to say, I don’t see what we gain by separating our response to the various threats such as habitat loss and climate change. First, polar bears are losing habitat (summer sea ice) due to arctic warming, so the threats are one and the same. Second, climate change, as an earlier poster suggested, will amplify the effect of other threats, including habitat loss. We can save a piece of land for orangutans (or other species) and watch the habitat change out from under them in response to the rapid warming (Botkin completely ignores that it is the rate of warming that is at issue – in the words of IPCC AR4 Ch. 6 – the rate is unprecedented. What took 5000 years at the end of the last ice age, may take only 100 years, if models are correct.)

    Finally, his comments about anonymous colleagues are gratuitous and not worth comment.

  46. 196
    Michael says:

    Ray, do you realise how anti-science it is – in ANY situation – to say “stay away, the science is settled”?

  47. 197
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE the Sonja Christiansen comment #179, I think what she might mean is that there is still up to a 1%, maybe up to a 5% chance AGW is not happening; or there’s no gravity; or E does not equal MC2; or that there’s no universe, not even a stochastic universe; and that it’s all just maya – illusion.

    Now don’t wake me up…or is it only when we’re sleeping that the universe and AGW seem to be real.

  48. 198
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 195

    “Ray, do you realise how anti-science it is – in ANY situation – to say “stay away, the science is settled”?”

    I don’t think he said that.

  49. 199
    Michael says:

    J.S. McIntyre
    The AGW crowd is hostile to challenge and investigation.

    I don’t think I would be too far off for me to say science IS challenge and investigation.

    This puts much of the AGW movement outside of science and into another realm.

    [Response: We at realclimate are neither a ‘crowd’ nor a ‘movement’, we are just scientists. Scientific challenges and investigations are welcome and indeed relished (what would be the fun otherwise?), but mis-informed contrariness is not. It’s up to you which line you choose to pursue. – gavin]

  50. 200
    robert says:

    Question for the modelers:

    In Botkin’s Wall Street Journal piece (referenced in 173 above), Botkin claims

    “The climate modelers who developed the computer programs that are being used to forecast climate change used to readily admit that the models were crude and not very realistic…”

    Do modelers today consider their models crude? My impression is no, but since there are people here to ask…