RealClimate logo

Al Gore’s movie

Filed under: — eric @ 10 May 2006 - (Français)

by Eric Steig

Along with various Seattle business and community leaders, city planners and politicians, a large group of scientists from the University of Washington got a chance to preview the new film, An Inconvenient Truth, last week. The film is about Al Gore’s efforts to educate the public about global warming, with the goal of creating the political will necessary for the United States to take the lead in efforts to lower global carbon emissions. It is an inspiring film, and is decidedly non-partisan in its outlook (though there are a few subtle references to the Bush administration’s lack of leadership on this and other environmental issues).

Since Gore is rumored to be a fan of RealClimate, we thought it appropriate to give our first impressions.

Much of the footage in Inconvenient Truth is of Al Gore giving a slideshow on the science of global warming. Sound boring? Well, yes, a little. But it is a very good slide show, in the vein of Carl Sagan (lots of beautiful imagery, and some very slick graphics and digital animation). And it is interspersed with personal reflections from Gore that add a very nice human element. Gore in the classroom in 1968, listening to the great geochemist Roger Revelle describe the first few years of data on carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere. Gore on the family farm, talking about his father’s tobacco business, and how he shut it down when his daughter (Al Gore’s sister) got lung cancer. Gore on the campaign trail, and his disappointment at the Supreme Court decision. This isn’t the “wooden” Gore of the 2000 campgain; he is clearly in his element here, talking about something he has cared deeply about for over 30 years.

How well does the film handle the science? Admirably, I thought. It is remarkably up to date, with reference to some of the very latest research. Discussion of recent changes in Antarctica and Greenland are expertly laid out. He also does a very good job in talking about the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity. As one might expect, he uses the Katrina disaster to underscore the point that climate change may have serious impacts on society, but he doesn’t highlight the connection any more than is appropriate (see our post on this, here).

There are a few scientific errors that are important in the film. At one point Gore claims that you can see the aerosol concentrations in Antarctic ice cores change “in just two years”, due to the U.S. Clean Air Act. You can’t see dust and aerosols at all in Antarctic cores — not with the naked eye — and I’m skeptical you can definitively point to the influence of the Clean Air Act. I was left wondering whether Gore got this notion, and I hope he’ll correct it in future versions of his slideshow. Another complaint is the juxtaposition of an image relating to CO2 emissions and an image illustrating invasive plant species. This is misleading; the problem of invasive species is predominantly due to land use change and importation, not to “global warming”. Still, these are rather minor errors. It is true that the effect of reduced leaded gasoline use in the U.S. does clearly show up in Greenland ice cores; and it is also certainly true that climate change could exacerbate the problem of invasive species.

Several of my colleagues complained that a more significant error is Gore’s use of the long ice core records of CO2 and temperature (from oxygen isotope measurements) in Antarctic ice cores to illustrate the correlation between the two. The complaint is that the correlation is somewhat misleading, because a number of other climate forcings besides CO2 contribute to the change in Antarctic temperature between glacial and interglacial climate. Simply extrapolating this correlation forward in time puts the temperature in 2100 A.D. somewhere upwards of 10 C warmer than present — rather at the extreme end of the vast majority of projections (as we have discussed here). However, I don’t really agree with my colleagues’ criticism on this point. Gore is careful not to state what the temperature/CO2 scaling is. He is making a qualitative point, which is entirely accurate. The fact is that it would be difficult or impossible to explain past changes in temperature during the ice age cycles without CO2 changes (as we have discussed here). In that sense, the ice core CO2-temperature correlation remains an appropriate demonstration of the influence of CO2 on climate.

For the most part, I think Gore gets the science right, just as he did in Earth in the Balance. The small errors don’t detract from Gore’s main point, which is that we in the United States have the technological and institutional ability to have a significant impact on the future trajectory of climate change. This is not entirely a scientific issue — indeed, Gore repeatedly makes the point that it is a moral issue — but Gore draws heavily on Pacala and Socolow’s recent work to show that the technology is there (see Science 305, p. 968 Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies).

I’ll admit that I have been a bit of a skeptic about our ability to take any substantive action, especially here in the U.S.
Gore’s aim is to change that viewpoint, and the colleagues I saw the movie with all seem to agree that he is successful.

In short: this film is worth seeing. It opens in early June.

245 Responses to “Al Gore’s movie”

  1. 1
    Hank Roberts says:

    Invasives are favored by increased carbon dioxide — if not by global warming. (I haven’t looked for warming +invasives recently).

    Did the slide show conflate CO2 increase and temperature change, re invasives? If so, easy to fix that. CO2 will increase faster than temperature, for the first hundred years or so, eh?

    Searching for CO2 +”invasive plants” the first hits include this 2005 info. There’s more and current research going on on this question, too.

    Global Warming, Rising CO2 and Invasive Plants. Dr. Lewis Ziska, Plant Physiologist, USDA
    Crop Systems and Global Change Lab

    “… current levels of atmospheric CO2 are less than optimal for plant growth, ….
    “…. we have compared the potential response to recent and projected changes in carbon
    dioxide between invasive, noxious species and other plant groups, and assessed whether CO2
    preferentially selects for such species within ecosystems. A synthesis of literature results
    indicates that invasive, noxious weeds on the whole have a larger than expected growth increase
    to both recent and projected increases in atmospheric CO2 relative to other plant species. There
    is also evidence from a majority of studies, than rising CO2 can, in fact, preferentially select for
    invasive, noxious species within plant communities …”

    [Response: See my response after #3, below –eric ]

  2. 2
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Thanks very much not only for presenting this posting, but for the spirit in which it’s presented. Nature’s editors were right in 2004 to predict, in effect, that would be a breakthrough in the relationship between science and society. Maybe Vice President Gore represents something along those lines too.

    I hope James Taranto and his editorial colleagues at the Wall Street Journal — a publication vital to advancing America’s climate discussion — are reading this new posting. Mr. Taranto falls below the standards of his fine intellect with his constant mere sarcasm about climate science, and his colleagues fall below the standards of their fine editorial page by failing, continually, to have that page present science’s actual climate views to the WSJ’s readers. Elsewhere, similar things can be said concerning George F. Will.

    Let’s hope that Mr. Gore’s reportedly serious effort inspires some corresponding seriousness on the political right, and among people who claim to think seriously about the word _conserve_ underlying the word _conservative_.

  3. 3
    Lance Olsen says:

    I’m not sure that the sprawl of “invasive” plants should be attributed exclusively to land use. I see at least some reason to anticipate that many plant species will be regarded as “invasive” as warming forces them into upslope/poleward migratory response.

    My hunch is that land use and warming will interact, and that the future distribution of plant species will be an expression of that interaction.

    [Response: Regarding this and the first comment: I’m in no way saying that there is no connection, nor even that the connection is trivial, between greenhouse gases and invasive species. But I think it is important not to put all environmental issues under the “climate change” banner. Even if we were to get the climate “back to normal” (whatever that means), city gardeners in Central Park, NY, would have no less work to do keeping back the kudzu and the British ivy. For the record, I didn’t even notice this apparent conflation in the film; several of my colleagues did though. You’ll have to see the film to assess for yourself how big a deal this is. Since I didn’t even notice it — and I was looking for errors — it is evidently not an important part of the film! — eric]

  4. 4
    A Fortner says:

    Could not help but chuckle at this assertion:

    “And it is interspersed with personal reflections from Gore that add a very nice human element.” Um, sure they do. He is so known for his, you know, humanlike qualities.

    Also, when was Gore born? 1948? He was sitting in a class listening to an imminent geochemist in 1958, at age 10?

    [Response: Oops. I thought that they said 1958 in the movie, and so I wrote “Gore in the classroom, in 1958 …” But as you point out that can’t be right. I’ll try to figure out the correct date, but for now I’ve deleted it to avoid confusion. –eric]
    [OK, I’ve updated this to 1968, which is probably right since according to the NY Times Gore graduated from Harvard in 1969. -eric]

  5. 5
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:


    Thanks for the review. I haven’t seen the movie. One reaction to your review — I am a bit puzzled by your comments on Gore’s use of the Katrina disaster to suggest that climate change will have significant impacts. Even if we postulate that global warming will increase hurricane intensity on average by XX% (fill in the blank), disasters will continue to be driven overwhelmingly by societal vulnerability, which was exactly what occurred with Katrina. And as you know direct attribution of Katrina or its intensity to greenhouse gas emissions remains a scientific topic of study and even the hurricane experts are not yet in consensus on this subject.

    Unless Gore was using Katrina to highlight the importance of adaptation, which would be appropriate in my view, using Katrina to set the stage for arguing for emissions reductions is simply scientifically indefensible. Of course, if Al Gore is advocating adaptation it would represent a huge shift from Earth in the Balance in which he excoriated those who advocate strategies of adaptation.


    [Response: Ah, Roger, you are so right! I don’t know how I could have overlooked this elementary point. You should have mentioned it to us before. It really is scandalous how the vast sums spent by the present Administration on fighting Global Warming have starved the government coffers to such an extent that they couldn’t afford to buy a decent levee system for New Orleans. I’m shocked, I really am. –raypierre]

    [Response: On a slightly more constructive note, I recall from the slide show (not the movie, which I haven’t yet seen), that Katrina is used as an example of a) how vulnerable society is weather events, and b) how preparedness, even for something as widely and correctly predicted as a hurricane hitting New Orleans, was woefully inadequate. I’m not sure that gives anyone confidence in society’s ability to adapt to the changes climate change will bring about. -gavin]

    [Response: Yes, what Gavin said. But you’ll have to judge for yourself, Roger, exactly what Gore does with this example, and whether you agree with him. My point was simply that he did not, in my judgement, overstate, the global warming/hurricance connection. Regardless of what the best societal response is, the strength of that connection is purely a scientific question. -eric]

  6. 6
    Mauri Pelto says:

    I greatly enjoyed the trailer for this movie. And look forward to the whole show. A student of mine gave me a tape of last weeks Too Hot Not to Handle on HBO, this was another in a long of accurate, basic and uninspiring documentaries. The title of Gore’s piece is great and will surely swamp the readership of George Will in terms of interest. Trailer link

  7. 7
    Rob Davis, Minneapolis says:

    Scientific issue, moral issue — regarding climate change, I do not think that these are strong motivating factors for the US public.
    What we need are issues of competition and economics. “Climate change is a business opportunity! Get rich and save the world! etc…” Mainstream American consumers need issues that tie in to “the American dream.”

    [Response:Gore makes this point very strongly in the film. Since RealClimate is a science website, I wanted to comment on the science. I will note here, as an example, though, that he makes a rather nice case that it is the lack of environmental controls on the U.S. auto industry that has led to its declining competitiveness in the world. In other words, yes, get rich and save the world at the same time — eric]

  8. 8
    Dano says:

    RE 3 and 6 and response:

    The FACE labs doing this research find interesting results. The argument in Hank’s abstract means the type of plant that can access and utilize extra CO2 are generally those that are adapted to disturbed areas or adapted to rapidly changing conditions.

    Now, whether we as a society can adapt to using these kinds of plants if this turns out to be the case – as some seem to think we should do – is an open question. I, personally, see no evidence of this since our societies became agrarian. Nonetheless, the work being done now indicates that many plants are adapted to a lower CO2 environment and higher atm CO2 will be problematic for many members of the Plantae, rather than the blanket ‘boon’ argument that is currently being recycled.



  9. 9
    Bolo says:

    “Um, sure they do. He is so known for his, you know, humanlike qualities.”

    To the best of my knowledge, this is more a matter of his treatment at the hands of the press rather than an actual character flaw. It’s also why I’m worried that this movie actually won’t have the impact we’re all hoping it to have–Gore has been villified (with little or no evidence) as a “robot,” “liar,” etc. by the press in the past. His approval ratings are lower than those of George Bush right now. For more, check out the voluminous archives at the Daily Howler (

    I just hope people don’t take the South Park angle and write this movie off as just being a big ego-trip for the “Gore the Exaggerator” stereotype that the press has constructed.

  10. 10
    Roger Pielke Jr. says:

    Ray- Interesting response.

    Gavin- Thanks, more encouraging.

    [Response: Roger, see my additional note after comment #5, above. -eric]

  11. 11
    Grant says:

    Re: #7

    I agree that “scientific issue” is not a strong motivator for the American public. But I think “moral issue” is. “Economic issue” is also a strong motivator, and “national security issue” (a phrase adopted by Wesley Clark) may be the strongest of all.

  12. 12
    Eli Rabett says:

    Mr. Fortner’s comment is just the problem. The mistake was Eric’s (not a huge one), but Al gets the snark. This is exactly how this movie is being attacked.

  13. 13
    Grant says:

    Re: #12

    I didn’t see any attack on the movie in Mr. Fortner’s comment. And since it hasn’t been released yet, the only attacks on the movie are from the prejudiced.

    I’ve seen the trailer, and it’s very impressive; I intend to see the movie on opening day (how may regulars here plan the same?). I have a feeling that first, Gore will come off as far less “wooden” than his reputation, and second, reaction will be dominated by the movie itself, not Gore’s reputation.

    It also seems to me that in terms of press coverage, the tide may be turning. Witness Time magazine’s cover story, the good coverage of the reconciliation of ground-based and tropospheric temperatures, and many more. The press seems finally to get the point: global warming is real and the cause is us. The consequences are likely to be dire.

    [Response: One of the things Gore emphasized in the question and answer session after the movie is that Time magazine’s “Be Very Worried” cover was not constructive. Gore’s point is that the U.S. has risen to challenges before, and exceeded all expectations. His major point is, “come on guys, lets show the world what we in the U.S. can do.” So the popular press is only just now catching up with the science. It seems a ways back in catching up with Gore.–eric]

  14. 14
    Bird Thompson says:

    Let the yahoos attack; maybe it will just add to the publicity for the film. It sounds like the science (& morality) will carry the day for Big Al. I love the fact that his father shut down the family tobacco business. It’s time to evolve…

  15. 15
    Catherine Jansen says:

    Thanks for this fine review.

    Many of you probably know that the recent Green Issue of Vanity Fair contains an essay by Gore, titled “The Moment of Truth”. Here’s a link:

    The issue also contained an article titled “While Washington Slept” which gave some insights into the political side of things:

  16. 16
    Mark A. York says:

    What Gavin said on #5. I’m hoping my book will fare as well with the staff here as VP Gore’s film did.

  17. 17
    gringo says:


    “At one point Gore claims that you can see the aerosol concentrations in Antarctic ice cores change “in just two years”, due to the U.S. Clean Air Act. You can’t see dust and aerosols at all in Antarctic cores — not with the naked eye.”

    Chemical signals embedded in ice cores are believed to contain a record of past climate-altering events (volcanic eruptions, El Nino episodes), as well as anthropogenic influences. Both the atmospheric and ice core records at the South Pole contain a seasonal signal associated with winter sea salt peaks and summer sulfate peaks. Summertime peaks in the ice core sulfate to sodium mass concentration ratio correspond to peaks in the aerosol Angstrom exponent (Fig. 2). This suggests that ice cores at the South Pole record aerosol chemical composition information on a seasonal basis.

    Why do you think Gore meant that you can see it “with the naked eye”?

    [Response: I don’t think Gore actually said “with the naked eye”, but that is how I took it. In any case, yes, one can subsample ice cores at very fine resolution — as short as a couple of weeks at South Pole. In fact, this is what my lab at the University of Washington does every day! But the question is whether there is any measureable impact in Antarctica from changes in aerosol emissions from the U.S. The answer is, no, there is not. Indeed, we’ve barely begun to see the impact of increased sulfate and nitrogen oxides (very important globally, and very clear in Greenland) in Antarctica. This is because Antarctica remains very much isolated from the rest of the globe, when it comes to soluble things (i.e. stuff that can get washed out of the air by precipitation), because precipitation rates are so high in the subpolar latitudes. So.. to be very clear: Gore’s mistake was very minor; his overall point (that ice cores are a great source of information) was entirely correct. But the specific statement he made was wrong on two counts: 1) you can’t “see” these changes (and “see” is the word he used); 2) you can’t even detect them in Antarctica, though you may be able to elsewhere. –eric]


    Exactly what do you call “humanlike qualities”? The last time I checked Gore was not a Martian. Whatever he does therefore is humanlike — even if he is not like you. Your behavior is not the standard, anyway.

  18. 18
    Andrew Dessler says:

    In 1990, I was a TA for an Earth science class when Al Gore visited to give his “stump speech” on climate to the class. He had just been running for Prez in 1988 and I was very impressed with how much he knew and how polished the talk was. But one error really stood out: it was the same correlation-causality problem described above. He said “look at how CO2 and temperature have tracked each other over the past few hundred thousand years … this proves that increasing CO2 will lead to increased temperatures.” Even though I was a lowly grad student, I knew that logic was wrong, and I’m sorry to hear that he has not corrected that in the intervening 16 years. I view this as a pretty serious logical error, so I hope he (eventually) gets around to correcting this.

    [Response: But this is a case where there is a great deal of causality, and not just correlation. The Vostok T and CO2 data alone cannot be used to conclude that CO2 affects temperature, but together with other things we know about climate it is a real showstopper. You simply cannot get anything like this without a very significant effect of Co2 on climate. –raypierre]

    [Response: Yes, I agree with Ray on this. The simple CO2-T correlation = causation argument is overly simplistic, but it is not wrong. What is clearly going on in the glaciological record of climate change on long timescales is a positive feedback system — temperature goes up, leading to more CO2, leading to increased T. Please see our post on this (one of the very first posts on RealClimate), here –eric]

  19. 19

    #5 Dr Pielke:

    “using Katrina to set the stage for arguing for emissions reductions is simply scientifically indefensible.”

    Strong words, which do not match reality. Current and recent weather facts suggest a strong NH warming signal, undeniable by any scientific standard, precluding GW as a contributing factor for Katrina’s intensity isn’t anymore credible than saying GW caused Katrina.

  20. 20
    Alain Henry says:

    About the use of Pacala & Socolow.
    I think their pragmatic view of what is feasible is very useful. What I am concerned with is that Pacala & Socolow mention stabilisation of GHG emissions between 2000 and 2050, while a decrease of emissions is needed to limit global warming. Assuming for example the 2°C european objective, a reduction of 30% to 55% of worldwide emissions between 1990 et 2050 seems necessary.

    For details, see for example: den Elzen Michel, 2006, How to achieve the 2°C target: the costs and risks of overshooting, presented at the Low stabilisation scenarios conference in Potsdam, 16-17 March 2006, March 2006,

  21. 21
    pete best says:

    Dear RC

    Looking at all of the articles posted here and from other sites the scientific community has a consensus that CO2 (and other emissions) are causing the average temperature to rise across the entire globe. Now whether Al Gore is correctly understanding the scientific data and analysis to put forward a case for reducing emissions is the issue here. I agree with RC on this one,it is accurate enough to my mind. after all the USA/UK went to war in Iraq on a lot of false premises.

  22. 22
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Pacala & Socolow do not show how to stabilise emissions, but how to reduce them in order to stabilise CO2 in the atmosphere at 500 ppm. See here:

    They set out all the different technologies and measures which would achieve this, and I imagine that a scenario for stabilising CO2 at lower levels would still very much build on those ideas.

    Almuth Ernsting

  23. 23
    C. W. Dingman says:

    I’m very pleased to learn of your positive review of Gore’s movie. I look forward to seeing it. Locally, I’ve done a little trying to help folks understand the scientific underpinings to the conclusions about paleoclimates drawn from the data found in ice cores and marine sediments. I understand the relationship between the oxygen isoptope (18-O) content of carbonate shells and the temperature at which the shell originally crystallized but I would like info on the apparently more important relationship between 18-O of (what?) in marine sediments and the total ice volume (extent of glaciation)at the time of formation. Can anyone refer me to a source for this? Thanks
    C. W. Dingman

    [Response: The 18-O of carbonate shells reflects both the 18-O of the ocean water in which the shells grew, and the temperature at which they grew. Isotopically light water (H2-16O) is preferentially evaporated from the ocean, so precipitation is isotopically light compared with ocean water. As ice sheets build up on land, the ocean gets progressively enriched in 18-O. What is observed in the ocean sediment records is that the 18-O of the shells of benthic (deep ocean-dwelling) organisms varies up and down by about 1 per mil through glacial cycles. That’s almost entirely due to changes in ice volume (or, if you like, in ocean volume). The 18-O in planktonic (surface dwelling) organisms varies much more because both the ice volume effect and temperature are involved. If you assume that the deep ocean temperatures don’t change at all (this is not true, but is a pretty good approximation), then you have two equations and two unknowns, and so you get ice volume AND temperature. A good basic reference on this is Ray Bradley’s book, Quaternary Paleoclimatology. –eric]

  24. 24
    jhm says:


    Thank you for this.

    While a little off-topic, I have two questions inspired by comments above:

    i) Are there any sites similar to RealClimate about possible substitutes for Petroleum based energy? I would love to see a science-based discussion of possible non carbon-emitting sources of energy. For example, thee has been a lot of talk about ethanol, and biodiesel, but little effort to explain these fuels in their entirety (changes in land use, use of petroleum-based fertilizers, Energy Returned On Energy Invested [EROIE] et cetera).

    ii) Any sites for discussion on investing with an eye toward green energy? (OK that isn’t really a sentence). Since seeing that Mr. Gore was involved in Generation Investment Management, but I’m thinking about the average investor’s IRA.

  25. 25
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Wayne (#19)-

    It is more complicated than whether or not GHGs have affected hurrricanes. In my statement that you cite I assumed a GHG influence. The question is not whether or not GHGs affect hurricanes, but rather, what role can emissions reductions have as part of future disaster mitigation strategies. Have a look at these:

    I accept Eric’s point about the science (#5), however, Gore’s movie and my point are about the relationship of science and action — specifically, policy advocacy and the justifications used to sell certain policies to policy makers and the public. From what I have seen thus far Gore on hurricanes is overselling his policy claims by misusing hurricanes and Katrina. For some people, including one of the commenters here who responded to me, the politics of climate change and anger at the Bush Administration apparently justify overlooking such flawed policy arguments. This is disappointing because in the case of hurricanes the policy research conclusions are peer reviewed, robust, and unchallenged. Thanks.

  26. 26
    david Iles says:

    Thanks for the review of the movie I look forward to seeing it.

    I hope this is the first step to an endorsement of it by Real climate and other climate scientists. The public may not be motivated by a scientific argument but it sure is willing to be unmotivated by a sense that scientists disagree on the basic tenets of global warming. So I hope you will support Mr. Gore in his goal of motivating the public to action because I still believe you have an essential role here. Obviously there is disagreement among scientist about specifics. Raypierre’s response to Dr Pielke jr. (#5) is a good example. I just hope you can keep it civil.

    I took Roger jrs. point to be: that adaptation will have to be part of the strategy for survival, which is clearly true, isnt it? Adaptation has always been humans strong point.

    I have also read Dr Pielke Srs thoughts on these issues (see: ), and I feel that he has something of value to add to the discussion also. His notion of assessing vulnerabilities and local contributors to planetary warming seems to me to be a good idea, except it would take a lot of political will and time, and we are very short on both at the moment, so it may be a diversion from the main show, which is adaptation is it not? (I have asked Dr Pielke Sr several times about what he feels the risks are of taking a slow approach and frankly he seemed unwilling to directly answer me).

    Doesn’t adaptation mean we have to consume less energy in every way possible? Streamline and maximize our efforts and resources into developing some of the technologies that have been somewhat starved in their infancy such as, solar, biomass, methanol, offshore wind, tidal, and yes even cold fusion which shows a lot more scientific promise then the mainstream press ever lets on post the Ponds and Flieshman debacle. (I believe excess heat is produced 70 to 80 percent of the time.)

    As far as Pacala and Socolow are concerned.
    Do they mean by carbon sequestering pumping it down into caves and just sort of hope it stays there? From a non-scientists point of view this looks boneheaded at best. However if they mean converting it into limestone which I understand is technically possible this would be an excellent solution. Maybe it is unrealistic of me but if we could avoid the temptation to continue our landfill-based economy and move into a no waste economy everyone would benefit. That is why I feel that their goal of adding double the current global capacity is dangerous. Yucca Mountain as a nuclear landfill sight is apparently not a great choice in itself, but also clearly has a limited capacity so will fill up and I guess the assumption is that by then we will know what to do with our waste by then. I feel this is irresponsible. Most of there suggestions are good ones however.

    We may have to face that we cannot live as large in the short term as we are used to. That will be a tough sell to the burgers and television feed right-to-live-easy-and-sacrifice nothing-empire, but I believe it could create a more stable prosperity in the long run. We need to support the politicians like Mr. Gore who are willing to stick their necks out and call to the side of us that still recognizes that humans have always survivied by working together.

    [Response: Some good points here, but you should not forget another aspect of adaption: smart organisation. The thought springs to mind every time I visit London and see the rush-hour traffic there. Sitting in a car – one person in each – for hours commuting back and forth to work does not seem to me to be a very smart way of organising a society. It’s very inefficient. Imagine if you could put four people into each car, and cut down on the amount of metal on the roads by 50-75%. I would imagine that such a reduction could really unclog the system – but I have not done any research on this. This is just one example to point out how re-structuring some behvavioural pattern may/could have some impact (the society would even save energy overall!). Think about how much Internet and mobile phones have transformed our lives. I hope that our generation, with the benefit of our modern technology and advanced kno how, should aim at being the smartest generation ever, and be able to meet new challlenges better prepared than previous ones. But, at this point, this is just a vision. -rasmus]

  27. 27
    Bolo says:

    Re: #24 (jhm)

    Well, covers issues such as alternative fuels and green technology, though I’m not sure if they go to the depth you’re looking for.

    The site’s worth checking out… lots of people who would know the things you’re asking for go there, so posting your question in the comments there could be fruitful.

  28. 28
    Ray says:

    Isn’t the real point that Sea level rise will make coastal regions far more vulnerable? Katrina turns out to be a valid example of possible effect even if GW doesn’t result in stronger or more frequent storms. It also connects with people far more than some abstract consequence that our kids might have to deal with – all too often dismissed by a skeptical public.

  29. 29
    Hank Roberts says:

    Eric, as a nonscientist, I think when a scientists says he can “see” something in the data he can be allowed instrumentation and inference; that’s how I would have heard Gore’s words — that there’s a signal someone has found and published.

    More generally — this would seem the time to get the footnotes and citations together for that movie, and for the presumably live and changing slide-speech outline.

    Assuming someone from Mr. Gore’s program is reading — please, the citations, the footnotes.

    The signal Eric says can’t be seen in his ice cores is an example, but you’ll be wanting to give documentation for every statement made.

    That’s the teaching moment in this — teach science, citations, and how to look things up instead of trust what’s said in the movie.

    Even if it was wrong — show us the source from which the claim went into the slide show and movie; then amend the slide show and add the new citation to the documentation.


  30. 30
    A Fortner says:

    To give a little more substance to my attitude toward Gore that obviously underlies my original comments above:

    First, a little background. I am not a scientist. Before you scoff at my take on this based on that, remember this: most people are not scientists. In order to make the policy and practical changes that most of you here seek in order to fight the man-made climate change you perceive, you need to convince other than just scientists that there is such a thing, and that it is something to worry about. This is so because it is going to take the political and practical participation of at least a majority of the US population in order to effectuate the kinds of large scale changes that are sought.

    I assume that Gore here means to attempt just that with his movie – that is, to reach out beyond the scientific community and to educate and convince the population at large on the importance of this topic, and to spur them to action. Fine. I have no problem with that. [ad hom edited]

    Whatever his fans may think of him, there are a lot of people out there that just don’t like him. They think he comes across as self-important and haughty in his manner, beyond the standard criticism that he is a bit “wooden”. It seems to many that he thinks he is entitled to be listened to – that he is the smartest guy in any given room. He also is perceived as patronizing and insincere. [ad hom edited]

    Now, you may agree or disagree with that take on Mr. Gore, but the fact remains that he evokes these reactions in a large percentage of the US population. This is not a secret. Gore himself jokes about it. Knowing this, Gore should also know that the message he wants to convey with his movie is going to be overshadowed in the minds of many by this preconceived notion they have about him.

    Given all this, I, and I assure you many people like me, are left to wonder this: What is more important to Mr. Gore here? Is he most concerned that this message get out, or that he be the one to get it out? It seems to me that if he really wanted to do something that would reach and convince a lot of people to come over to his point of view on this matter, then he would have done it in a way that did not put himself front and center. Again, I know that he knows that a lot of people are turned off by him. Surely the other people involved in this project know that as well. Why hamstring your own effort?

    Here is the real crux of the matter on this point: We all know that, as for the political and philosophical side of this discussion over man-made climate change, it is liberals/progressives/Democrats that largely “get it” and are on board with the view on this issue that Gore espouses, and it is conservatives/Republicans that are largely on the other side. Why that is true is complicated, and a discussion for another time. What matters here is that Gore does not need to convince his political fellow travelers – he needs to convince the other side. He should know, that his presence, his voice, his personality, etc. grates on that other side.

    All that to say that, the merits of this issue aside, it seems to me that if Gore wants to advance this issue, as opposed to advancing himself, then he would get off the screen and let some one else do the talking.

    [Response: First, this isn’t a partisan issue – even if it is sometimes portrayed that way – there are many senior people on both sides that ‘get it’. Secondly, everyone in the public realm comes with ‘baggage’ and I assume that they try and do their best regardless. It seems doubtful this movie would have been made and released were it not for it’s main speaker and so it seems difficult to criticise someone for using the interest there is in them personally, to push for ideas they think are important. I suggest you see the movie and then come back and see whether Gore’s presence adds or detracts from the theme. – gavin]

  31. 31
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #24: One site is the Alternative Energy Action Network, (One of the founders of that, Arthur Smith has occasionally posted in the comments section of Real Climate.)

    The Union of Concerned Scientists ( ) also has a lot of info on alternative energy.

    I’m not sure what these sites have in regards to the particular questions you raised…but they are certainly worth a look.

  32. 32
    pete best says:

    #re 24

    Alternative energies to Fossil Fuels that can mitigate AGW are available, however we can only mitigate fossil fuel use and not replace entirely with any means currently available to us. If we combine, solar, geothermal, windmicrowind, wave, tidal, nuclear fission, biomass – ethenol based fuels then we could probably mitigate fossil fuel use by around 50% maybe.

  33. 33
    Hank Roberts says:

    A political/economic take on this — one answer would be for governments to buy the fossil fuel reserves (especially coal) from the private owners, or buy back the rights to mine them from public land. That gives the owners some ‘value’ for their ‘property rights’ — which might get us out of the monkey-trap of being unable to let go of the ‘investment in fossil fuels’ to be able to switch to developing sources of energy that don’t increase CO2.

  34. 34
    Doug Percival says:

    jhm wrote in comment #24:

    i) Are there any sites similar to RealClimate about possible substitutes for Petroleum based energy? […]

    ii) Any sites for discussion on investing with an eye toward green energy?

    I strongly recommend the new book Winning The Oil Endgame by clean-energy pioneer Amory Lovins (of the Rocky Mountain Institute) et al. From the Winning The Oil Endgame abstract:

    This independent, peer-reviewed synthesis for American business and military leaders charts a roadmap for getting the United States completely, attractively, and profitably off oil. Our strategy integrates four technological ways to displace oil: using oil twice as efficiently, then substituting biofuels, saved natural gas, and, optionally, hydrogen. Fully applying today’s best efficiency technologies in a doubled-GDP 2025 economy would save half the projected U.S. oil use at half its forecast cost per barrel. Non-oil substitutes for the remaining consumption would also cost less than oil. These comparisons conservatively assign zero value to avoiding oil’s many “externalized” costs, including the costs incurred by military insecurity, rivalry with developing countries, pollution, and depletion. The vehicle improvements and other savings required needn’t be as fast as those achieved after the 1979 oil shock.

    The route we suggest for the transition beyond oil will expand customer choice and wealth, and will be led by business for profit. We propose novel public policies to accelerate this transition that are market-oriented without taxes and innovation-driven without mandates. A $180-billion investment over the next decade will yield $130-billion annual savings by 2025; revitalize the automotive, truck, aviation, and hydrocarbon industries; create a million jobs in both industrial and rural areas; rebalance trade; make the United States more secure, prosperous, equitable, and environmentally healthy; encourage other countries to get off oil too; and make the world more developed, fair, and peaceful.

  35. 35
    Marcus says:

    Roger (#25) – Even taking your result as a given (eg, that increases in hurricane damage over the next 50 years will be due much more to development patterns than to increases in climate-change induced frequency or intensity changes), I think I reach different conclusions than you do.

    First: For policy relevance, you are comparing the wrong numbers. You should be comparing (dollars hurricane damage avoided ‘dhda’) per (dollar invested in adaptation ‘diia’) to (dhda) per (dollar invested in climate change reductions ‘diiccr’) to decide the more efficient approach. But let’s assume that dhda/diia is still larger than dhda/diiccr (and also that dhda/diiccr is less than one):

    The second, more important point: I don’t think many (any?) emissions reduction advocates say we should be reducing emissions solely for the cause of hurricane reduction. There are a laundry list of standard reasons (saving ecosystems, agricultural impacts due to precipitation changes, permafrost thawing, heat waves, sea level rise, reduced snowpack impacts on water supplies, etc. etc. etc.) to reduce emissions. It is possible that for any individual item on this laundry list, adaptation is a preferable solution to mitigation. However, if you take the _sum_ of the laundry list, I would argue that the scales begin to tip towards mitigation as being a cost effective approach. And to properly understand the magnitude of this sum, you need to have some idea about the relationship of each individual item on the list to climate change…

    (In fact, I think adaptation will still be necessary, both because there is some “committed” changes in the pipeline, but also because any good economist will tell you that this is a marginal cost problem: cost per ton GHG reduced will increase as low-hanging fruit is taken, and one presumes some adaptation measures are low cost and should be implemented regardless)

    So I think that “honest policy assessment” _should_ take into account the links between climate mitigation and future disasters, and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

  36. 36
    Leonard Evens says:

    With respect to Comment #30:

    The suggestion seems to be that Al Gore is more interested in putting himself front and center than he is in the issue itself. But Gore has been pushing the issue of climate change for quite a while, and during most of this time, it was not politically beneficial for him to do so. Certainly, there are a lot of people who dislike him for a variety of reasons, but remember that in the election of 2000, he did receive a plurality of the votes. It is probably not true that the great majority of those who voted for him then did so because of his position on global warming. So, if he just manages to convince those who voted for him then and are now feeling even more sorry he wasn’t elected, that they should take global warming more seriously, he will have accomplished something.

    As to conservatives who feel they can’t believe anything that man may say because of their dislike of him, I think they seriously have to ask whether the dislike is based on the relatively minor personality features they describe or if it is what he stands for. I’ve always found George W. Bush personally annoying for a variety of reasons, but if he had followed through on his 2000 campaign promise to do something about controlling greenhouse gas emissions, I would have swallowed my dislike and supported him on that issue. But he reneged on that promise. Unfortunately, conservatives in the US can find very few political figures they might respect who can lead them to sensible energy and climate policies. John McCain is the only one that comes immediately to mind. The situation seems quite different in Great Britain, where Margaret Thatcher took the issue quite seriously. That by itself shows that this need not be a partisan issue.

    I think we must all learn to question some of our dearly held beliefs if we are going to make progress in this area. For example, many “environmentalists” are not ready to consider nuclear reactors as one part of the solution, but I think they will have to get to that. It is not the job of liberals to convince conservatives to pay attention. It is all our jobs to understand the science as best we can and to put pressure on our leaders to adopt solutions that will work.

  37. 37
    Bjorn Cole says:

    Re #35
    What would be extremely interesting to add to the dataset of just dollars per hurricane damage (since there are sensitivities to both raw geography and how insane we decide to be with development practices) would be a chart of how the 100-year flood (or hurricane damage equivalent) regions would change in an era of higher and warmer seas. Inside this country would be a start, but worldwide would eventually be needed.

    So, if you were to take the changes of coastlines due to AGW, and then also look at the changes of predicted disaster zones due to AGW, you would likely get a very worrying picture indeed. Especially if you look at densely populated, previously safe areas that suddenly become regular disaster zones.

  38. 38
    da silva says:

    To Eric’s response to number 13: One of the things Gore emphasized in the question and answer session after the movie is that Time magazine’s “Be Very Worried” cover was not constructive. Gore’s point is that the U.S. has risen to challenges before, and exceeded all expectations. His major point is, “come on guys, lets show the world what we in the U.S. can do.” So the popular press is only just now catching up with the science. It seems a ways back in catching up with Gore.

    Given the tenor of the tenor of the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s take on the Time cover seems a little hypocritical. Both are sensational, in the worst sense of the term. But then, as Gore himself explains in an interview over at Grist, it’s a trailer, it’s supposed to grab your attention quickly. Ditto magazine covers.

  39. 39
    Brian Jackson says:

    Re #36 (Leonard Evens):

    “The situation seems quite different in Great Britain, where Margaret Thatcher took the issue quite seriously. That by itself shows that this need not be a partisan issue.”

    I think this link serves to illustrate the current political debate about climate change in the UK.

  40. 40
    Jim Redden says:

    Regarding #30 and #36 Appropriateness of Gore the messenger

    I would tend to agree that a paradigm shift is in order–so a RANDOM thought shared out loud–perhaps if the likes of Milton Friedman, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Silvio Berlusconi, et al, were converted, and then presented the Global Climate Change message to the world’s population, rather than the esteemed Al Gore, the message would fall in the right place(s). Business folks all surely have progeny.

    For the reasons mentioned earlier, while I am sure to see the film, I wonder if the effort amounts to preaching to the choir, and polarizes receptivity for non-Gore fan base.

    [Response: In person, Gore made it pretty clear that he thought it was invetiable that the U.S. “catches up” with the rest of the world. I think he is actually less concerned with trying to “convert” conservatives. He may be preaching to the choir, but the choir is not doing very much. He is trying to get serious people do not only recognize the problem, but to take up the challenge to do something about it. This is the part of the movie that resonated with me, at least. Gore is certainly trying to avoid polarizatoin. Whether he succeeds depends on how the movie fares in “mainstream” reviews I suppose. –eric]

  41. 41
    pat neuman says:

    re 13. response,

    I think not catching up with the science is due to a failure by all governments in meeting their responsibilities. For evidence of that, please see the absence of federal, state and local officials at the planned TOWN MEETING ON GLOBAL WARMING this Saturday (May 13th) in Minneapolis, link below.

  42. 42
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #5, we don’t really need Katrina to argue for GHG reductions — we have maybe 50 other reasons to reduce (incl measures that not only reduce GHGs, but reduce other pollutants, as well).

    It almost seems as if you are using scientists’ lack of ability to attribute Katrina (in part at least) to GW, as an excuse NOT to reduce any GHGs whatsoever, even if it means reducing them could save us money & strengthen the economy (even without consideration of reducing environmental harm). I know you are not…but it almost seems you are.

    Anywho, Katrina is water under the bridge (or over the levee), so we should be focused on averting future catastrophes (both by reducing GHGs & smart adaptation), bec the science is getting stronger that GW is causing & will cause hurricanes to intensify–the physics & theory have always suggested such a possibility, and now evidence is indicating that is correct. Maybe great cost-effective GHG reductions won’t reduce hurricane intensity a whole lot, esp in the short run (I guess that’s your point), but any little bit of reduction in intensity might help. It’s often that that last umph of intensity or inch of water that causes the most damage.

    So if you can prove at .05 significance that GW did not intensity Katrina, then we only have much worse to expect in the future, when GW really kicks in. So we really need to reduce GHGs mucho mucho, starting yesterday.

  43. 43
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Re 25:
    Roger, you seem to have made a value-judgment that counts hurricane damage in dollars, not human lives and livelihoods, and rates an expensive hotel on the Gulf Coast far above poor villages or towns in Cuba or Grenada.

    I have lost enough sleep thinking of the suffering we are causing through our greenhouse gas emissions to worry about property values (as opposed to lives and livelihoods lost) along the coast lines of the rich world.

    How should the society of Grenada adapt to perhaps another hurricane like Ivan in the next few years? Or, in future perhaps one every year, or maybe more every year? None of the Caribbean islands might be safe for people later this century. The US could, at an enormous cost, abandon the Gulf Coast, but where do the millions of people living on islands in the hurricane path go?

    What is the societal or economic adaptation you suggest for the people along the Bay of Bengal? Just up and move if ever more destructive cyclones slam the coastline? Storm shelters may have reduced deaths, but cannot save fields and homes. Whilst people from northern India may have to flee the mega drought that beckons when the glaciers vanish.

    Hurricanes kill people, destroy fields, homes and livelihoods. By heating the oceans we are fuelling the hurricanes of the future. Never mind the property values – is that not a good enough reason to reduce our emissions? I surely think so!

  44. 44
    SteveF says:

    Rasmus said in post 26:

    “Some good points here, but you should not forget another aspect of adaption: smart organisation. The thought springs to mind every time I visit London and see the rush-hour traffic there. Sitting in a car – one person in each – for hours commuting back and forth to work does not seem to me to be a very smart way of organising a society.”

    Whilst there is certainly a case to be made for car sharing and various schemes, the fundamental problem we have in London is that fact that the roads are pretty much all roman-medieval. The city simply wasn’t built for the car. There were plans in the ’30s to totally revamp the city for this mode of transport but it never happened. We aren’t like other European cities that knock things down and build grand projects; we simply add a bit here and there, onto existing structures.

    To truly reduce congestion would take something so radical as to be unpalatable to the politicians. The congestion charge is a payment made by people driving into central London and it stands at £5 per journey. Our evening paper yesterday reported in outraged tones that the mayor is thinking of increasing it to £10. I support this but I doubt many other people will. Still, if you think congestion is bad now, you should have seen it before charging was introduced.

  45. 45
    John L. McCormick says:

    Jim Redden, your RANDOM thought may be the Holy Grail. Not only would the message fall in the right place(s). It would fall upon the essential vested interests; all of whom have an ox in the changing climate ring that is likely to get gored..and that was not a pun.

    Elected politicians punch a 2, 4 and 6 year time clock. Having lobbied US Congress members for three decades, I can attest to their ADD. How to keep legislators and Executive Branch operators focused on a concern that plays out over decades, with upfront pain of uncertain magnitude and uncertain gain, in their lifetimes and certainly careers, is the near-hopeless task environmental activists have set out to accomplish.

    Then, there are the day traders and CEOs who have everything to lose if climate scientists have it right and -worse- underestimated timing and magnitude of the change. Archer Daniels Midland is betting the farm on expanding ethanol production – investing hundreds of billions in new capacity – without knowing if an ice-free Arctic will doom production of the grain feedstock.

    The insurance industry is getting it and fast. Other industry types will — eventually. It is the greater challenge to identify the eventual corporate deer-in-the-headlights and begin a dialogue about their survival and adaptation. But, envirornmental groups are antagonistic to capitalists and the religious community may not have the tools nor focus to step up to the corporate world with a message that does not reek of justice and social responsibility (maybe I am wrong there).

    Jim, keep working that RANDOM thought on this page if you can. It is as valuable as cracking the THC mystery.

    John McCormick

  46. 46
    Tony Noerpel says:

    The sister problem to global warming is peak oil. While the debate still rages, had anybody listed to Deffeyes, she would be long on oil and driving a Prius. Anybody taking Yergin’s side would have a sorry portfolio of airlines and GM and be driving a Hummer. We may pretend the debate is still relevant but we all know who we would have been better off heeding. To bad our government didn’t listen.

    If bark beetles are as smart as humans they must be congratulating themselves on their success. There has never been more of them populating the Kenai. I can imagine a Roger Pielke Beetle advising his fellow beetles that we don’t need to stop killing the spruce, all we have to do is adapt. Obviously a circular argument belonging in the circular file. When the last spruce is dead so are the bark beetles.

    David Iles (#26) is spot on and vastly more polite than I am. Adaptation means to stop engaging in the behaviors which are killing us and our biosphere. If we can’t do that then I submit that we are not adapting by definition. Adapting requires that we reduce emissions, stop cutting down the Amazonia, cease blowing up the mountains in the Appalachia, stop over fishing the oceans, stop destroying our soils with GM crops and factory farming and control our population. Using Katrina to set the stage for arguing for emissions reductions seems to me as scientifically rational as using melting glaciers and the rapid extinction of species. Anyway, my family members sold their home in Pensacola and moved North. Let the great hurricane debate rage on, but my money is on Emanuel. To bad our government isn’t listening.

    Adaptation can save us but being proud of adaptation skills which we are not exhibiting is going to kill us. Humans are not that adaptable. We are a very large mammal on top of an ever increasingly fragile food chain.

    To succinctly state the problem, there are 6.5 billion of us and the Earth’s carrying capacity may be 4 billion, but that number must be falling along with the tenuous state of our environment.

    Roger, some more investment advise: Bush’s supply side economic ideology and his war against nobody to control the world’s oil supply seems to have already bankrupted us and looks poised to destroy our economy. I’ve been long gold for years now. I could be completely wrong but there is money to be made believing in peak oil, global warming and that Bush is an idiot. Understand, I am not saying our president is an idiot. I’m only suggesting that you can make money investing on that premise. I’m not saying you and Yergin and Bush are wrong, far from it. I’m just saying you all make excellent contrarian indicators. Peace.

  47. 47
    Alain Henry says:

    Re: 22 (Re 20)
    The concepts proposed by Pacala and Socolow could indeed be very useful.

    My point is about the emissions profile. P&S propose a stabilisation of GHG emissions between 2000 and 2050 (I checked in your reference) and then a fall to zero net emissions in 2100. They claim it should stabilise GHG concentrations at 500 ppm.

    I fail to see how this is consistent with claims by others (see my ref in 20) than strong reductions are needed by 2050 to achieve that kind of concentration level. They assume non zero emissions by 2100, I agree, but would that explain the difference in needed 2050 emissions levels ?

  48. 48
    pat neuman says:

    re 47.


    … THE world will warm by 3C, even under the most optimistic emissions projections for 2050, according to the UN group that studies global warming. …
    … experts think it probable that pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels will double by 2050, even given successful efforts to contain greenhouse gas emissions. …,20867,19030955-2703,00.html

    What would a global rise in temperatures of 3C mean for the inhabitants of the world? – by 2050? by 2100? What about if the rate of increase in CO2 and global temperatures is even more rapid?

  49. 49
    Grant says:

    Re: Mitigation vs adaptation

    Are we insane? Both mitigation and adaptation are crucial.

    Those who argue that mitigation won’t reduce the severity of tropical cyclones, etc. are using a factually correct argument to support a fundamentally flawed concept. Sure, reducing GHG emissions won’t eliminate the problems that already exist, but they will head off even worse problems. Yes, it’s going to get worse, but it will be far more so without mitigation than with.

    We’re probably already seeing increases in the severity of hurricanes, so that one like Katrina might be a one-in-five-years threat rather than a one-per-century threat. But without mitigation, it could become a one-per-annum threat, or even worse.

    And there *are* critical points in the climate system: collapse of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, wholescale melting of permafrost, etc. Adaptation does nothing to reduce the likelihood of crossing these critical points, triggerring disaster.

    In my opinion, arguments against mitigation are just the latest form of short-sighted contrarianism.

  50. 50
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Almuth Ernsting (#43), FYI:

    Pielke, Jr., R.A., J. Rubiera, C. Landsea, M. Fernandez, and R.A. Klein, 2003: Hurricane Vulnerability in Latin America and the Caribbean, Natural Hazards Review, 4: 101-114.

    I don’t want to divert attention from the RC focus on the broader themes of Gore’s movie, so won’t comment further on this thread. If you’d like to follow up on the questions of adapatation or hurricanes, there are plenty of opportunities on our site.

    Thanks to the RC folks for entertaining my infrequent rabble rousing here!