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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. 1
    Sean O says:

    Wow! You are really trying to help the guy out on this one aren’t you! Can’t you concede that AIT is a tool to convince people to follow an action plan and thus is not subject to typical conventions such as complete and total truth. Mr. Gore made some very good points in the film and he screwed a few up. He did this to get people motivated. Telling straight facts is rarely enough to motivate people to act so all leaders push the edge of the envelope.

    I would have expected a site as well written as this to take a more binary response and simply point out where Gore was wrong and where the judge was wrong. Instead it feels like you are doing a political spin on the judgment which is a little disappointing. I think you should leave the spin for Mr. Gore and stick to just the facts.

    I do think you post some good counter arguments to the judge though (even if some of them are obviously spin). I will tell my readers of my site about your article and suggest that they come and read so that they have both sides of the story. I will have caution them as to which answers I think are spin though.

  2. 2
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    Sean, could you detail specifically where the Real Climate folks got it wrong?

    Thanks in advance.

  3. 3
    Jim Redden says:

    Indeed, on the science, a full examination of the evidence backs up the Gore movie and book assertions. While he might not have given Charles Keeling full due, frankly, both the movie and book seem to distill much of the science into palatable popular form. Gore for president….

  4. 4
    chip says:

    First time visitor to your site and picked the Polar Bear point to start reading. This puzzles me:

    “As we presaged in August, summer Arctic sea ice shattered all records this year for the minimum extent.”

    If you click through, the records only go back until 1979, which is well within the 30 or so year cycle in which everyone agrees the world has warmed.

    So when you say records are shattered, don’t you think you’re being a little excitable?

    For what it’s worth, I have read several books about Britain’s search for the NW passage in the 1800s, and they often mention years when the Arctic waters were largely ice free. Canada’s wooden-hulled St.Roche reported the same thing in navigating the passage in the 1940s.

  5. 5
    John Mashey says:

    So, after all the court foofaraw, the bottom line is what they actually provided for the teachers; RC readers may want to review this.

    For context, and then 2 links deeper is the 56-page guidance

    I haven’t gone over it in detail, but on the surface, I’d say it was …
    terrific material … going to to a whole lot of students. I don’t know what materials US schools in general are using (and I’m sure they vary mightily), but I’d be interested in comparisons / opinions, especially with those who have kids in school.

    And ironically, I think the very minor tweaks from the court case made this STRONGER, and of course, gave it even more publicity.

  6. 6
    Chris says:

    RE #1

    Sean, see yourself here:

    The main “inaccuracies” the court found were that AGW and some x (hurricanes, lake chad, polar bears, coral loss, etc) are inextricably linked. In fact, while Gore may have kind of emotionalized it a bit with katrina and such, I cannot recall him making a definitive link so these “inaccuracies” don’t hold much ground, especially when the effects on corals, heat waves,droughts, (and with some less confidence) hurricanes is extremely well documented (See AR4 WG2). Moreover, we know a lot of analogous events will occur in a warmer climate with high confidence. A bit like playing dice: double-threes might come up by chance, but if I load the dice I might make double-threes more likely. If I played a game vs. you and I win by rolling double-threes is it all natural variability or did I help? Would you be happy with me? At the same time, I think RC has been careful enough to show that one event cannot be linked to GW or AGW or that matter with certainty.

    As for sea level rise, they are going up like an inch a decade and we don’t have a plausible way to get 23 feet vertical in a few decades, but it is possible in centuries. To some people, a few more generations might not be a “long way away” (really no criteria by the judge for what ‘soon’ is). We might lose summer ice this century in the arctic though, and glacial melt is very fast so it is of big concern and Gore illustrates this. You crank up CO2 a bit and you have something similar to the 125 kya event, crank it up to like 4x and you have the steamy, iceless cretacious. The implications for these future climates in maybe just a couple hundred years (still being wary of higher end projections) is nothing trivial, and I think Gore gets this across.

    The thing with the ocean conveyor is we cannot yet quantify a numerical amount of fresh water flux for a shutdown, and although it is unlikely (IPCC

  7. 7
    Sean O says:

    Regarding 2 from J.S. McIntyre
    Unfortunately, I find it too hard to write long dissertations in comment boxes. I put up a post on my site to discuss the issue. The post won’t be live for another hour or so but it will be the top post on the site for at least a day or two so it should be easy to find.

    BTW, I don’t say that RC is wrong! I am just pointing out that they are putting spin on the answers to defend the movie. Mr. Gore took literary license several times in the film to make a point. He made that point incredibly well but that doesn’t mean that the movie wasn’t political in agenda which is what the judge found.

    An Inconvenient Truth had a goal of influencing others. People believed it had the goal of telling the truth (especially with that name). To influence people Mr. Gore chose to only give parts of the answers or one version of a hypothesis. Some of these were pointed out by the judge.

    I just wish that RC, which has such a great reputation as a scientific site, would have clearly said that Gore was 100% correct or 100% wrong on each issue – instead they spin their comments and use phrases like “representative species” and “legitimate illustration”. If Mr. Gore would have used those phrases then RC can use them to defend but that isn’t what the film says and to reinterpret the fraudulent statements is uncalled for in a site that prides itself on scientific and factual discussion.

  8. 8

    The judge’s use of the word “error” was an unfortunate choice of language and apt to mislead (as indeed it has looking at the media reports about it) so it is good to see your clarification of these points.

    Looking at the unusual approach the court took to the proceedings the “errors” would have been better termed “nine departures from the latest IPCC report and the opinions of the expert called by the UK government”. The findings are perhaps due to the limited evidence the judge appears to have had before him. Gore was not a party to the litigation or called as a witness so the scope of the inquiry was quite limited.

    In rejecting the application to ban the film or order it be recalled from schools the judge seems to have impliedly rejected the evidence of the climate change sceptic, Bob Carter, who appeared for the claimant. That gets only a passing mention in the judgment (at paragraphs 22 and 23).

    Sifting through the convoluted manner in which the judge gave his reasons it is easy to miss the point that the “nine errors” he identified were not findings that the film was actually wrong, merely that (in the judge’s view) it departed from the mainstream scientific consensus reflected in the latest report of the IPCC and the opinions of the expert called by the UK government, Dr Stott.

    The judge pointed out (at paragraph 23) “it was essential to appreciate that the hearing before me did not relate to an analysis of the scientific questions, but to an assessment of whether the ‘errors’ in question, set out in the context of a political film” infringed UK law.

    The judge’s convoluted approach and choice of language laid the groundwork for the misreading of the judgment that has occurred so it’s good to see your critique.

  9. 9
    ScaredAmoeba says:

    “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot..,”
    CHARLES DICKENS, Oliver Twist, chapter 51, p. 489 (1970 edition).

  10. 10
    Adam says:

    I resent you saying mega-fauna are more charismatic than bivalves!

    gw as always.

  11. 11
    John Mashey says:

    re: Sean O ( A software salesman; I think for Oracle in Cincinnati)

    1) link-spam

    Sean pops up in climate blogs, writes a few words, usually isomorphic to “I wrote about this in my blog….” and links to his blog.
    Google: globalwarming-factorfiction

    2) Others can assess the quality of the blog, to consider how much original content is offered and of what quality, if they want to spend the time. It does have some ads.

    As a sample: of the recent Schulte-Oreskes silliness, Sean writes:

    “I think that Mr. Schulte said it correctly: “If unanimity existed in the peer-reviewed literature between 1993 and 2003 – which I have reason to doubt – it certainly no longer exists today.”

    This was AFTER Tim Lambert @ Deltoid proved conclusively that Schulte:
    – was a plagiarist (of Monckton’s use of Peiser’s erroneous work)
    – was incompetent (didn’t notice the errors)
    – and then, had the letter containing this published on the same website as Monckton’s @ SPPI! Really, really smart.

    Days later, Sean was still defending Schulte.

    (Anyway, no need to publish this, it’s more for RC’s FYI).

  12. 12
    Edward A. Barkley says:

    You won’t publish my quote, but I’ll make my point anyway. We are talking about children here, not attorneys pouring over printed transcripts! Quibbling over insinuations or verbal omissions in this case is shameful. Gore clearly used fear of climactic disaster to further his political ends in much the same way he accused the Bush Administration of doing with regard to Saddam Hussein and 911. Bangladesh, Tuvalu, New Orleans and other places like them are perilous places to make a home in the best of climates. The human race has stopped trying to adapt to its environment – but to adapt its environment to itself instead. To adapt, we should move people from the lowland coastlines in any case. It is, and has been for many years, a civil engineering problem. .

  13. 13
    cant say says:

    I think the whole film is a load and is taking advantage (MONEY) of a real situation. How ever i do know the following

    • Ice-sheet driven sea level rise
    “No time scale was specified” what the hell type of excuse is that. This is to be used in schools you can’t just assume that there is no time frame? Irresponsible he knew exactly what he was doing. Selling a movie.
    Pacific island nations needing to evacuate:
    the point about Tuvalu and the visas to NZ are an absolute Load of rubbish. No such agreements exists the visas are working visas/labour mobility visas to work on farms so they can send money back home due to lack of employment on the island. The fact is these islands are a long way from going under. Why is their a requirement for “environmental” visas now?
    • Kilimanjaro: gore associates the situation in Kilimanjaro with climate change and nothing more.
    • Hurricane Katrina and global warming “Individual hurricanes cannot be attributed to global warming, but the statistics of hurricanes, in particular the maximum intensities attained by storms, may indeed be” well said
    • existing vulnerabilities in eco-systems, potentially playing the role of the straw that breaks the camel’s back in many instances.

  14. 14
    Doug Watts says:

    Thanks folks. Your responses to the 9 issues fits closely to what was my initial reaction. The polar bear thing is particularly egregious. If the Arctic sea ice shrinks dramatically, it is tautological that polar bears will be impacted dramatically. That stands on first principles and does not require population studies, which by definition, cannot have been undertaken yet. Catch-22.

  15. 15
    Mike Donald says:

    Well Steve if your remark isn’t agenda-driven obsessiveness I don’t know what is.

  16. 16
    danny bloom says:

    There is a really good article by a Canadian professor here. Just the first 500 words of a 10,000 word piece. IMPORTANT.

    Danny Bloom, the ”Polar Cities” blog guy (google the term)

  17. 17
    George Robinson says:

    Having watched the film many times during the past few days, having read all those for and against the AIT, I still find the film to be as true as one can get it, today. I truely believe that the school governor is biased, when it comes to climate change, and that the judge is wrong find these so called errors. Errors can be found anywhere, is all down to how one reads the script. This attitude is very clearly shown when one visits blogg sites or HYS sites, where the discussions are climate related. The vast majority of comments on these sites dont believe there is any climate change or G,W. happening, and most of these comments mix weather happenings, and climate change. Developments in the Arctic and the Antarctic, are changing as each week goes by. Only a year or two ago, scientists were predicting that the Arctic summer sea ice could disappear by 2050. This summer approx 50% has melted, opening the NW passage as well as the eastern passage. With more water area open the sea temperature will rise, speeding up the melt of the sea ice, after all it is only 1 meter thick. The complete melt of the Arctic sea ice will have no effect whatsoever on sea levels. What is more worrying, is the fact that the Greenland ice cap is melting at an astonishing rate, the ice cap is receding away from the sea exposing even more land area, which in turn warms up, melting even more ice and so on. The process escalates for every year. Even the maritime glaciers of Norway are melting quicker than ever, this is something that scientists had not expected, but its happening.

  18. 18
    Roy Turnbull says:

    For a couple of reactions in the British press to the judge’s ruling (and Nobel prize), from the ridiculous to the informative see:

    “Nobel Prize ignores inconvenient untruths to reward Gore”
    by GERALD WARNER, Scotland on Sunday, 14th Oct at:

    and “Revealed: the man behind court attack on Gore film”
    The Observer, 14th Oct, at:,,2190770,00.html

  19. 19
    John Monro says:


    Thanks for the review of this legal judgement. This is a copy of a letter I sent to our local newspaper, The Dominion Post, Wellington, New Zealand, in response to an article about this judgement in the paper.

    Today you report a recent British court judgement on the veracity of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. Apart from pondering the absurdity of a legal process attempting to define a scientific theory, let’s examine the most important finding, that Gore sensationalised the likely rise in sea levels, which the judge said would take “millennia”. It’s true, by neglecting ice-sheet melt, that the IPCC has predicted a modest increase of sea levels over the next century of up to about 59 cms. James Hansen has demonstrated that sea level rises have doubled in the last ten years, due to ice melt – if this rate of increase continues, a sea level rise of 5 metres this century is scientifically plausible. On the basis one insures one’s house on the principle of dealing with the worst that can happen, not the best, it seems prudent to take Hansen’s warning more seriously than the opinions of a bewigged lawyer. The IPCC also predicted that the Arctic summer ice wouldn’t melt until near the end of this century. With this year’s unprecedented melt, some scientists are now saying it is possible that the summer ice will be gone by 2013.

    The letter was published in the paper today.

    When I watched the film I had some reservations about these very matters that were part of the court judgement. Whilst I don’t criticise Al Gore too much, perhaps, knowing the sort of opposition this film would engender with vested interests and global warming deniers and contrarians, some sort of caveat or brief explanation of the debate about the time frames involved would have been sensible and would have rendered the film less open to such criticism. Having said this, I am sure Al Gore was much nearer what will turn out to be the truth of all these matters than Mr Justice Burton. As I say in my letter, the whole exercise was absurd, and I am ashamed to think that it took place in the UK, whilst I might expect such nonsense in the USA, with its long tradition of such legalistic inanity. If Lewis Carroll were alive now, I think he’d make use of this case in his revised version of Alice in Wonderland.

  20. 20
    Helmut Wolf says:

    2nd bullet in your post: Pacific island nations needing to evacuate
    Well, Gore just looked in the wrong place: In December 2006, The Independent reported from an inundated Indian island (Lohachara in the Gulf of Bengal) from which 10,000 people had to be evacuated.

  21. 21

    I have the impression that the ultimate goal allows for exaggerations and half truths?
    If the “errors”, where Al Gore suggests things beyond what the IPCC and mainstream science says are not errors, are they deliberate deviations, to give a certain impression (thus deliberate lies)?

    One doesn’t need to tell direct lies to convince people of some disaster. Just impressive, suggestive pictures will do the job, especially when one doesn’t tell relevant details. Like in the case of the 650,000 year ice core, where Gore suggests that CO2 drives temperature. Of course he didn’t say that, but 99% of the people watching the movie will be convinced that that is the case. The same for the Greenland melting. The same for Katrina and New Orleans (which was not directly caused by wind – the hurricane landed in Mississipi, not in Louisiana), where the disaster was caused by levies which were not heightened, despite several warnings. The same for Tuvalu, where the increase of sea level in the past 30 years is virtually zero…

    If I had been a US citizen, I probably would have voted Gore for president. Now that I have seen his film and his own carbon footprint (do what I say, but don’t see what I do?), I should have regretted my vote.

  22. 22
    Timothy says:

    “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).”

    I’ve seen Gore quoted, in press reports, as having erroneously stated in the film that the ice sheets would raise sea level by 20ft in the “near future”. Apparently this is not the case. I think what happened here was that the judge accepted what the plaintiff’s “expert” witness said that Gore said.

    An “error” in his judgement? It would appear that minor oversights happen to the best of us…

  23. 23

    Re #6,

    There is some more nuance about that story at Wiki:

  24. 24

    With regard to the ninth point, on coral reefs, says “The actual scientific view, as recorded in the IPCC report, is that, if the temperature were to rise by 1-3 degrees Centigrade, there would be increased coral bleaching and widespread coral mortality, unless corals could adapt or acclimatise, but that separating the impacts of climate change-related stresses from other stresses, such as over-fishing and polluting, is difficult.”

    I am not a coral reef scientist, but I do pay attention to what they say, and it is certainly the case that they and others with a well-informed view agree that reefs face a combination of stresses. But very few indeed, if any, think that coral reefs could adapt or acclimatise to a temperature rise of as much as 3 degrees Centrigrade in the 21st century. The 3 C figure in the IPCC 4AR is more about political consensus than scientific one.

  25. 25
    David Kelsey says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t sea level a worldwide thing? How can the sea level rise in the area of some Indian islands without its being noticed, say, around England or New York? Could the flooding of low lying islands not equally be due to tectonic plate activity? Of course, the latter can’t really be blamed on man, so it won’t get much publicity. While I am writing this, exactly how do we know CO2 is a greenhouse gas? There isn’t a hell of a lot of it in the atmosphere – 0.036% of the global atmosphere – so how does this minuscule proportion affect the global temperature? And as human exhalation accounts for 38 billion tonnes of CO2, and animals probably the same again, what remedies do the warmers have in mind for this? Mass genocide?

  26. 26

    re. #1

    I’m with J.S. McIntyre (re. #2) on this one. Sean, do you have arguments that counter what Gavin and Michael have presented from relevant, comprehensive, well-reasoned scientific analysis, consensus, perspective? If so please post with references.

    I am not at all disappointed in Gavin and Michael’s analysis of these points. I think it is rather obvious that Al Gore did a decent job of presenting a relevant perspective to our time and our reality. He used imagery to portray reality and potential on multiple points that have strong scientific basis in the vast majority of points made in the film.

    As pointed out by Gavin and Michael, Al Gore is likely ahead of his time on his statement: “That’s why the citizens of these pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand”. It is certainly still reasonable to see that this evacuation is in the cards in the future (while the exponential acceleration and melt rates are still debatable, the debate seems largely around the time factor, not the likelihood).

  27. 27
    David Kelsey says:

    Oh Gosh, I forgot the plants. There are apparently 1877 billion tonnes of biomass, half of which is carbon. Virtually all of this is presumably expressing CO2 during the hours of darkness, and oxygen in daylight, due to photosynthesis. What’s the green answer to that? Cut down all the forests?

  28. 28
    henning says:

    It has always been a bit of a stretch to model the YD purely on circulation. As I’m sure you know, a NAS Team recently concluded that one or more meteorites or comets have probably caused the big freeze and even before that, many ocean circulation experts (including people like Rahmstorf) said, that very likely external factors accounted for the YD’s extreme shifts.
    As to the rest of Gore’s Film, I do see a certain danger in the way he presents science. Especially children tend not to listen to the exact word or phrase. They will draw a direct line from climate change to spectacular disaster. And if disaster won’t come, they’ll tend to dismiss the whole idea rather than mere aspects of it. If the next years won’t see disastrous hurricanes, drowning polar bears and sinking islands, you and me know that it means nothing. But will the kids know or will they conclude that Gore simply didn’t know what he was talking about?

  29. 29
    Vinny Burgoo says:

    Re #6, Gore would have had to be mad to use Lohachara as an example of global warming in An Inconvenient Truth – not because the Independent reports the island as having disappeared after the film was made but because its disappearance had little or nothing to do with global warming. The island actually disappeared in the 1980s. The main factors appear to have been mangrove destruction, which increased erosion, and reduced silt deposition (probably in part because of inland dams and embankments): the Hoogly washed it away. If rising sea levels did play a part – well, how much of that would have been due to global warming? The entire coast of Bengal is sinking (under the weight of up to 20km of sediment) at least twice as fast as the world’s seas are rising.

    OT: I looked into this a while back and was puzzled by a statement in a Bangladeshi study of the Sunderbans. Can anyone help? The study said that the depth of sediment in the Bay of Bengal meant that gravity was slightly weaker there than elsewhere. (I get that bit.) It then said that this weaker gravitational pull meant that the sea level was slightly lower in the Bay than elsewhere. (I have occasionally understood that bit but would welcome permanent enlightenment.) Finally, it said that the weaker gravity meant that the sea level in the Bay of Bengal would rise at a slower rate than elsewhere in the world. How can that be? My brain fries whenever I try to think about it.

  30. 30
    Sean O says:

    Re. 7 from Helmut.

    I question your reference. While there is no doubt that the sea level has risen slightly in the last century it does not appear that Lohachara was the victim. Rather, it appears that this “island” was nothing more than a sandbar in a river and, as is typical with this type of land mass, the river eroded it away. While it appears that this was ultimately caused by man (over harvesting of mangroves which kept the land intact) it is unfair to say that it was caused by global warming.

    If Mr. Gore would have used this reference, he would have been stretching the truth – which it appears that he did several times.

  31. 31
    Sean O says:

    Re. 9 from Mr. Mashey
    Not that it is relevant what I do for a living, but your background information on me is faulty.

  32. 32
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Kilimanjaro
    What do they teach in grade school these days? Rainier, Fuji, and other notable cone-shaped snow-capped mountains losing their snow are also volcanos. It’s easy to look up and find there has been no change in the vulcanism in recent history.

    Vinny, water actually piles up thicker over areas where gravity is a bit stronger — this is gravity from a “mass concentration” that makes a bump over it, not the average gravity of the planet but a slight variation from average. And in an area where gravity is a bit weaker, where the mass below is a bit less dense, water doesn’t pile up.

    Remember the water on the planet piles up in line with the Moon and the Sun too, and those high spots travel around the planet. It’s not that the Moon and Sun actually drag that lump of water around as the planet turns of course. The water near the point in line with the Moon or Sun gathers together and thickens up a bit higher, by the amount of the tidal change.

    Yet it’s a tiny difference, you don’t notice a rock fall any slower when the Moon’s overhead and the tide is high, but the Moon’s mass is gathering the ocean’s water near you together enough for the tide to rise.

  33. 33
    Figen Mekik says:

    #10: I just don’t see how Gore used fear of climatic disaster to further an agenda.. It is one thing to say we have to live with natural disaster and adapt. The operative word there is “natural.” It is a completely different issue to be altering the natural state of things to our detriment and then saying “it’s ok, just move to higher ground.” Of course if sea level is rising, the only thing to do is to get out of the way. But if this anthropogenic sea level rise is preventable, it is irresponsible to not take action to prevent it. Scientist, lawyer, fireman or yoga instructor…

    So I ask again, how is Gore’s movie taking advantage of fear to further a political agenda?

  34. 34
    Eyal Morag says:

    “Fuel and mining magnate backed UK challenge to An Inconvenient Truth”
    Is The subtitle of the Observers
    Revealed: the man behind court attack on Gore film,,2190770,00.html

  35. 35
    Eli Rabett says:

    David Kelsey asks:Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t sea level a worldwide thing?

    True, but there are local conditions which mask the effects including subsidence or rising of land at the water’s edge, tidal effects, etc. It is not a trivial thing to measure average global sea level changes.

  36. 36
    Gareth Evans says:

    Unfortunately the Court rules on the arguments (good and bad) laid before it and there will always be miscarriages of justice when there are opposing views and if the facts are not well presented on one side. Gavin and Michael correct some of the misconceptions that seem to have influenced some of the statements made in the Court in this ruling.

    The film “An Inconvenient Truth” has probably got the message about global warming / climate change across in a way that the scientific process alone was failing. Scientific evidence, debate, reasoning and an emerging consensus alone has failed to convince a large part of the population, and some scientists, of the reality and significance of man-made global warming / climate change.

    People tend to believe what they witness and experience for themselves and for most the evidence for global warming / climate change still remains scant. Yes there are pictures of melting sea ice, there have been some milder winters, some hotter summers, some wetter summers, some stronger winds – but this could down to the vagaries of the weather or part of a natural cycle? Until more people are affected in more immediate, regular, and direct ways by a warming earth and changing climate the scepticism will remain.

    Al Gore’s film, for all its flaws, has helped to catalyse a wider debate (into the Courts in the UK) and has raised a more general awareness of the issues involved. In public perception terms, the Oscar and Nobel Peace Prize are seen as establishment endorsement and the sharing of the Nobel Peace Prize with IPCC as an acknowledgment of the role of IPCC and the many unsung scientists around the world, ON ALL SIDES OF THE DEBATE, who work to sift out the facts.

    Global warming / climate change is complex with many unknowns, uncertainties, challenges, and probably surprises still remaining. The subject, however, is now firmly established at the top of the scientific and political agenda allowing research and debate to continue and develop so that we move closer to a more complete understanding and the solutions we all desire. Scientists and activists alike deserve the credit they are receiving for achieving this.


  37. 37
    Timothy says:

    23 David Kelsey – We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas becaue of laboratory experiments that establish that it absorbs radiation in the infrared part of the spectrum. This is late 19th century physics. Please feel free to win yourself a Nobel Prize by writing a paper that refutes it.

    As to your point that it constitutes only “0.036% of the global atmosphere” well you could probably say the same about many toxins such as arsenic. The LD50 for pure arsenic is “763 mg/kg (by ingestion)”, which means it only needs to constitute 0.000763% of your body mass in order to have a 50-50 chance of killing you.

    Consequently I conclude that trace quantities can have a disproportionate impact.

    Finally, you claim that respiration (by humans and animals) is a net source of CO2. This is false. All of the CO2 from animal/human respiration comes from carbon eaten by those animals from plants and the plants took that carbon out of the atmosphere. Consequently there is a balance in the amount of carbon. (However we can upset that balance by cutting down forests)

    It is well established that the rise in CO2 levels is due to fossil fuel burning (carbon that was buried millions of years ago).

    I hope that you can accept these logical arguments that are backed by an overabundance of evidence. I hope that you are not merely clutching at straws in an attempt to avoid having to think about what we *do* because of this threat.

  38. 38
    Timothy says:

    Sorry, forgot to multiply by 100. The LD50 for arsenic implies it needs to be 0.0763% of your body mass to… etc. (Still only twice the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and there are far more toxic compounds/elements)

  39. 39
    flowerplough says:

    Also highlighted in court arguments was Al Gore’s admission in Grist Magazine that, “I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it [global warming] is.”

  40. 40
    Tom Adams says:

    Apparently, the guidance came out pretty garbled on the CO2/Temp. rise connection in reponse to the judge’s ruling. Seems the judge did some harm here.

    See William’s comment on Micheal Tobis’s blog here:

  41. 41
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Vinny Burgoo and David Kelsey, the sea level follows an gravitational equipotential, and since Earth is not a perfectly flat sphere, that equipotential is not spherically symmetric at the surface. A weaker graviational force means water will “flow downhill” following the stronger pull. Now add more water–the same thing will happen, so you will get less additional water where the field is weak. The new sea level must follow the new equipotential.

    David, in addition to this effect, you also have to consider prevailing winds, currents and a variety of other effects. Ever see the Panama Canal? There’s a reason why they have to take the boats through multiple locks–the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are at different levels.

  42. 42
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 7

    “Unfortunately, I find it too hard to write long dissertations in comment boxes.”

    When my replies are lengthy, I normally write it in Word, and then C&P. You might consider that going forward. Obviously, that seems to be what others do. In short, that really isn’t much of an excuse, and I think we both understand this.

    “I put up a post on my site ”

    I understand. But you made your comments here, and I don’t think it too extreme to expect you to substantiate them here. If nothing else, it strikes me as good manners.

    “BTW, I don’t say that RC is wrong! I am just pointing out that they are putting spin on the answers to defend the movie.”

    If I may be somewhat forward, I would suggest that what you were doing was making unsubstantiated (at least, in your initial post) remarks regarding RC’s intent. This is at best infamatory and at worst disengenuous.

    You made the claim here. Defend it here.

    “I just wish that RC, which has such a great reputation as a scientific site, would have clearly said that Gore was 100% correct or 100% wrong on each issue – instead they spin their comments and use phrases like “representative species” and “legitimate illustration”. ”

    Again, you resort to what appears to be spin of your own, inferring something without substantiating it.

  43. 43
    Chris says:

    “Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t sea level a worldwide thing? How can the sea level rise in the area of some Indian islands without its being noticed, say, around England or New York?”
    Because if your shoreline rises fairy steeply say to at say 5 or 10 feet, a three inch rise is not going to show much. On the other hand if you live on an island that is not more than a foot or two above sea level, it will be very noticeable.
    Even in steeper areas if you live on the water you notice it, as things like docks that were built just above high-water mark, now spend much of their time underwater.

  44. 44
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 12

    “Gore clearly used fear of climactic disaster to further his political ends in much the same way he accused the Bush Administration of doing with regard to Saddam Hussein and 911. Bangladesh, Tuvalu, New Orleans and other places like them are perilous places to make a home in the best of climates.”

    You know, I am getting rather tired of hearing this, particularly as it usually is nothing more than a hand-wave, an “everybody knows” statement.

    Well, everyone does not know! If you are going to make the accusation, back it up! What political ends were furthered? Please be clear and concise.

    Sure, there is a movement to draft him to run for President, but it is unlikely to the extreme. Are you somehow saying that because he wants to raise the alarm re AGW we should consider this a political move on his part?

    Here’s the real problem: AIT has been labeled “political” by people who want to shape the debate. But it isn’t a political message. It’s a societal message, a human message, one that is saying, quite simply, “Wake up! Pay attention. Look into this. Something is happening.”

    This is political?

    The fact that the people who put it together tend to likely have a political leaning as private citizens is not enough proof to claim this movie was politically motivated. As I understand it, Gore was doing these lectures long before the movie was dreamed up. The lectures weren’t being attacked as a political “ploy”. So why, then, should the movie?

    But here’s a thought: going back to the idea AIT was likely done by people with a liberal mindset, and it – and the idea of AGW – seem to be resisted by people with a decidedly conservative bent, what does this suggest to you about who is really playing politics with this problem?

  45. 45
    Vicky Ingram says:

    I find it bizarre that this even reached a court. If the UK Government is so concerned about climate change (which we are assured they are), then education is surely a huge part of this.

    I’m interested to see what the US education system has to offer in terms of debating the AGW issue, as nearly every group on facebook (not wanting to take the tone down, but bare with me as I think this is a valid point!) that declares AGW as fantasy, is set up and commented on by US high school students. It amazes me that so many young people in such an important GHG producing country can feel this way.
    Is it my imagination or is fighting global warming more a college thing than a school thing in the US, and if so, any ideas as to why?

  46. 46
    Pete Best says:

    I cannot help thinking that RC have been a little creative regarding the MOC as I thought that I had read on several occassions here that there is little chance of the MOC actually stopping due in part to the wind and the unknown actual volumes of water that flow through the MOC.

    So argument is not about it stopping but about it slowing down and decreasing in its intensity, ie; less water flowing on average I presume but as yet there is no evidence of this.

    I also believe that it is James Hansen who has thrown the IPCC’s projections out of kelter regarding land ice melt claiming that a “rapid non linear collapse” of ice sheets is likely this century which will raise sea levels far more than the IPCC predicts or expects.

  47. 47
    cce says:

    I’d like to see someone, anyone, who is 100% correct about any of these topics. In most of these cases, Gore is more “correct” than the Judge.

    On a previous point, I don’t see the value of teaching children that it’s OK to do something as long as the total effect of your actions requires 1000 years to play out. Even that sets aside strong evidence that the sheets will disintegrate in centuries, but unfortunately no model to date understands the physics of the melting/discharge we are seeing today.

  48. 48
    Theo H says:

    The core compliant by Mr Dimmock, who took the issue before the courts, agaist AIT, was that the film was “political indoctrination” so contary to the 1996 (UK)Education Act.

    This is probably more interesting, and the arguments for and agaist, than the science itself.

    The judge most usefully ruled that AIT was not “political indoctrination”.

    I note on the judge’s summary that AIT is but one of four videos on Climate Change available to schools. I would be interested if anyone can locate these on the web, to see how RC folk rate these.

    But back to Mr Dimmock. Yes, here in England we also have a bunch of right-wing climate sceptics. Mr Dimmock is a member of the New Party, an obscure political party that has few members but one massive funder – who is a quarry owner and dislikes greenies.

    That being said, I find that AIT is a little bit too “Hollywood” for me, rather than sober eductonal documetary – in a way its slickness is a fault as an educational resource.


  49. 49
    Bob Clipperton (UK) says:

    #25 and others –
    David Kelsey,
    You shouldn’t expect people to forgive your ignorance if you subsequently post allegations that you could easily have checked out beforehand.

    Furthermore, please show us your calculation that human exhalation accounts for 38 billion tonnes of CO2 – I’ve done it and got 4 – 7 billion tonnes.
    Anyway it doesn’t matter because you have shown that you don’t really understand the basic science – this human exhaled CO2, and that from animals, is just a small part of the normal carbon cycle.

    The biggest, but not the only cause of our current phase of GW, is CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.

  50. 50
    James says:

    Re $36: [As to your point that it constitutes only “0.036% of the global atmosphere” well you could probably say the same about many toxins…]

    A better analogy might be to the films on low-E insulating windows. They’re a tiny fraction of the window mass (though I don’t know the exact number), yet produce a significant change in thermal properties.