Al Gore’s Climate of Extremes


Ho-hum. On January 28, in the midst of a pelting sleet storm, Al Gore told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the end is nigh from global warming.

He told the Senate that “some scientists” predict up to 11 degrees of warming in the next 91 years (while failing to note that the last 12 have seen exactly none), and that this would “bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fiber of life everywhere on earth.” Hey folks, this is serious!

Besides having a remarkable knack for scheduling big speeches on remarkably cold or snowy days (it’s known as the “Gore Effect” in journalistic circles), Gore has been incredibly ineffective in bringing his message home.

According to the New York Times, Gore told the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last November, “I feel, in a sense, I’ve failed badly. . . . [T]here is not anything anywhere close to an appropriate sense of urgency [about global warming]. This is an existential threat.”

And fail he has. The Pew Foundation recently asked Americans to choose which of 20 prominent issues is of most importance. They included the economy, crime, education, and, of course, global warming, which came in dead last.

Gore’s failure is his own fault. He gained a reputation for exaggeration during his 2000 campaign, and he’s unable to shake it–because he’s proud of it, saying that it’s just fine to emphasize extreme global warming scenarios because they get people’s attention. Telling people you’re exaggerating isn’t exactly the way to get street cred. In Washington on January 28, his campaign continued.

The fact is that the “fiber of life” can be found on this planet over a range of 140°F, from Antarctica to the Death Valley. People actually live in these places. The average temperature of the planet is about 61°, a temperature at which Homo sapiens au naturel will die from hypothermia. So ask yourself if raising the temperature 11 (impossible) degrees will indeed bring civilization to a “screeching halt.”

It’s not like the press is very vigilant, either. A couple of years ago, he got a free pass on Larry King Live (May 22, 2007) after making at least seven exaggerations or outright misstatements on climate change in less than a minute.

Gore fielded a call asking “what issues caused by climate change globally are likely to affect the United States security during the next ten years?” 

He responded, “you know, even a one-meter increase, even a three-foot increase in sea level would cause tens of millions of climate refugees.”

In ten years? The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), hardly an apolitical body (the IPCC’s “lead authors” are all appointed by their governments), gives an average sea-level rise of 1.25 inches in the next ten years for its “midrange” temperature scenario. Never mind that it hasn’t warmed since 1997 and that sea-level rise is clearly slowing as a result.

Gore went on: “Today, 49 percent of America is in conditions of drought or near-drought”, and that “the odds of serious droughts increase when the average temperatures go up.”

That’s a testable hypothesis. The history of U.S. drought back to 1895 is readily available from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, as is the history of global temperature. Although surface temperatures have risen about 1.4 degrees since 1900 (with maybe half of that a result of emissions of carbon dioxide), there’s no similar trend in U.S. drought. Gore had to know that.

In the same minute, he droned on about how in a hotter world, “agriculture in the United States would be greatly affected.”

Thanks, Al, for another assertion subject to analysis. The slight rise in surface temperature was accompanied by a 500 percent increase in United States yield of corn (that’s the amount we produce per acre). How could any possible warming in ten years put a dent in that? The IPCC projects about 0.3 degrees of warming per decade now, or about a fifth of the total warming of the last 100 years. That’s going to “greatly affect” agriculture?

People notice these exaggerations. They see that food is still on the table (despite the government’s attempt to burn it up as ethanol). They know the country isn’t particularly dry, nor particularly wet. They can go to the beach and see that the ocean isn’t notably higher than it was before.

In other words, Gore’s lack of penetration is a result his own exaggerations. He’s created a climate of extremes that people are simply tired of, which is why his issue ranks dead last. He’s right. He’s failed.

– Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of the forthcoming Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know.


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