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An Inconvenient Truth

January 2, 2007

I finally watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and now I think everyone should see it. One of the most important, if understated, things he said in the movie is that we as a society need to decide how we are going to react when science gives us warnings. Too many of us have decided that there really is no objective truth and that it’s just as “right” to believe that which is expedient.

But does Gore have it right? Are we facing a possible global disaster in the form of climate change? Scientists say yes.

Watching this made me wonder whether Al shouldn’t run again in 2008. I haven’t looked it up, but I have heard there are historical examples of men who lost the presidency but won the popular vote coming back to successfully claim it later.

Yes, I just decided. I’d like to see him run in 08 on an environmental platform.

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  1. I’m not sure about your premise of being the party nominee and running again. Nixon and reagan both got elected on the 2nd try.

    On an environmental platform though Scott Al Gore is a disastor.

    Look, you will not get this, but it is the over-playing of the gloom and doom I have an issue. I don;t care how much carping he does, California and the eastern coast will not be under water in now 9 years.

    Remember the ozone whole of kennibungport (sp?) No truth there that was just rhetoric, that is my problem. His rheotric is presented as fact as a scare tactic. He does not even live the lifestyle himself for cryin’ out loud.

    We now have science that says cleaner air is adding to environmental warming!

    I just want truth in my science, I do not want it over-played for political purposes.

    Frankly this whole global wamring thing is reminding of the Y2K bug.

    Much ado about nothing, but the people trying to scare people the most had the most to gain presenting themselves to be the experts in line for the big government funding.


  2. Ugg, sorry about the bad typing, I was going faster than I should have.


  3. I’m not sure where you’re going with the “rhetoric as fact” thing; I did after all note above that climate scientists are giving his movie high marks for scientific accuracy. What more do you want?

    I guess the real issue is that you have decided you don’t trust scientists to find out and tell you the empirical facts. You seem to believe that they are engaged in a global conspiracy to deceive the public about this crisis – all so some nerds in a lab can get a research grant.

    I work in higher education. I happen to be very close to some research scientists. I know their world about as well as an outsider can, and I can assure you nobody is getting rich going university research, especially when you consider what many of them might be making in business and industry. The idea that they are collectively deceiving us for the purpose of government funding is beyond weak; it’s preposterous.

    But the most fascinating thing about this point is that conservatives like yourself never turn this skeptical, suspicious eye in the other direction. Never! They are deeply and profoundly worried that some nerd somewhere might be lying to them in order to get a research grant, but they never ever even suspect that the multi-googlezillion dollar fossil fuel industry might -just might – have an interest in deceiving them about global warming. It never even occurs! I find that odd.

    Just today I read about a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists that purports to document exactly how Exxon Mobile is throwing millions of dollars in a disinformation campaign quite similar to that which the tobacco industry used for years – and for the same purpose: sowing doubt about scientific facts in the minds of the public so they could protect their financial interests.

    But you? You’re more concerned about scientists vying for grants.


  4. Scott, there are some points on which I agree with you. Certainly the “campaign” that is often used by companies to distort or hide the truth is one of them. But, again, you are in violation of your own criticism of others . . . “never skeptical” of what’s being presented. Look at some of the evidence: 1. quietest hurricane year on record 2. clean air contributes to warming 3 smaller projections in rising water levels. I don’t doubt that the scientists who are studying this believe in what they’re doing. And I’m not one of those who always feels it’s monetarily motivated. As one who is about as close to the medical field as an outsider as one can be, I know there exists a difference of opinion about many medical issues. Fact is, there are some things we know plenty about. There are some we don’t. Take asthma. The first course treatment for asthma has changed drastically over the past 20 years. We still don’t really know how to treat it beyond its symptoms. Immunotherapy. Most allergists believe its beneficial. But there are some who don’t. You don’t hear much from those who don’t support allergy shots. But they exists. That’s the point. There are scientists who don’t believe in the doom and gloom predictions of global warming . . . or its causes. Much like the issue of asthma, I’ve listened to the various interviews and have come up with an opinion concerning my own treatment that’s comfortable for me. Until more is learned, I have no reason to change how I think or what I do. So it is with global warming. I’ve come up with my own opinion based on what I’ve read and heard. I don’t think either side has all the answers yet. As such, I think it’s premature to base policy on the findings thus far. Especially economically. I wouldn’t want to see the economics of the issue surpass practical solutions. We should strive for cleaner air, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, find alternate energy sources . . . but at what cost do we do that to a point where we know for certain that it will truly help?

    As you like the word of scientists, read this interesting article:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/01/consensus-as-the-new-heresy/#more-386

    And this article about it in the NY Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/01/science/01climate.html?_r=1&oref=slogin


  5. For every scientist that says there is global warming, there is one who says there isn’t. I think we are rushing to judgement. They also said DDT was evil, and they were wrong about that. They were using more than was necessary to do the job. I think it’s the same thing here, after a fasion. I also think the GW lobby tries to shut out those who disagree.


  6. For every scientist that says there is global warming, there is one who says there isn’t.

    That would be a very compelling argument – if it were even remotely true.

    And what is the “GW lobby,” exactly? And how would they be “shutting out” those who disagree with them?


  7. Good article. I’d hold off on any algore donations.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/01/science/01climate.html


  8. Fine, go with the position mentioned in the article, jimi. Doing so would put you on my side of the climate change debate, not Fred’s. You would be agreeing with me – and Al Gore – that human-caused climate change is very real and presents a very real danger.

    Whether you do or don’t believe that hurricane Katrina was demonstrably related to such climate change is immaterial. And in fact, Gore never claims conclusively that it was, he only suggests that it is possible and that future climate change could cause more storms like that. (I’m sure you saw the movie, right?)


  9. Wait! This just in! The president speaks on global warming! 🙂


  10. Sorry about the posts. Not quite sure what happened.

    Never said anything about Katrina. Most people know weather and climate are two different things.

    I’ve always been in the middle on this issue. One of the points brought up in the realclimate article is that the doom and gloom position is likely wrong . . . or, at best, they don’t know. They’ve already cooled (get it?) some of their positions. So for that reason alone I don’t consider myself on your side, per se, as you seem to be more doom and gloom than average. I may be wrong. If after reading the articles you find yourself less catastrophically inclined . . . then we will be more in agreement.

    Where I do agree with you is there doesn’t seem to be any real monetary motivation for any scientist on this issue. In fact, the inverse is likely more the case . . . the oil companies stand to lose a great deal if people buy in to the whole global warming scare . . . and anyone associated with them. There’s a lot of motivation to try and convince people otherwise.

    The video clip was funny.


  11. “They also said DDT was evil, and they were wrong about that. ”

    Well, scientists were not really “wrong” about what DDT does. They said it made egg shells thin and had the potential to make some birds go extinct. This is true. What went wrong with DDT is that someone decided that we should give a shit if some birds go extinct. The fact is that malaria kills millions of people a year, DDT is the best insecticide known to man, and that people are more important than birds. So a world-wide ban on DDT was costing lots of lives. We were wrong about the ban, not about the science that supported it.

    This brings me to global warming. It’s real. We’re causing it. It’s still stupid to try to do anything about it right now. Any dollar you would want to spend on curbing global warming would be better spent on about a zillion other more humanitarian causes–fighting AIDS or Malaria, developing micronutriants or growing more dwarf wheat to feed hungry people, purifying water in the third world, lowering trade barriers etc. Fighting global warming is not an economically smart thing to do.


  12. Interesting viewpoint.


  13. How sad that the viewpoint of spending resources in such a way that they provide the greatest amount of good to people is merely “interesting” to you. This is all Copenhagen Convention stuff again. I think we talked about it before on some other comment thread Scott. If you really cared about people, you’d be advocating way different things than Al Gore and anti-global warming policy.


  14. There is factual evidence that the earth on a short term global basis (last century) is warming and CO2 levels are increasing. There is no conclusive evidence that this is caused by fossil fuel burning versus natural changes or a combination of the two. We are currently near a climatic peak between ice ages as described by the Milankovitch cycles (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Isotopic_stages_hg.png ). These occur every 100K years and are caused by orbital variations of the earth. By historical climate records over the last 400K years, we should be at the warmest global temperatures in the last 100K years. At this point, CO2 levels rise, polar ice sheets retreat, glaciers melt and the oceans levels increase. Most recently, CO2 levels are higher during this peak than in past peaks contributing to the theory that fossil fuel burning is contributing to the higher levels. The effects of marginally increased CO2 levels on global temperature is factually unknown.
    Scientific American (many years ago and still looking for the article) published historical atmospheric data going back a couple million years. Up until 500.000 years ago the climate changes were much more dramatic with swings much warmer and colder than recent climate history (last 500K years). On a long term basis, the earth recovered from all these cycles without becoming a “Water World”. We are currently in relatively stable climatic period even with the ice ages and volcanic activity.

    The problem I have is with the scientists, that you faithfully follow and believe, are not applying the basic scientific method used in other research areas; that is 1)hypothesis, 2)experiment, 3)data analysis of experimental data, 4)conclusion if hypothesis is valid. Everything else is conjecture, speculation and opinion. The data correlation between earth orbit variations and global temperatures as determined oxygen isotopes embedded in ocean sediment is very high and a reasonable cause and effect conclusion can be made. The data driven correlation for a fossil fuel driven theory of global warming (over existing natural factors) does not exist. What are the limiting factors on temperature? Extrapolating the temperature versus CO2 graph to much higher levels does not work. If so, the ultimate prediction is an atmosphere similar to Venus (800Deg F). We would all be dead long before CO2 reached that level. The earth is a closed climate system complete with compensating and balancing factors. We do not have a complete model of this system and can not predict all factors that offset the CO2 increase. A more realistic hypothesis is that a warmer climate results in more vegetation, that absorbs more CO2 thereby naturally lowering the level. Is CO2 really a cause rather than affect of increased global temperatures? As global temperatures fall (due orbital issues), CO2 becomes locked in ice, decreasing overall atmospheric CO2 levels. The reverse is true during a temperature upturn; the ice melts and CO2 is released to the atmosphere. This cycle has been occurring for over a millions years independent of fossil fuel burning. The fact is that the earth is not any warmer with this additional CO2 than it was in past peak periods. The best that scientist can factually say is that “we don’t know”. But then statements like this do not promote government support, scientific community recognition, funding and peer support.

    I recently heard some people comment in the local media that our warm winter so far in Wisconsin is evidence of global warming. Factually, December 2006 was the 14th warmest in Wisconsin since records were kept. Some of the warmest were over 75 years ago. Is much of this same “logic” being applied to the global warming issue. The data presented by Al Gore is factual, the consequences are strictly unsubstantiated opinion by the key individuals in the scientific climatic community.

    Al Gore’s movie would be more accurate if it stated the real truth:
    1. Globally, earth is getting warmer and CO2 levels are rising.
    2. There are some theories, but we really don’t know the exact cause at this point and whether we can slow or prevent the warming.
    3. We should prepare for the reasonable and probable predicted short term consequences of the warming trend but no need for east coast and California residents to start migrating to the Midwest.

    Scott – There is an upside. If you were thinking of moving to a warmer climate to retire, you can stay in Wisconsin. The Dells might become the next Disney World.

    Reference: Start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropogenic_climate_change and follow the links.

    Scott your statement “I work in higher education. I happen to be very close to some research scientists. I know their world about as well as an outsider can….”

    Over the past fifteen years I have been involved in corporate R&D, in which I have funded numerous research projects and collaborative agreements with universities. As an engineer, I worked with many scientists and reseachers. You learn to separate the exuberance for their research from actual potential and probability of success. Pursuit of funding is always an underlying issue to varying degrees. As intelligent, creative and often free thinkers, they envision many outcome and scenarios. When you start to analyze these educated opinions and apply good risk management techniques, many of the visions prove unusable, unreal or physically impossible to implement by today’s knowledge. We need these creative individuals to fuel imagination and leading edge research, but when applying their conclusions and projections to real problems and actions, focus on the difference between facts, data and calculated probability versus opinion and exciting scenarios. Temper your unquestioning faith in scientists with true science.


  15. Whew. Glad I passed on that Pennsylvania property. What’s interesting about this issue is that you do hear from time to time other areas of science wanting to weigh in. The volcano experts who add thier share on how major eruptions can influence global climate for years, the hurricane experts who say global warming has nothing to do with severity of storms, the astronomers who talk of sun cycles and space particles that influence the sun’s energy . . . this is why this issue is so complex; there are many factors that can influence the earth’s climate globally and none of them can be predicted with any amount of certainty.


  16. Okay, a real, live scientist weighing in here. Although, for full disclosure, I’m not a climate scientist. I ask you all this: suppose there is only a 20% chance that human activity is causing global warming. Is it worth a 1 in 5 chance that we will radically alter the planet’s climate in order to protect the status quo? I, personally, think not. Remember, we’re not just talking about significant extinctions of species and reshaping of the landscape, we’re talking about losing habitat and livelihood for millions of human beings. It seems quite conservative and rational to me that if we suspect that burning fossil fuels could be causing global warming, we would take action immediately to reduce this risk, even if we are not 100% sure.

    I also want to add something about how the scientific community functions that may not be clear if you’re not publishing within it. A single opinion does not a controversy make. While climate scientists have a diversity of ideas about the pace and extent of global warming, there is no real controversy within the community about whether or not this is a reality. There are a few, outspoken and not highly respected scientists insisting global warming is a hoax. They get a lot of media attention and are free to make websites like anyone else. But that does not make their viewpoint as valid, from a scientific point of view, as the viewpoint of the vast majority of scientists (which includes many wildlife biologists, botanists, and ecologists, alongside climatologists) who think global warming is a serious threat.


  17. What is the economic cost of this preventive actions versus putting that money towards preparation. Until the proporational effects of fossil fuel burning can be established, no one is going to throw real money at a preventative effort that may have no consequence. We are seeing some real effects of warming now, shrinkage of polar regions, slightly rising sea levels, etc. People and governments might be more willing to spend money on softening the human suffering and economic impact of these events. I guess that’s the difference between scientists and engineers, engineers don’t throw a lot money at an effort with a low or unknown probability of success.


  18. Bill, I agree. One thing that seems to be agreed upon is that there isn’t anything we can do right now that will have much of an impact on anything anytime soon. That doesn’t mean we should work toward a better future . . . it just not clear how we should go about doing that.

    Plus, and this seems to get lost in the discussion . . . we ARE doing things. Look at the automobile industry. An average lawn mower pollutes more than a car does. Hybrids, electric, biodiesel, ethanol, emission standards better every year . . . a lot is being done. More needs to be done. If not in direct association with global warming than at least for general air quality. But much of that comes at a price, and when you talk about money being spent, unfortunately you have to watch who will benefit.


  19. Jimi – I appreciate your support. Some things to keep in mind:
    The automotive industry is developing hybrids and alternative fuel cars to reduce oil dependence and bring down the cost of ownership. Current catalytic converters and alternative fuels may reduce hydrocarbons (lawnmower pollution), but still produce the same amount greenhouse gases (CO2 and CO). Alternatives fuels require energy to produce. How much greenhouse gas is produced in providing that energy? Pure electric vehicles just transfer the energy conversion problem to the utilities which burn mainly fossil fuels and nuclear. The scrubbers on utility fossil fuel plants remove fly ash and particulate pollution, but the burning processes still produces large quantities of CO2 and CO. A new nuclear plant in this country hasn’t been built in 25 years, therefore any increased electric utility demand from pure electric vehicles will be handled by new fossil fuel (coal and gas) based generators. Wind power is suffering from “not in my backyard” issues. Hybrids derive the electric power from the fuel, but are much more efficient in terms of energy recovery and conversion, so overall they contribute less CO2 and CO than a pure gasoline vehicle. Equating all these technologies with global warming abatement is not always correct if you look the whole energy cycle and the greenhouse byproducts produced in the cycle. Less dependence on oil and the cost per gallon seem to be the main drivers of alternative fuel, hybrid and electric vehicles development; any net positive effects on global warming is by chance.


  20. *wonders how cold it\’s going to get today*



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