Al Gore’s Unethical New York Times Op-ed

I swear, this post has nothing to do with whether climate change is soon going to have the East Coast under water and the polar bears playing beach volleyball or not. The ethical  issues raised by Al Gore’s last volley in the global warming wars are journalistic integrity, public honesty, and respect for the intelligence of the American public.

The one undeniably accurate assertion in the op-ed piece published under Gore’s name yesterday is that  everything from a healthy economy to jobs to environmental stability will be determined by what policies the United States and other nations  choose to adopt or not adopt in response to scientific findings. This means that it is irresponsible to allow deceitful and self-serving hucksters like Al Gore continue to have a prominent role in the public debate. All he can do, as he did yesterday, is provide yet another demonstration of how confirmation bias works. I suppose the New York Times felt that the reappearance of Gore, who pusillanimously vanished from the public scene for more than a month while climate change activists saw their scientific authorities diminish their credibility at every turn, was sufficient news in itself to justify running his op-ed. I disagree: the Times has an obligation to stop presenting spin as fact, or as informed opinion. Gore is a fake “authority” on global warming who used the opportunity to pump more disinformation into a crucial policy debate. He understands little or nothing about the science involved, yet presumes to declare the issue decided because he keeps saying so. This is not a fair or honest way to explore complex issues. It is, in contrast, a way to avoid tough questions.

I do not believe that Al Gore even wrote the op-ed, although it had enough mis-statements in it to support the opposite conclusion. Normally this wouldn’t bother me; I’m not fond of the tradition of prominent figures publicly representing that the words and arguments of staff members are their own, but it is such a common practice that it is futile to rail against its inherent dishonesty. But Gore is a mouth piece and a paid spokesperson for global warming policy advocates, and one who misleadingly holds himself out as a knowledgeable authority. A mouthpiece using a ghostwriter at this advanced stage in this debate is carrying illusion too far.

Whether he wrote the op-ed or not however, releasing a written brief for his position was a thoroughly cowardly return to the public frey for the Nobel Prize-winning promotional face of global warming. I believe Gore chose an op-ed because the debate is now getting into the scientific nuts and bolts, and Gore knows that if he is cross-examined on camera by someone who can really read a climate change projections graph, he will be embarrassed—because, you know, he thinks the earth’s core is “millions of degrees.”

That’s just the tip of the melting iceberg where the ethics fouls of the op-ed are concerned, however. For example,

  • Gore’s dismissal of the East Anglia University e-mail scandal was phrased like this in his op-ed:

“…E-mail messages stolen from the University of East Anglia in Britain showed that scientists besieged by an onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics may not have adequately followed the requirements of the British freedom of information law.”

Foul, foul, foul.  1) The fact that the e-mails were stolen has no bearing whatsoever on the implications of what they uncovered. This is a device, most outrageously used by Sen. Barbara Boxer, to change the subject and dismiss evidence of scientific corruption by attacking the means by which it was uncovered. 2) That “onslaught of hostile, make-work demands from climate skeptics” that the scientists illegally ignored was inquiring people legally seeking the data that Gore’s dire climate change scenarios were based on, and the data was substantially destroyed or lost. Gore is using cheap rationalization-based rhetoric to justify the unjustifiable. 3) He misrepresents and omits the most damning revelations uncovered by the Climategate e-mails, including admissions that data was manipulated by the scientists to make it more convincing than it really was.  The British Institute of Physics just released its commentary on the East Anglia e-mails, and the report expresses alarm about a lot more than just the failure to pass along documents. [Ethics Alarms thanks  reader Michael Jordan for finding this.]

  • Gore chose to use the despicable term “climate deniers” to describe the legitimate critics of climate change orthodoxy. This popular and unethical tactic intends to undermine the credibility of critics by associating them with anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers. It posits, absurdly, that arguing that an extensively documented historical event didn’t occur is the same as questioning whether a projection of what might occur centuries in the future really will occur. The tactic is disrespectful, unfair and dishonest. So illogical is this equivalency that there are only two possibilities: Gore knows it is wrong and is trying to use it to convince the ignorant, or Gore believes it and is ignorant himself.
  • Gore used this argument as the centerpiece of his pitch: “… scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.”

Hmmm. That’s odd, because last month Dr. Phil Jones, the climate change scientist in the middle of the East Anglia scandal, stated in a BBC interview that there had been no “statistically significant” global warming since 1995, and  conceded that two previous periods of global warming, 1860-80 and 1910-1940, were similar to the period from 1975-1998. If there has been no statistically significant warming in 15 years, how can it be that the past decade was “the hottest” since records have been kept? Here are the options: 1) Gore doesn’t know what “statistically significant” is. 2) Gore was relying on a different and very politically-oriented source for his statement, James Hansen, in a report that pre-dated the adjustments that led to Jones’s comment, and Gore—or whoever wrote his op-ed for him—either was not aware of Jones’ interview (gotta keep up with your “field,” Al!), or chose to ignore it because it didn’t support his argument. None of these alternatives are acceptable.

  • You can see the next one coming, I’m sure. The op-ed says, “What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged.” Yet as we see in the previous section, Gore quotes one scientist who says it is significant that the past decade has been “the warmest” yet, while another says that there has been no statistically significant warming for the last decade and a half. That’s “consensus”? Gore would have fronted a useful op-ed if he could have explained exactly how and why climate change policy advocates regard diametrically opposed contentions on the presumably core question of whether it has been getting significantly warmer or not as “over-whelming consensus.” That would have been useful. Instead, Gore just pretends such disagreements don’t matter, or don’t exist.

Gore’s political, economic and environmental policy arguments would be respectable and worth reading, because these are topics on which he really does have some expertise. Because his scientific arguments are so intellectually dishonest and inept, however, he forfeits any right to be trusted in this debate, as well as any justification for having his spin campaign supported by the New York Times. At this point, Al Gore represents everything that is wrong with the global warming debate. If there is going to be any real consensus, Al needs to find another cause…ideally one that he can actually comprehend.

9 thoughts on “Al Gore’s Unethical New York Times Op-ed

  1. Sadly I have to agree with much of what you write. Gore weakened his case by weaseling about the East Anglia scandal. He further weakened it by his use of “deniers” (a term that you recently taught me was terribly offensive). And he really undercut his position by referring to the last ten years—as if a decade of chance confirmed a long-term trend.

    I’m especially sad because he weakened his major point: that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged. It does.

    Early on I made a good living as an MIT-trained engineer, specializing in heat transfer. The basic science is amazingly simple: the more CO2 in the air, the more heat the atmosphere traps (because CO2 doesn’t allow heat rays to pass through). Anybody who objects to this is objecting to the First Law of Thermodynamics. You could look it up.

    • As a former nuclear reactor operator heavily trained in thermodynamics and heat transfer, Bob, I also feel it necessary to point out that C02 is a minor greenhouse gas in the Earth’s biosphere.

      Water vapor (good old H2O) is indisputably the major greenhouse gas. There is disagreement as to the proportions, but the most liberal CO2 contribution I have seen is 30%, and the most minimal, about 10%. Let’s split the difference and say 20%.

      That means Water vapor contributes between 4 and 4.5 times more to the greenhouse effect in the Earth’s biosphere than CO2. Think cooling towers. Why water vapor hasn’t been declared a pollutant along with CO2 is … inconsistent, to say the least.

      As to the consensus, well, I don’t think anyone can say with authority. The alleged consensus amounted to a very few people, and many more scientists have challenged the research than supported it.

      So who gets to define what “consensus” means in this context?

      • Water IS a greenhouse gas. The difference is that the atmosphere has contained a lot of water vapor forever–it’s always evaporated from the oceans (principally), and from lakes, swamps, etc. Both H20 and CO2 help warm the earth, but the concentration of CO2 is increasing due to burning of carbon compounds; the concentration of water vapor is increasing more slowly from the higher base that you point out.
        So both CO2 and H2O warm the earth, but CO2 is warming it more than it used to.

  2. Bob is almost right. The earth absorbs sunlight (mostly visible and UV-A) and is warmed. It then reemits energy as IR light (as a blackbody radiator). Greenhouse gases, (CO2 and water among them) absorb this IR light and reemit it. Some of the reemitted light is reabsorbed by the earth (it doesn’t escape).

    Water isn’t usually treated like CO2 in the climate change camp because as a liquid at terrestrial temperatures, the amount of water vapor is tied directly to the temperature, not the amount emitted into the atmosphere (look up your water vapor pressure vs temperature table). It doesn’t matter how much water vapor you release, it returns to the equilibrium vapor pressure depending on the surrounding temp.

    If you add more CO2, you trap more energy. Since the same amount of energy is reaching the surface, the earth must warm. It is the first law of thermodynamics and it is unavoidable unless you have something else offsetting the warming (like aerosols). Now the amount of warming, that is where the debate is. That is what makes this CRU problem so disastrous. They hid data, they manipulated data. They took climate research journals to the level of literary criticism journals (ripe for the Social Text-type unravelling they got).

    The global atmosphere is a difficult thing to try to model and understand. In the last few decades, we have made gigantic leaps in the understanding of this area (it is staggering how little we knew in 1970). All of this advance has been put in question and been damaged by the actions of a self-appointed few. Do our best models now have the wrong parameters because they fudged some numbers in East Anglia? Which datasets are ‘good’ and which have been corrupted? Do we have to start from scratch?

      • Glenn, not exactly. Some depends on air currents, local temperatures, and surface area of liquid water, but there is definitely a limit to the amount of water that can be in the atmosphere at any given temperature. This amount is called the vapor pressure of water and it is the equilibrium amount of water vapor that exists at a given temperature. If you have more than that, it condenses as liquid water (the reason you get dew and frost) and if you have less than that, the liquid water forms vapor.

        • I understand all this perfectly. I took several courses in meteorology in college, and I have not yet totally flushed them down the memory hole. 🙂

          My point is that there is a recent theory, called the saturated greenhouse effect, that disagrees with the proposition that increase in CO2 results in an intensified greenhouse effect except for a very short time. You can read more about it here.

          The relative amount of water in the Earth’s atmosphere has measurably decreased as the CO2 level has increased. The SGT suggests that this is an equilibrium condition. As CO2 increases, water vapor decreases, producing no net increase except in the short term.

  3. Can’t we all just call a spade a spade? Gore is a patsy, a liar, and has used global warming (oops, “climate change”) to line his own pockets. This is the man whose own home’s “carbon footprint” is absolutely enormous, but who “pays” for it by contributing to a special fund to help global warming (I mean, climate change). If he really cares about global warming (I mean, climate change), shouldn’t he alter the way his own home/estate uses energy? George W. Bush did, but no one noticed. His ranch is almost totally run on wind and solar energy, but he’s a boob so no one cares.

    In addition, hidden away in various articles (see Marshall’s links) is the proven fact that the medieval centuries were demonstrably WARMER than the 20th century. Before industrialization, etc. Hmmm. Now how did that get lost?

    Climate isn’t weather. It isn’t measured in years or decades. It’s measured in centuries, or perhaps half centuries. There was a brief flurry when a bunch of meteorologists made this point, but someone (wonder who?) shut them up pretty quickly. Conspiracy theory again.

    I agree that we should try harder to become more energy self sufficient. I don’t like oil tankers gliding into US ports from Yemen, for example, when the environmentalists won’t let us drill for natural gas off the coast of Florida. In this day and age, that is nonsensical.

    But to tie the future of mankind to an unproven, decade long shift in weather, based on iffy, summary information when the original data is “lost,” is just moronic. As perhaps I’ve mentioned before, the Earth is a living, dynamic thing. It is presumptuous and arrogant as hell for humans to decide that they like it as it is and actually have the power to keep it so. We can stop polluting our rivers, lakes, and oceans. We can reduce pollution in the air. But can we stop tectonic plates from shifting?

    Hey! There’s an idea for Al Gore. Have someone write up a cool article which states that global warming (oops again, climate change) has caused the tectonic plates to shift, and it’s all the “deniers” fault that we’ve had all these earthquakes lately! That’ll wake ’em up!

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