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.