Tag Archives: An Inconvenient Truth

Arctic Ice Statistics — Al Gore Style

Memory is a funny thing.  I’m glad I watched Mr. Gore’s film again before I  published a recent post.  I had remembered the film incorrectly and I was about to put up a post that would have been wrong…but I checked…and pulled the post. I was trusting my memory…and it was almost right.

I wish Al Gore was more careful.   His cavalier approach  is ever present is his discussion of the Arctic in An Inconvenient Truth. He shows slides and makes statements that are unsupported and sometimes factually wrong. Arctic engineering blunders are blamed on warming.  The Alaska Pipeline is being damaged by warming (news to me), which would be page one news in Alaska were it true.

He really shines when he talks about the Arctic ice pack.

He begins this section of his film by talking about Nuclear subs that patrol the Arctic.  We find out that Mr. Gore got to ride in the Arctic on one of these subs (its good to be VP).  We find out that these subs can surface in the Arctic but only where the ice is less than three and a half feet thick.  Because of this, they keep meticulous records of the ice. We learn that Mr. Gore went to the Arctic to get these records released, and after some serious arm twisting by Mr. Gore, the records were released.

We get to see data and the strangeness begins.

The data presented starts in 1900 and goes to 2005.  Nuclear subs, meticulous data in 1900?  The first Nuclear sub built in the world, the Nautilus, was completed in 1953 and made it’s first trip under the Arctic ice in 1958.  Any data before 1958 was not submarine data.

Let’s think about this a bit more.  The Arctic is one and a half times the size of the USA…and he is predicting ice by using sonar records from subs.   That record has to be spotty and intermittent.  The subs didn’t map the Arctic, they patrolled it.  This would be like driving I-70 across America and then predicting rain totals in San Diego using the I-70 data.

The shape of the record shown began dropping off in the 1970’s which also happens to be the time when Satellite mapping of the area began.  Call me crazy, but I suspect the data before the 1970’s was crap and I suspect submarines had very little to do with it.

The submarine story was interesting and entertaining…and he had good pictures too…but it had very little to do with the data being presented.  Mr. Gore is all about personalizing the story, setting an emotional hook, getting you to connect on an emotional level, and he likes to talk about himself.

And then things get really strange.

The title of the chart shown by Mr. Gore: Sea-ice extent has dropped by 1.5 million square km since 1970.  The chart shows the ice pack spent much of the 20th century between 13 and 14 million square kilometers.  And then Al Gore says the following….with the chart right behind him on the screen.

Starting in 1970, there was a precipitous drop off in the amount and extent and thickness of the Arctic ice cap. It has diminished by 40% in 40 years.

40% in 40 years.  Come on Al.  1.5/13.5 = 11%, not 40.   And it took 35 years not 40.  Data Al Gore chose to present says 11% in 35 years.  He prepared the slide…and probably titled it too.   My last post was about Arctic Ice, and showed a 2.6% decline per decade, which is consistent with the 11% number. And my data is easy to get, no trip to the Arctic on a sub needed.  What’s going on?

I have a theory.  Mr. Gore is a politician, not a scientist.  As a politician, he is tuned into sound bites and connecting with his audience.  40 percent in 40 years is catchy and sounds good too. And it’s easy to remember.  He used it because he liked the way is sounded.

All throughout the film Mr. Gore personalizes the story.  He did this, visited that, we get to see his slides. He clearly is emotionally attached to the subject and he’s trying to get you attached too.  He is a skilled and experienced politician, but he is not a scientist. Perhaps that is why he does and says things that don’t match his documentation…perhaps he simply isn’t paying attention.  I suspect he is more focused on engaging the audience than presenting factual information.


Population vs Climate — An allocation question

Two weeks ago I viewed AL Gore’s film for the first time in years.  I had forgotten so much.  Mr. Gore is an excellent speaker.  The film is an emotional, political  and personal appeal.   The film is also simplistic, moralistic and slick; too slick for my taste.

There are bits of science here and there, but it really is one long pseudo scientific, self congratulatory, political commercial.  And it won the Nobel prize…what were those Norwegians thinking?

I like little parts of the film here and there.   I liked the discussion about Antarctic ice cores.  My favorite section, a discussion about human population and how it impacts our world.  But here is the rub.  Mr. Gore wants to spend a huge percentage of the worlds net worth fighting global warming.  I would rather spend that money differently.

The world has lots of immediate problems, and most of them are because there are too many people, particularly in Africa and Asia.  Can we afford to attack the immediate problems that are global food, water and resources and fight the global climate battle.  A battle that might not be serious and may not be winnable.   The global warming fight, we might be tilting at windmills.

The problem is one of resource allocation.

I’m willing to wander a little ways in Al’s direction. But not too far.  Better vehicle fuel standards, sure.  More efficient lighting, you bet.  More electric cars, sure as long as I don’t have to buy one until they fix the battery problem.  Solar powered electrical grid, sorry Al,  I can’t get there.  When politicians try to advance technology before the technology is ready…expensive things happen.

When Mr. Gore says we need to replace all fossil fueled power plants in America and we need to do it  in 10 years, as he did in a 2008 New York Times editorial, I don’t know what to say.  Reality has left the building.  It is a political, financial and practical impossibility.

We live in a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) world, nothing is done in a hurry.  It takes years to plan, design, permit and construct power plants.  We could get  most of the site work done and most of the designs.  We might get some projects permitted, and fewer still will begin the construction process.  A smaller number still might get constructed in 10 years, but not many.  Delays are inevitable, people will sue (NIMBY).  Local regulatory commissions will delay.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will delay some more.

And that’s the easy part.  Power transmission lines everywhere.  Nobody wants power transmission in their neighborhood.  And because Mr. Gore has ruled out new Nuclear plants and natural gas plants, lots and lots of really long transmission lines will be necessary.

I’m sorry.  I can’t get there.  And I don’t want to pay for it either.  Natural gas is a relatively clean fossil fuel.   Slowly shift power from coal to natural gas.  Sure, but replace  natural gas, no way.  I can come up with a thousand more productive ways to spend that money.

And that really is the issue.  Where do we want to spend our scarce resource dollars.  But then that is the subject of another post….

Cover Art Tells a Story — But Is it True

I’m a fan of irony.  I was in a video store recently, when I wondered by the documentary section…and there it was, Al Gore’s DVD cover, dripping with irony.

The cover says it all.  Smokestacks galore billowing smoke ….and then the smoke morphs into a hurricane.  An Inconvenient Truth, catchy title.

Carbon dioxide, the villain in Mr. Gore’s film is nearly odorless and colorless.  Factories billowing smoke on the cover and throughout the film are mostly billowing water vapor and/or air pollution depending on the source.  Some carbon dioxide is present, but since it is colorless it is not visible. All throughout the film carbon dioxide and air pollution are equated to each other, a factual error, emphasized by the cover.

The film is full of dirty polluting factories.  Factories can pollute…but if the pollution is visible, it is the more traditional air pollution we all love to hate.  Carbon dioxide is a green house gas, visible air pollution usually is not a green house gas. Most visible air pollution cools the planet.

Visible air pollution by definition is not colorless.  The visible haze block some light. This causes more of the suns energy to be reflected back to space without ever reaching the earth’s surface.  Just about everybody …including Mr. Gore’s friends at the IPCC, acknowledge that this form of pollution is a cooling event.

Air pollution looks bad….and marketing is all about appearance.  Never let facts get in the way of a good story.  All throughout the film, we see polluting factories and then the subject of carbon dioxide appears…it is a classic bait and switch..they really are two very different subjects.

I spent another post discussing the Katrina Hurricane.  It was a monumental mess.  Many politicians made mistakes.  Poor human behavior deserves credit for the mess that was New Orleans in 2005.  A category 3 storm adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.  Sounds like normal weather to me if we can classify the last 100 years or so as normal.  Mother Nature  being Mother Nature.

In its 2007 Synopses, the IPCC said that there was not enough evidence to draw conclusions about global warming and hurricanes.    And they like to draw conclusions.

The inconvenient truth about science is this, truths are rare indeed.  Science is a process and in that process the facts of the day change with knowledge.  The title of  the film is catchy and successful, but is it truthful?

Remember, we are talking about long range world wide weather forecasting  combined with assumptions about energy use.  These predictions go 100 years into the future.  How well would you have done in 1890, predicting energy use for the year 2000.


When the UN wrote their first climate report in 1990, they were beginning a process that predicted the climate in 2100, two years later.  Who knows what our energy mix will be a hundred years from now.   Not you, not me and  not Al Gore.  Nobody knows!

I’m sorry….truth is just the wrong word.

The business of climate science is one giant scientific wild ass guess.  Mr. Gore appears to think anybody that doubts is being fooled or foolish.  Maybe, but I’d take the other side of that bet, anytime.  With so many variables, and so many unknowns, success is far from assured.  Doubt is the smart play!

In the film Al Gore uses a quotation from Mark Twain to discredit his opponents.

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know; it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so”

The title of the piece, firmly puts Mr. Gore in the we know for sure camp.   Maybe it just ain’t so.