New York Times on Cooling Gore's "Hype"


New York Times science journalist William Broad reports in his article, "From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype," that some climate scientists are concerned that Al Gore is overselling global warming as an imminent catastrophe. To wit:

But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.

"I don't want to pick on Al Gore," Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. "But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data." …

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for "getting the message out," Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were "overselling our certainty about knowing the future."

Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe's recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.

The New York Times piece mirrors in many ways my review of An Inconvenient Truth back in June 2006.

The Times article closes with a quotation from former chief scientist for the activist group Environmental Defense and now Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer:

"On balance, he did quite well — a credible and entertaining job on a difficult subject. For that, he deserves a lot of credit. If you rake him over the coals, you're going to find people who disagree. But in terms of the big picture, he got it right."

Similarly, but less fulsomely, my review concluded:

On balance Gore gets it more right than wrong on the science, but he undercuts his message by becoming the opposite of a global warming denier. He's a global warming exaggerator.

I realize that some people think that because I turned out to be wrong about where the scientific evidence was pointing with regard to man-made global warming that I should withdraw into decorous silence (or more colloquially put–why don't I just shut up?). Jim Henley in a H&R blog comment reasonably asked me why I keep linking to items by scientists who stress uncertainty in the data with regard to global warming? The chief reason is to show to readers that scientific evidence is not all pointing one way to ultimate inevitable catastrophe and that it is still possible for smart honest people to disagree on how bad man-made warming is likely to be. A point that the New York Times article is now making too.

I have made it perfectly clear that in my own judgement that man-made warming is a fact. I am still trying to figure out by further reading of the relevant scientific and policy literature and by talking to various sides in the climate debate just how bad warming is likely to be and what the best policies for addressing it might be. Keep in mind that the Summary for Policymakers of the Fourth Assessment Report by the IPCC offers one relatively mild scenario in which average global temperatures might rise by between 1.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius. If future evidence shows that scenario to be more likely that has huge policy implications for how intensely and expensively humanity must address man-made climate change. Furthermore, whatever the scientific evidence says about future climate, that does not tell us what the proper mix of policies–mitigation and adaptation–should be. That's ethics, economics and politics. Libertarians (perhaps even I) will have lots of value to say in those debates.

Disclosure: I have never had anything to hide with regard to my reporting. Just read my Reason bio and if you want an alternative view look at Greenpeace's Exxonsecrets site.