It’s not uncommon for those of us who find ourselves on the skeptical side of the great climate change debate to be accused of deliberately shading or outright misrepresenting scientific research in order to obscure the dire nature of the crisis at hand. We do this, our accusers claim, out of pure greed – either we are bought off by corporations who stand to become much less profitable should strong action be taken on this issue, we personally stand to lose money because of our investments in said corporations, or something else along those lines.

The reality of the situation is almost 180° opposite. For example, let’s take the world’s most popular climate alarmist, Al Gore. The standard story on Gore is that he functions as a modern prophet, bravely speaking scientific truth to the masses out of nothing but genuine concern for our dear planet which faces an unprecedented crisis; his science is unimpeachable, and therefore it would be beneath him to engage his critics, who will one day be revealed as the idiots that they truly are, and are thus to be pitied rather than feared.

This man is not being honest with you.

Reality check: Gore is already making a significant amount of money off of global warming hysteria, and stands to pocket a whole lot more if governments adopt his “solutions” to the “crisis.”

And what of that crisis that Gore warns us about? Is it really a crisis? Does Al Gore even believe it’s a crisis? Based on his own words, I’m not so sure. Check out this little gem of a quote, from an interview with Gore published in May of 2006 in Grist Magazine:

Q: There’s a lot of debate right now over the best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you scare people or give them hope? What’s the right mix?

A: I think the answer to that depends on where your audience’s head is. In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality. And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions. Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.

Over time that mix will change. As the country comes to more accept the reality of the crisis, there’s going to be much more receptivity to a full-blown discussion of the solutions.

Here’s the honest translation of that statement:

  • In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality: I have been unable to convince my fellow citizens and their elected representatives of the rightness of my position because they are either thick headed or beholden to corporate interests, not because they don’t believe my science adds up.
  • And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions: There can be no legitimate opposition to my position on the climate change issue. Critics of my position are either ignorant and bamboozled by corporate spin or perfidious and a party to crimes against the environment.
  • Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem.: At this point, the only way to get my way is to cause a panic.
  • Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are: It is totally appropriate for me to lie in order to force my agenda forward.

Did you catch that? Gore is claiming for himself the right to lie – to “over-represent” the facts – in order to move public opinion toward his radical vision of the environmental future. Now, if I were a cynical person, I’d look at that statement and think that perhaps Al Gore might not be living up to his spin. I’d look at his financial stake in the carbon trading business that could make him a very wealthy man if governments adopt his policy proposals and I might start to question whether his motives are entirely pure. I’d look at his steadfast refusal to meaningfully engage his critics and wonder if his stance is truly based on confidence in science or if it’s instead part of a carefully crafted public relations campaign, designed to underline his contention that we truly face a “crisis.” And I’d even start to wonder if he really believes that we face a crisis at all.

Hmm. I must be a cynical person.

But one can hardly resist cynicism when reading things like this:

“The alarmists who trumpeted recent years as ‘warmest ever!!!’ in the United States (by a mere tenth of a degree) now dismiss this reversal — 2000 and subsequent years being cooler than 1900 — as just being a tenth of a degree or so,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Horner. “Well, either that’s a big deal whichever direction it falls, or it isn’t. Which time are you lying?”

Or how about this: the conventional wisdom is that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting because of the ravages of global warming. At least, that was the story that the media jumped all over earlier this year. Well, it turns out that there may be another explanation:

In recent years, Greenland’s ice has been melting more and flowing faster into the sea—a record amount of ice melted from the frozen mass this summer, according to recently released data—and Earth’s rising temperatures are suspected to be the main culprit.

But clues to a new natural contribution to the melt arose when scientists discovered a thin spot in the Earth’s crust under the northeast corner of the Greenland Ice Sheet where heat from Earth’s insides could seep through, scientists will report here this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Well, I guess that’s global warming of a sort – but it’s also more evidence that the science isn’t nearly as settled as Gore and his cohorts would have us believe. And speaking of unsettled science:

According to a new study on global warming, climate scientists at the University of Rochester, the University of Alabama, and the University of Virginia found that the climate change models based on human influence do not match observed warming…

…The new report, which challenges the claims of Gore and the IPCC, was published in the December 2007 issue of the International Journal of Climatology of the Royal Meteorological Society.

The report was written by David Douglass at the University of Rochester, John Christy at the University of Alabama, and Benjamin Pearson and S. Fred Singer at the University of Virginia.

“Our findings basically are that fingerprints – that is to say the pattern of warming – that’s predicted by greenhouse models does not match the fingerprints of observations, so there is a disconnect between greenhouse models and the actual reality of observations,” Singer told Cybercast News Service.

“This means that the greenhouse effect – while real – is not very important in producing climate change,” he said. “It’s a lot smaller than what the models calculate.”

Naturally, the first response of climate change alarmists is to point out that this finding is “radically out of step with the vast consensus.” Here’s Bracken Hendricks, of the Center for American Progress:

“It’s dangerous to get into a game of dueling science,” [Hendricks] added. “We don’t want to be gambling with the fate of the planet.”

Dissent in the world of science is “a dangerous game.” But guaranteeing economic disaster for millions of the world’s poor (and probably middle class and rich) population by voluntarily cutting off economic growth to prevent a crisis that might not even exist isn’t? My head is spinning.

Ban Ki-moon warns of “oblivion”

And it just keeps on coming. You’d think that at some point the rhetoric would become so overblown that even the media would have to start noting how ridiculous this is becoming. For instance, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has now warned that the world faces “oblivion” if we don’t ACT NOW to stop climate change. “Oblivion”? Really? I haven’t heard that particular word used since Megatron threatened the Autobots with destruction in the old Transformers cartoon series back in the mid-80′s. And yet, there it is:

“The situation is so desperately serious that any delay could push us past the tipping point, beyond which the ecological, financial and human costs would increase dramatically,” Ban said in a speech to delegates.

“We are at a crossroad,” he added. “One path leads to a comprehensive climate change agreement, the other to oblivion. The choice is clear.”

Unfortunately, the hysterical rhetoric doesn’t just come from the secular world, but also from the religious world, as evidenced by an article titled Global Warming Skeptics Face Divine Judgment, Suggests NAE’s Cizik:

Cizik, whose work often places him in the position of an evangelical lobbyist, relayed an encounter with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS). The senator, according to Cizik, questioned the efficacy of unilateral American measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The NAE official replied: “‘Well, Sam, God isn’t going to ask you whether China or India did their part. He’s going to ask you did you do your part, and he’s going to hold you to a higher standard than even me.’” Cizik continued, “And frankly, I would wish that the White House and even the President of the United States would get that picture, that he would be held accountable.” Cizik added an ominous warning, borrowing words from the letter to the Hebrews (10:31) about the damnation of those who forsake the faith: “It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Well golly, Richard, tell us how you really feel. I guess this means I’m a corporate whore who’s now facing eternal damnation because I have the temerity to not swallow the “consensus” whole. It’s almost as if I’ve transgressed the holy writ of some fundamentalist environmental religion. Ah well; in this case, I remain perfectly happy to be a heretic.


  • Walden2Now

    You commented:
    Al Gore: “Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are”
    You: “It is totally appropriate for me to lie in order to force my agenda forward.”
    Are you serious? Do you really not understand the difference between the words “over-representation” and “misrepresentation.” To misrepresent is to lie, whereas to over-represent is to emphasize the important features of an argument in order to make them more salient. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. For example, let’s say it’s a beautiful spring day, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the kitchen is on fire. When you phone the fire department, your would be justified in over-representing the kitchen fire, would you not? Could you be accused of lying? You owe Mr. Gore an apology.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    No, I would not be justified in over-representing the fire in my kitchen. If I lied and said that the fire was worse than it actually was in order to make the fire department take me more seriously, I have to imagine that I’d be liable if the FD devoted more resources than necessary to my problem rendering them unable to deal with another emergency that may pop up at the same time.

    That’s where I think your scenario is a bit off when it comes to Gore. Let me use a similar analogy to yours that I believe is a bit more accurate. Say I look out of my front window and notice a few neighborhood hoodlums loitering on my lawn. When it becomes clear that they aren’t going to leave, I call the cops. But instead of saying that “I have a couple of kids on my lawn who refuse to leave,” I say “terrorists have taken my family hostage and are threatening to detonate a nuclear device in my basement, potentially killing hundreds of thousands of people.”

    That’s certainly more likely to get the cops to your house to take care of your problem, but good luck trying to explain to them that you were just “over-representing” the problem when you called 911 in order to ensure they acted on your concern. Because now, while your house is unnecessarily surrounded by 10 police cruisers and a SWAT team, 3 robberies and a murder have happened where those officers would have been had you not, well, [i]lied[/i].

    That’s what Gore is doing. I don’t think he’s stupid. I think he’s perfectly aware of the fact that legitimate debate exists over the causes and likely extent of climate change. But to give an accurate presentation of what’s really going on wouldn’t get him the unending media adulation, the book deals, the Nobel Peace Prize, or the status as global enviro-powerbroker. And while he goes on and on “over-representing” the dangers of climate change, he’s diverting attention and resources from other problems that are much more immediate and much more solvable – see [url=http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/62]this talk by Bjorn Lomborg[/url] for more on that.

    So no, Al Gore won’t be getting any apologies from me. I believe he’s wrong on the science, I think his “over-representation” is deceitful and harmful, and in the end, I think he’ll have a lot more apologizing to do than me.

  • Dan VandeBunte

    “misrepresent”? “over-represent”? I think over-representation is just a more specific variety of misrepresentation; like a square is just a more specific variety of rectangle. Squares have all the same properties that rectangles have, but they also have some that rectangles do not. Likewise, over-representing facts may achieve certain ends that plain old misrepresentation would not. Any attempt to make something seem other than what it actually is, is *lying*.

  • Walden2Now

    What I was attempting to illustrate in my example was, of course, that when phoning the fire department about a fire, you would discuss the fire and not the fact that the birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and so on. You would “over-represent” (i.e., overemphasize) the fire, in the sense that statistically the fire would dominate the discussion at the expense of more cheerful concurrent events.

    I had to comment on your article because you implied that Mr. Gore’s use of the word over-represent constituted an admission of and justification for lying. I thought that perhaps you simply don’t understand the difference between over-represent and misrepresent.

    If you want some examples of misrepresentation, on the other hand, you should read your own writing and that of others like yourself. I think that if you were somehow obliged to be honest (as in the movie “Liar, Liar”) and were asked why you are fighting action on global warming, you might say something like the following:
    1. I am a libertarian and am fundamentally opposed to any government meddling in peoples’ lives.
    2. Action to combat global warming will bring about a multitude of new governmental policies, laws, programs, and so on.
    3. Therefore global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on mankind.

  • Dano

    “What I was attempting to illustrate in my example was, of course, that when phoning the fire department about a fire, you would discuss the fire and not the fact that the birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and so on. You would “over-represent” (i.e., overemphasize) the fire, in the sense that statistically the fire would dominate the discussion at the expense of more cheerful concurrent events.”

    Well, your example is wrong then. According to Dictionary.com the definition of overrepresent is “to represent in numbers that are much too high.” Misrepresentation is ” to represent incorrectly, improperly, or falsely.” The fact that the birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming is not salient to the kitchen fire and you would be waisting 911′s time talking about such things. Overrepresentation would be to claim that the kitchen fire is much larger than it is.

    Are you saying that massive government interaction is justified to prevent global warming? Or, as some would say, does that mean the end justifies the means?

  • Dan VandeBunte

    First of all, you can’t honestly expect us to believe that you interpret Al Gore’s response to the question to mean that he simply gives certain data disproportionate focus without exaggerating it.

    Second of all, the original question does not allow that interpretation. The question reads:

    “Q: There’s a lot of debate right now over the best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you *scare* people or *give them hope*? What’s the right mix?”

    “Over-representing” data without exaggerating it isn’t going to scare or give hope to anyone. It may make them bored and disinterested, but it won’t scare them or give them hope.

    Even if your interpretation is correct, and I don’t see how it could be, it doesn’t change anything. Giving data undue focus in order to scare people or give them hope is still dishonest.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    I’ll second what Dano and Vandebunte have said, and note that simply restating your argument doesn’t make it any stronger.

    With regard to your assertions about my honesty, I’ll respond by saying this: I am not a libertarian. I do tend to oppose excessive government intervention into the everyday lives of average folks. I do not opposed massive government intervention to fight global warming on that basis alone, although that sort of thinking does play a role. Rather, I oppose the types of massive interventions that Gore and his ilk propose because A) the science on the causes and likely consequences of warming is far from settled; B) even if it was proved to be the crisis that alarmists claim, the proposed solutions would have very little impact at great economic costs; and C) if implemented, the proposed solutions would kill off most of the world’s economic growth, immediately plunging millions into dire economic straits.

    Honest.

  • Dale Milne

    Basically, then, the man is attempting to get his solution adopted before the problem has been proportionately identified and defined.

    An underrepresentation could result in measures inadequate to the task, global warming continuing, and we all die.

    An overrepresentation could result in overkill. Imagine that. In order to stop the deadly warmth, we could overcompensate and plunge the earth into the freeziest ice age ever.

    Didn’t we use to believe:
    “Honesty is the Best Policy.”

    When did our politicians decide “overrepresentation” was a higher standard than honesty?
    One who cannot be honest even about the weather is . . . a lot of remarkable things . . . including untrustworthy.

  • http://none Scott Beaver

    Al Gore appears to be advocating an argument based on fallacy. The misleading vividness fallacy uses “a very small number of particularly dramatic events . . . to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence (www.nizkor.org). If invalid logic is the basis of an argument can the conclusions drawn from that argument – i.e. that drastic action is required to stave off global warming – be sound?

  • Dan VandeBunte

    If I remember my PHIL 153, which was over 10 years ago, in order for an argument to be valid the reasoning behind it must be valid, the premises from which it proceeds don’t matter, even if the conclusion is true. In order for an argument to be sound not only must the reasoning be valid, but the premises true. If I understand your question correctly, then no. The invalid logic precludes the argument from being sound, and, even if it were valid logic, we are all debating the validity of the premises. If the premises are true, Global Warming may actually be as urgent a threat as Al Gore claims that it is, without Al Gore’s argument being sound (because his reasoning isn’t valid).

  • Pablo the Scot

    An example of Mr Gore’s ‘over-representation’ is his, now famous, claim that sea levels will shortly rise by 20 feet. The actual figure in the IPCC report is something like 12 to 15 inches. Is that exageration, or is it lying?

    To my mind, inflating your numbers by a factor of 20 in order to scare people witless is not exageration, it is (*lying*).

    I had my daughter appear at home recently having watched Mr Gore’s film. It took a lot of careful and highly detailed coverage of the true facts to conteract his propoganda.