Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gore- Nobel or Ignoble?

We have two reactions to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Al Gore and the IPCC recently. One is from Nagraj Adve in New Delhi and the other from Meher Engineer in Kolkata. Read on:

Nagraj wrote...

“During the years that Gore was Vice President, US emissions rose from 5,057 metric tons of carbon dioxide (in 1992) to 5,823 metric tons (in 2000). (This data is from the US Energy Information Administration, whose website seems to indicate it is an official US govt website). Now, some of that 15% rise was doubtless the growth in the US economy fed by consumer spending and loans in the late 1990s but it is fair to say that little was done by the Clinton administration, of which Gore was a significant actor, to reduce emissions.

Worse, influenced by the oil and timber lobby, it appears that thousands of acres of forest land were denuded and more old growth forests were cut down than any other then-recent administration. A piece I read suggests that the lumber industry was permitted to denude whole mountain ranges. Their administration opened out the 24 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve, adjacent to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling. Following a legislation, Clinton sent to the US Congress, thousands of acres of forestlands in the West were devastated.

Al Gore's preferences (which anyhow became most vocal only after he was no longer Vice President) have little scope to have bearing on what happened in those years. Which is why I have little expectations of the politics of the Al Gore film; his solutions at the end of the film are either partial or non-solutions. I have little expectations of almost-Presidents.

My bigger disappointment in the film is that he does not stress adequately what I think is the most important scientific aspect of global warming at the moment: that the 'feedbacks' triggered off by the Earth systems's - reduced reflection from melting polar ice, warming oceans, methane escaped from melting permafrost, release of carbon from warmer soils, etc will make global warming effectively irreversible in a short time period: James Hansen of NASA says 8-10 years, others put it at 20 years or so. The IPCC too tends to be conservative in its reports - say on sea level rise in this latest report - but its 1995 2nd report is considered the benchmark re the science.

The film is very much worth seeing once because it deals with some of the stuff very well and after all it is trying to combat entrenched positions in the US that may still believe that human activity has little or no bearing on GW. Notwithstanding some excessive claims (the reduction in waters of Lake Chad surely had more to do than GW), the Gore film does deal with some of the science very well and in a very accessible way. But though he dwells a lot on polar ice melting, he simply does not talk of the urgency of the problem. Which surprises me.

There's the other issue about the politics of the Nobel peace prize. Now, I lost any respect for the Nobel prize when I heard years ago that Henry Kissinger had been awarded the prize in 1973 (for the Vietnam peace accord along with Le Duc Tho). Kissinger is a mass murderer who makes Narendra Modi look like Santa Claus. Notwithstanding that, I'm glad it's gone to the IPCC and Gore. It's less an award for their work, more a highly belated recognition of the seriousness of the issue of global warming.”

Meher Engineer writes…..

“Gore and the IPCC have won a Nobel. a British High Court judge has said that "An Inconvenient Truth" contains nine "errors" (the quotation marks are his), so it should be shown in classrooms together with the opposing view. The errors are: :

· a sea-level rise of up to 20 feet caused by melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland "in the near future"....The judge said (a) "This is distinctly alarmist and part of Mr Gore's "wake-up call", (b) that if Greenland melted it would release this amount of water - "but only after, and over, millennia" and (c) that "The Armageddon scenario he predicts, insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of seven metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus."

· low-lying, inhabited Pacific atolls (Tuvalu, for example) "are being inundated because of anthropogenic global warming"....the judge ruled there was no evidence of any actual evacuation.

· "shutting down the Ocean Conveyor" - the thing that propels the Gulf Stream over the North Atlantic to western Europe etc. the judge cited the IPCC as saying that it was "very unlikely" that the Ocean Conveyor (I think it is wrongly called the Meridional Overturning Circulation, but le me check), would shut down in the future, though it might slow down.

· claiming that two graphs, of the rise in C02 and of the rise in temperature over a period of 650,000 years, showed "an exact fit"....... The judge said that, although there was general scientific agreement that there was a connection, "the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts".

· the disappearance of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro..........the judge ruled that scientists have not established that the recession of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro is primarily attributable to human-induced climate change.

· the drying up of Lake Chad..............the judge said there was insufficient evidence that GW caused it, and that "it is apparently considered to be far more likely to result from other factors, such as population increase and over-grazing, and regional climate variability."

· Katrina and the devastation in New Orleans........the judge ruled there was "insufficient evidence to show that" it was due to GW.

· citing a scientific study that shows, for the first time, that polar bears were found after drowning from "swimming long distances - up to 60 miles - to find the ice".....the judge said: "The only scientific study that either side before me is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm." That was not to say there might not in future be drowning-related deaths of bears if the trend of regression of pack ice continued - "but it plainly does not support Mr Gore's description".

· claiming that coral reefs all over the world were being bleached because of global warming and other factors. Again citing the IPCC, the judge agreed that, if temperatures were to rise by 1-3 degrees centigrade, there would be increased coral bleaching and mortality, unless the coral could adapt. However, he ruled that separating the impacts of stresses due to climate change from other stresses, such as over-fishing, and pollution was difficult.

All of these things are things that we are coded to react to, be interested in and remember better than other, more scientific, things. For example polar bears: they can allow us to flash the pix i sent u earlier of the extent of ice beak up in the arctic. The pix will tell people "look the stuff seems to be breaking up more and to be doing so earlier than before". it is easy to go from there to questions like "look temp will not go up by the same amount all over the world, so if it goes up by, say, 1 degree Fahrenheit in the equator how much will it go up by at the poles". The answers are known, to not bad accuracy I'd say. Even the hoary chestnut of the ocean conveyor belt has interest raising science in it.”

1 comment:

Nagraj said...

The British judge's comments give the sense that the science of the Gore film is wrong, but that is largely not correct. I feel the film's science is largely solid. He makes some over-strong claims: for instance, the ocean streams is not expected to stop in the near future but a slowing down is a possibility in the medium term.
Lake Chad has shrunk not just due to global warming, as claimed.
The residents of Tuvalu have not been evacuated in large numbers.
The biggest ambiguity is re the dramatic chart he shows in the film re CO2 emissions and warming, and then makes an extrapolation. Real Climate.org recently had a posting saying that CO2's effect was only one-third historically hence the line should have gone up only 1/3rd he shows.
But even where they are exaggerations, they are something that can or may well happen in the near or medium future. The film's science is largely solid and it would be a disservice to the subject to pull it down like the news reporting of the judge has.
Naga