May 24, 2006

Al Gore's Movie - A *Very* Inconvenient Truth

from - smijer

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Yeah, you read that right - we're looking at a movie that has the power to destroy our economy. Go watch it at the peril of our nation.

The image credit, by the way, is kind of difficult. It's an image grab from Fox News, replayed on MSNBC's "Countdown", K-Ol's "Worst people in the world" segment to be precise, and excerpted on a clip at the world-famous One Good Move.

So, the movie doesn't open until next week or something, but it's already created a clean-drawers crisis among the nation's conservative leadership. And Exxon... Apparently, some part of those gas prices that are exclusively determined by the oil futures market goes toward paying the CEI to make hilarious TV ads combatting Al Gore's extreme threat to the economy. Thinking about the risks to the economy, I'm not going to begrudge Exxon the chance to use some of my money to help combat the ill effects of knowing what anthropogenic climate change may hold in store for us.

So, anyway, it looks like - for better or worse - Gore's movie is going to be big news for a while, and a source of heavy duty hand-wringing and sweaty denials from both conservative punditry and some sectors of industry.

But, just to maintain a semblance of balance, I thought I would provide a few links to some of those crazies who, having seen it, like the film.

Real Climate...

How well does the film handle the science? Admirably, I thought. It is remarkably up to date, with reference to some of the very latest research. Discussion of recent changes in Antarctica and Greenland are expertly laid out. He also does a very good job in talking about the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity. As one might expect, he uses the Katrina disaster to underscore the point that climate change may have serious impacts on society, but he doesn't highlight the connection any more than is appropriate (see our post on this, here).

There are a few scientific errors that are important in the film. At one point Gore claims that you can see the aerosol concentrations in Antarctic ice cores change "in just two years", due to the U.S. Clean Air Act. You can't see dust and aerosols at all in Antarctic cores -- not with the naked eye -- and I'm skeptical you can definitively point to the influence of the Clean Air Act. I was left wondering whether Gore got this notion, and I hope he'll correct it in future versions of his slideshow. Another complaint is the juxtaposition of an image relating to CO2 emissions and an image illustrating invasive plant species. This is misleading; the problem of invasive species is predominantly due to land use change and importation, not to "global warming". Still, these are rather minor errors. It is true that the effect of reduced leaded gasoline use in the U.S. does clearly show up in Greenland ice cores; and it is also certainly true that climate change could exacerbate the problem of invasive species.

Several of my colleagues complained that a more significant error is Gore's use of the long ice core records of CO2 and temperature (from oxygen isotope measurements) in Antarctic ice cores to illustrate the correlation between the two. The complaint is that the correlation is somewhat misleading, because a number of other climate forcings besides CO2 contribute to the change in Antarctic temperature between glacial and interglacial climate. Simply extrapolating this correlation forward in time puts the temperature in 2100 A.D. somewhere upwards of 10 C warmer than present -- rather at the extreme end of the vast majority of projections (as we have discussed here). However, I don't really agree with my colleagues' criticism on this point. Gore is careful not to state what the temperature/CO2 scaling is. He is making a qualitative point, which is entirely accurate. The fact is that it would be difficult or impossible to explain past changes in temperature during the ice age cycles without CO2 changes (as we have discussed here). In that sense, the ice core CO2-temperature correlation remains an appropriate demonstration of the influence of CO2 on climate.

Lawrence Lessig:

Even if you want to reject the argument, understand it first. This is a perfect opportunity to understand it.

kottke.org:

But the film really shines when it focuses on the presentation and Gore methodically and lucidly making the case for us needing to take action on global warming. An Inconvenient Truth opens in the US on May 24...do yourself a favor and seek it out when it comes to your local theater.

Just be careful not to let this thing destroy our economy.

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Posted by smijer at May 24, 2006 08:08 AM
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