In 2006, the movie An Inconvenient Truth (AIT) was released along with Al Gore’s book on “the planetary emergency of global warming.” Both movie and book received widespread attention and acclaim. Politicians, environmentalists and elements of the media quickly embraced the global warming creed’s doomsday message to promote agendas such as taxing carbon dioxide, slowing economic growth, de-industrialisation and so-called green energy.
Whilst the media was quick to advertise the alarmism of AIT, it gave scant attention to the later events of October, 2007, when Chief Justice Michael Burton in London’s High Court identified many claims promoted in AIT as having been made in “the context of alarmism and exaggeration.” Expert scientific adviser Professor Bob Carter provided evidence on behalf of Stewart Dimmock, the school governor who objected to AIT’s propaganda being distributed throughout the UK schools systems.
Chief Justice Burton pointed out that the “apocalyptic vision” promoted in AIT was politically partisan, not an impartial analysis of the science of climate change. Although Burton ruled that the movie could be shown in UK schools, he added that it must be accompanied by a cautionary statement about the political/ideological nature of the movie. If this did not occur, then screening the movie would contravene an Act of Parliament (section 406 of the Education Act 1996) designed to prohibit the political indoctrination of school children.
Justice Burton identified nine AIT claims which he readily identified as inaccurate. These were:
1. Gore claimed that we can expect a sea level rise of up to 6 metres by the melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland ice sheets. He implied that this would be in the near future and would displace large numbers of people from locations such as Manhattan, the Netherlands and Bangladesh.
TRUTH: Greenland ice cores show that the medieval, Roman, Minoan, Egyptian and other periods were warmer than current temperatures in Greenland. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
2. Gore claimed that low-lying Pacific Islands are being inundated as a result of anthropogenic global warming with island populations being evacuated to New Zealand.
TRUTH: There is no evidence of sea level rise over the last 50 years and no evidence that Pacific Islands are under any threat. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
3. Gore claimed that anthropogenic global warming could shut down the thermohaline circulation and move Europe into a new ice age.
TRUTH: There is no evidence of any weakening of the thermohaline circulation. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
4. Gore displayed graphs showing rising levels of carbon dioxide and increases in global temperature, with the implication that carbon dioxide levels drive global temperature.
TRUTH: Changes in global temperature precede changes in carbon dioxide levels. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
5. Gore claimed that anthropogenic global warming is responsible for snowmelt on Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.
TRUTH: In fact melting of the Furtwangler Glacier at the summit of the mountain began more than 125 years ago and temperatures at the summit never rise above freezing point. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
6. Gore claimed that Africa’s lake Chad had dried up as a result of global warming.
TRUTH: In fact the lake has been dry on numerous occasions in the past (8500 BC, 5500 BC, 1000 BC and 100 BC) due to over-extraction and changing agricultural practices. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
7. Gore claimed that Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans in 2005 resulted from global warming.
TRUTH: Katrina was downgraded to category 3 when it made a direct hit on the levees, which failed as engineers predicted they would. Gore made no mention of the Category 4 Galveston hurricane that struck the Texas coast in 1900, or the Category 4 Palm Beach, Florida, of 1928. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
8. Gore claimed that polar bears were dying because they had to swim long distances to find ice, which was said to be disappearing due to global warming.
TRUTH: It is not unusual for Arctic sea ice to disappear over time and, despite continued hunting, polar bear numbers have grown from around 5,000 in the 1950’s to more than 25,000 today – the largest number since records began. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
9. Gore claimed that coral reefs are being bleached because of global warming.
Strong El Nino events will lead to coral bleaching but there is no evidence to show that global warming would have long-term negative impacts on coral reefs. Gore’s assertion is easily refuted. Justice Burton found no evidence to support Gore’s claim.
It could be argued that Chief Justice Burton was far too generous in his criticisms of AIT, since many more of Gore’s errors can be identified and just as easily refuted. These include statements such as:
- 100 ppm of carbon dioxide leads to the difference between a nice day and having a mile of ice above your head;
- ice melt leads to the sun heating the Arctic Ocean;
- the Arctic is heating faster than the rest of the planet;
- a record number of typhoons impacted Japan in 2004;
- carbon dioxide is pollution; atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide will exceed 600 ppm by 2050;
- in 2003, global warming caused the European heat wave and killed 35,000 people.
Gore also asserted, without evidence, that
- global warming is producing stronger hurricanes;
- insurance claims are increasing due to more extreme weather events;
- flooding in Mumbai is increasing;
- severe tornadoes are becoming more frequent;
- the Greenland Ice Sheet is becoming unstable;
- Himalayan glacial meltwater is declining;
- Peruvian glaciers are disappearing;
- Mountain glaciers are disappearing around the world;
- The Sahara Desert is drying;
- The West Antarctic ice sheet is becoming unstable;
- Antarctic ice shelves are breaking up;
- Mosquitoes are reaching higher altitudes;
- Many tropical diseases are increasing, with West Nile virus spreading throughout the USA.
Gore and other alarmists rely on the generally low level of scientific literacy in the public and political communities to promote their unsubstantiated views. In fact, each of the above claims made by Gore can easily be checked in the scientific literature and shown to have little substance. Christopher Monckton has summarized rebuttals for each one.
In An Inconvenient Truth science is discarded and replaced by scaremongering and pseudoscience. Marlo Lewis has demonstrated how AIT is one-sided, misleading, exaggerated, speculative and just bad science. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of climate science would have to agree.
So how did CSIRO climate scientists respond when, in September, 2006, Liz Minchin from The Age invited a number of our “best and brightest” to preview AIT and “rate its scientific merit out of five.” Dr Penny Whetton, CSIRO’s Climate Change Impact and Risk leader, was fulsome in her praise for the Australian scientists who had advanced awareness of greenhouse gases, and she was just as enthusiastic about Gore’s flick. So let’s start off with her reaction to AIT. She said:
"I was really quite moved, and given that this film was about a topic I deal with every day, this says something about how powerfully it communicates its message. Its scientific basis is very sound."
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Liz Minchin then asked Dr Kevin Hennessy, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Climate Impacts and Risk group who said:
"The only minor quibble I had was that Gore implies that most of the climate trends and recent extreme events are due to human activities. It’s not quite that simple … But easily the best documentary about global warming I’ve seen."
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The next reviewer was Dr Kathy McInnes, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO Climate Impacts and Risk group who said:
"There were bits and pieces that were glossed over … But I was surprised by how accurate the science was overall."
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Then came Dr Graeme Pearman, former CSIRO Director of Atmospheric Research. He said:
"By and large, I didn’t feel that the presentation overstated what we can say based on current scientific knowledge.”
Rating: 4 out of 5
When Minchin asked Dr Barrie Pittock, former CSIRO Climate Impact group leader, for his opinion and rating, he expressed entirely satisfied:
"It is technically brilliant, remarkably accurate and up to date, and should be palatable to a wide audience.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Remarkably accurate? Sound scientific basis? Frankly, I found the above responses most embarrassing and I’m left wondering if these CSIRO scientists actually watched the same movie I did. I showed An Inconvenient Truth to some of my university students as an illustration of how climate science can be exaggerated and distorted for political/ideological purposes. Even undergraduate students can recognize alarmist nonsense.
There was no empirical evidence pointing to catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) when Gore’s movie was released in 2006 and there is none today, despite the questionable process and findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Why then is the notion of CAGW still promoted by the CSIRO, and why do its scientists still assign any credibility to the IPCC?
It appears that significant CSIRO funding comes from federal, state and local government agencies, underwriting a policy of pursuing climate issues from a warmist perspective. This has helped fund unvalidated computer-model projections of more frequent droughts, global-temperature increases and sea-level rises, all conveyed with unjustified alarmism.
Atmospheric scientist Dr David Packham, a former principal research scientist with Australia’s CSIRO, made the point:
“I find that I am uncomfortable with the quality of the science being applied to the global warming question … research funding for environmental research in Australia, in my case mercury and wildfires, is almost impossible unless it is part of yet more greenhouse-data gathering. There is also an atmosphere of intimidation if one expresses dissenting views or evidence.”
Atmospheric physicist Professor Garth Paltridge was a chief scientist with the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research:
"They (CSIRO) have been so successful with their message of greenhouse doom that, should one of them prove tomorrow that it is nonsense, the discovery would have to be suppressed for the sake of the overall reputation of science."
"The bottom line is that virtually all climate research in Australia is funded from one source – namely, the government department which has the specific task of selling to the public the idea that something drastic and expensive has to be done."
Former CSIRO Chief Scientist Dr Art Raiche observed:
“We were given very strict, VERY strict guidelines on not publishing anything or publicly discussing any research that could be seen as critical to Government policy. If we did not do it, we would be subject to dismissal.”
A senior CSIRO environmental economist, Dr Clive Spash, resigned after saying his criticism of the emissions trading scheme (ETS) was censored. Spash had been in a dispute over the publication of his paper which criticised carbon trading schemes.
Spash submitted his paper to the UK journal New Political Economy in 2009 but the CSIRO contacted the editors, telling them the paper was being withdrawn because it had not been approved through internal CSIRO processes. Dr Spash said that CSIRO managers maintained they had the right to ban the paper. He resigned after saying his criticism of the emissions trading scheme (ETS) had been censored.
A 2006 ABC Four Corners interview between former CSIRO scientist Dr Graeme Pearman (not an anthropogenic global warming skeptic) and reporter Janine Cohen revealed some interesting insights into CSIRO culture. Here is an extract:
Q. The Federal Government provides the majority of the funding to CSIRO; has that compromised the organisation in recent years?
A. There are times when it does.
Q. How were you pressured not to talk about climate change?
A. Well I was actually told that I couldn’t engage in the group but at that stage it was pretty late and in fact publications had already been prepared and so I was told what I could and couldn’t say publicly.
Q. And what were you told?
A. I was told that I couldn’t ah say anything that indicated that I disagreed with current government policy and I presume that meant Federal Government policy and as I say, I tried to reiterate that in fact the document that we had prepared, any public statement that I made, was a partisan statement and that it did not refer to any particular government.
Q. Did you feel compromised?
A. I was definitely compromised and it was probably only because I was in the latter stages of my career that I could handle, I could see that a young scientist placed in this position in the earlier stage of their career would probably have to roll over.
Q. Were you restricted from talking publicly about emission reductions in general?
A. Yes I was. I think it’s an organisation, it’s a CSIRO that is very afraid um that there may be consequences to their bottom line if they in fact are seen to be interfering with um government policy.
Q. Is there pressure to have only scientific results that deliver economic results?
A. Yes, lots.
Scientists from the CSIRO are involved in the production of IPCC reports as contributors and reviewers. The CSIRO is quick to offer support for the IPCC process and its findings, despite ample evidence showing how both are seriously flawed.
Endorsing and promoting integrity in science should be the goal of anyone practicing or teaching science at any level. Yet we appear to have the blatant politicising of science by vested interest groups such as the CSIRO, the IPCC, various environmental groups and, of course, individuals such as Al Gore.
A relatively small group of individuals has exerted a disproportionate amount of influence to promote alarmism about unsubstantiated catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Presumably, if the alarmism were to disappear then so might their funding.
Shame on any scientist who places self-interest above the integrity of science.
Dr John Happs has an academic background in the geosciences. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas