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An Inconvenient Parallel

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By Greg from NoodleFood,cross-posted by MetaBlog

I watched Gore's award-winning An Inconvenient Truth the other night with some friends.

Sigh. Gore's movie is without a doubt the strongest, slickest, most utterly dishonest piece of propaganda I have ever seen. So much so that I was getting depressed because any regular person watching it pretty much should react with something on the order of, "If even half of what Gore says is right, we're all doomed and have to do something NOW!" It has already won Academy awards, it seems set to earn him an honorary doctorate and a Nobel peace prize, and he might even parlay all this rock-star visibility and seeming authority/vision into a winning Presidential run or perhaps some kind of UN Global Environmental Czar position.

In the ensuing discussion, one fellow observed that while he could see factual and emotional manipulation, he was "less willing to throw away Gore's data" than I am, and that the badness he could see "isn't enough ... to say there is no baby in the bathwater." While I wasn't claiming Gore gets nothing right, I am indeed quick to find fault and slow to accept whatever truths he offers. As I explained:

That's reasonable -- you haven't built up as much inductive data on the deep-green crowd, so I wouldn't expect the same attitude in you. In my case, after seeing many and varied environmentalist scares exhibit spectacular errors and outright dishonesty aimed at harming the life and happiness of mankind (as well as an occasional bit of confirming candor), it is difficult not to draw the conclusion of a rotten philosophic driver. DDT, overpopulation, resources, nuclear energy, recycling, genetically-modified crops, acid rain, global warming, on and on. Consider how Creationists grope for the respect and power of the mantle of science ("scientific creationism", "intelligent design") to push their bad ideas: unlike with real science, they are not interested in discovering the truth, just in rationalizing the "truth" they already believe. Deep greens look exactly the same to me at this point: straining to don the mantle of science to defend and spread their religious convictions, rather than participating in science to discover the truth. For any religious rationalizer, the (religious) ends justify the (dishonest and damaging) means -- and you will find that in spades in both movements.

This suggests a way to understand my emotional stance toward Gore, and my cognitive bias away from him in favor of his critics: picture slick Creationist presentations. They will include some solid logic and facts, but also exaggeration, distortion, error, and even intellectually dishonest material. And having identified something as Creationist in nature, you know that the entire project is not reason looking for the truth, but religious dogma looking for a rationalization -- any rationalization, factual or not, logical or not, honest or not, destructive or not. Sure, the better proselytizers tend toward the good poles, but no matter where they land in the spectrum, they are still on a mission of rationalization and not of reason. So if you consider the cause of your (hopefully!) differing levels of eagerness to accept data and conclusions from "scientific" Creationists as against other scientists, you will see the cause of my analogous stance regarding the "scientific" Greens as against other scientists.

Poking around before the viewing for someone critically commenting at length on Gore's presentation, I found CEI Fellow Marlo Lewis' blow-by-blow commentary on the movie/book. It is pretty good and matches the above expectations. The biggest complaint I have about it is also one of its virtues: it is exhaustive to avoid the charge of cherry-picking, but that comprehensiveness also tends to pull focus away from fundamentals.

On a promising note, a documentary that apparently runs strongly against the alarmists' scientific "consensus" is set to air this Thursday on UK TV (as well as on the web): The Great Global Warming Swindle.

Speaking of "consensus," one of Gore's bigger and more insidious points concerns how he and the debate-is-over crowd get a lot of mileage (up to this day) out of citing an extensive survey showing essentially NO peer-reviewed scientific dissent from the human-caused-GW position, as against close to half of non-peer-reviewed articles which do dissent. It is his primary tool to poison the well against skeptics -- in his movie, on Oprah, in articles and interviews. And we hear similar intimidating claims from many quarters. Gore's slide certainly caught my attention when we were watching his movie. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that (way back in 2005) someone tried to replicate that study and only falsified it. This researcher's letter to Science to disclose the falsification and urge Science's retraction of the original study to limit its damage was strangely rejected. His follow-up letter cited the original study's large and unhelpful influence, and also discussed interesting surveys of climatologists which likewise contradicted the debate-is-over consensus position.


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I saw it. I managed to sit through the whole film without throwing things at the screen, though I found myself gnashing my teeth, muttering under my breath, and shouting “Tell them the rest!”.

Al seems like a smart guy. Though we could have done without his family drama, his home-on-the-farm musings, and his many minutes of electoral poor-losership which have nothing to do with the meat of the film. One thing I noticed from those misty-eyed farm memories is that they raised Angus beef. Ruminants! Hypocrite! Notice how not once in his film was it mentioned that cows are one of the worst producers of all types of greenhouse gases, for that would have shed a spotlight on his hypocrisy.

He flies around in a private jet, with lots of empty seats. We have it on film! Wasting fuel, anyone? He tells everyone at the end credits, “If you can, buy a hybrid car.” yet he drives a full-size sedan in the movie which can't possibly have anything smaller than a V-6 engine. Surely Al can afford a Prius-- I wonder how much he gets paid for each of those presentations he's “done a thousand times”.

Another thing to point out is that nowhere is it mentioned just how much of those dreaded CO2 and other greenhouse emissions are actually ours. It is only mentioned that “some” are natural sources because it would probably be very embarrassing, not to mention harmful to Gore's cause, should the real truth come out. Nor was there mention of fossil records containing 4% atmospheric CO2 concentrations, when if our current levels triple we will only be at 0.1%. All there was, unfortunately, were carefully manicured sets of facts designed to generate fear for the future and mold it into sympathy for a cause.

Look, he's got a big heart. His son got hit by a car, and his sister died of lung cancer. He's got a real big heart. He must be right! Look how he puts his heart into it, the big-hearted guy, with the big heart. Very big-hearted of him. And oh, he got robbed of the election, too. Let's add some pity in there for the guy with the big heart. It makes him more right after all, the pitiable big-hearted guy.

Let us not forget, dear reader, that what you do not say is just as important as what you do say. The fact left out is almost more telling than that left in, and speaks greatly of the presenter's intent.

And, of course, with all that being said, let's get into even more detail on Al Gore. Mr. Gore owns a large mansion in the Belle Meade area of Nashville, TN, that, according to the Tennesee Center for Policy Research and records from Nashville Electric Service, consumes more electricity every month than the average American home consumes in an entire year. Al knows this, of course, so he has neatly purchased “Carbon Offsets” (more about carbon offsets later) in order to counter-balance his overconsumption.

If one digs further, however, one finds some truly rich dirt: The firm from which he buys these carbon offsets is Generation Investment Management, a London-based company with offices in Washington, D.C., for which he serves as chairman. What does this mean? It means, and quite literally, that he is buying stock in his own company to absolve himself of his “environmental sins”, and he's fooling you into thinking he's a stand-up guy for it. Stand-up guy indeed!

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I especially like the moments of memories from his childhood. Sniff. It was so moving, I had to blow my nose loudly at every such scene.

Me and a friend I watched it with went like "oh no.... not this again" at each time he started talking about himself. It was a cheap political stunt, and I would expect it to cost him in popularity, but I guess most people are stupid enough to believe "oh, he's so sweet to share his memories with us".

As for the facts in the movie: The only one that was alarming for me, and relevant, is the graph he presents at the beginning, showing average temperature and levels of CO2 for the last 650,000 years (I think this was the amount, not sure). It got me thinking about the meaning of correlation, and how it is tied to causality. My conclusion is that there can be a perfect correlation and still it would be because B-->A and not because A-->B . There was a lot of evidence missing to show that A-->B (A=CO2, B=Global warming), and also evidence to show that Human activity --> significant increase in CO2 levels.

Just the graph alone does not tell you enough about the actual point the movie was trying to make.

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Yes, the correlation isn't proof enough.

Also, a lot of the underlying data itself appears to be cherry-picked.

When Gore presents a graph of temperature going up and down, it gives the impression that this is a good estimate of some single phenomena. In reality, it isn't. For instance, the most famous temperature chart is Mann's "hockey stick" one, because it's the most dramatic. However, it's obvious that one study is not representative, when other studies are showing different results. Even averaging would be a little more honest (though still questionable), but instead the graph from the most "extreme" study is shown.

The same cherry-picking is in evidence when someone throws out a fact like "In July 2005, received the largest downpour in any Indian city in any single day"! If one goes looking, one will often find one instance to fit one's thesis. So, another way of presenting the same fact would be: of the world's 50 most populated countries, 49 have had higher rainfall days some time previously. Further, when the data shows that if we take Mumbai's total July rainfall for the last four decades, there is no trend, one has to wonder at the honesty of someone who would ignore the trend and focus on one day (not to say that the whole question of what this has to do with Global warming is nebulous).

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