Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why Al Gore Doesn't Matter

From time to time I meet someone who tells me that they don’t believe in climate change. Usually, about 70% of the time, within the next 2 to 3 sentences after making this proclamation, said person will argue that it is all a conspiracy orchestrated by Al Gore. He might add that the issue is just something made up by Al Gore so he and a few scientists can make a lot of money, etc.  Some have heard a rumor that he has this really big house with a huge energy bill so that just proves that he is a hypocrite so global warming must be a lie.

Al Gore?  Who the hell cares what Al Gore has to say?  What do climate scientists say about all this?  Deniers argue that there is no clear scientific consensus on the topic.  They claim that the scientific community is widely split and many doubts remain.  This is beyond ludicrous.  Let me give you a visual representation of how the camps are divided.

 A photo taken at a climate scientists' recent flag football game.  ;-)

Ok, the photo is a joke but the message is accurate -- the vast, vast majority of the science community accepts that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans.  This is may be shocking to some, especially if you only occasionally follow the issue or catch sound bites from Fox News or if you only catch the headlines from articles and columns from the major newspapers.  Yes, the media has done a terrible job of explaining the story.  And it turns out, not surprisingly, that scientists are poor communicators.  (I will deal with that issue at a later time.)

So, who exactly is saying that climate change is real?  And when did they start saying it?  Is it just a couple of hacks that Al Gore found somewhere?

The Experts
Scientists around the world started to notice the effects of climate change in the 1980s.  In response the United Nations (at the request of the United States and other concerned countries) created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 to look into the issue.  The IPCC is made up of the top climate scientists from around the world.  The IPCC does not carry out new research nor does it monitor climate-related data.  So what does it do?  Every few years they produce an assessment report based on a review of the latest technical data and peer-reviewed published reports related to climate science.  The purpose of the assessment report is to offer guidance to policy makers (e.g. world leaders and politicians).  Four reports have been produced to date: 1990, 1992, 2001, and 2007.

The IPCC Assessment Report represents THE official view of the scientific community on climate change.  Is this document credible?  Let’s look at the 2007 report.  The document was written after 6 years of work involving 130 countries, 450 lead authors and 800 contributing authors.  The validity of each topic section was checked, critiqued, and verified by the leading experts for that field.  The document was reviewed by 2,500 expert reviewers.  I am not sure if you fully appreciate how unbelievably rigorous this review process is. 

A bit of background.  How does science move forward?  Well, normally a scientist does research and then s/he submits the findings to a peer-review journal like the Lancet (health related) or Science, or Nature, etc.  The journal would then search out 1 to 3 experts in that field and ask them to review the study for scientific validity.  If the reviewers feel the methodology and calculations look fine, the study is accepted by the journal for publication.

The IPCC report is reviewed, and re-reviewed by THOUSANDS of the very best scientists of the world.  And the entire submission process is completely transparent – all submissions to the IPCC, all comments, and all responses to comments are available for anyone to review.

Hang on, we are not done yet.  The IPCC then submits the report to the world’s governments to review.  Each country has the right to critique the document and make edits.  The main recommendations and language are NEGOTIATED with the world’s political leaders.  The final document is then submitted to the United Nations where each country has the option to sign on in support of the findings.  If a country does not agree, they simply don’t sign.

The latest report has declared:
  1. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
  2. Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
Wow.  For science-speak this is like screaming from the roof-top.  Try getting a scientist to say anything is “unequivocal.”  And as defined in the report, the term “very likely” indicates a >90% probability.  The scientists are saying that they are more than 90% sure global warming is happening and it is caused by humans. 

So who has signed on in support of the IPCC findings?
  1. EVERY scientist who participated in producing the document has signed on.  Signature does not mean that a scientist necessarily agrees with every statement in the report but that s/he agrees that the content is fair and credible.
  2. EVERY country in the world, including the United States has signed on in support of the document.  Yes, George Bush signed his support for the 2007 report.
Anybody Else?
Has anyone else signed on in support of the findings of the IPCC report?  In the United States the National Academy of Sciences has said:
 “The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue"

Should we listen to the Academy?  It is home to about 2,100 of America’s top scientists with close to 200 of them having won Nobel Prizes for their work. Only the finest scientists our country produces are elected to join this body and membership is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded to a scientist or engineer.  Don't sound like hacks to me.

I got more.

In 2008 the National Academies of 13 countries (United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, China, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil, Japan, India, South Africa, and Mexico). put out this statement:
 “….climate change is happening and that anthropogenic warming is influencing many physical and biological systems.” Among other actions, the declaration urges all nations to “(t)ake appropriate economic and policy measures to accelerate transition to a low carbon society and to encourage and effect changes in individual and national behaviour.”

So, the most prestigious scientific bodies, including most of the top scientific minds on our planet, from some of the most advanced societies in the world support the findings of the IPCC.

Oh, I’m not done

These organizations have signed on in support of the IPCC findings:

U.S. Agency for International Development
United States Department of Agriculture
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
National Institute of Standards and Technology
United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Energy
National Institutes of Health
United States Department of State
United States Department of Transportation
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
National Center for Atmospheric Research
National Aeronautics & Space Administration
National Science Foundation
Smithsonian Institution
International Arctic Science Committee
Arctic Council
African Academy of Sciences
Australian Academy of Sciences
Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
Academia Brasileira de Ciéncias
Cameroon Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of Canada
Caribbean Academy of Sciences
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Académie des Sciences, France
Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina of Germany
Indonesian Academy of Sciences
Royal Irish Academy
Accademia nazionale delle scienze of Italy
Indian National Science Academy
Science Council of Japan
Kenya National Academy of Sciences
Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
Academy of Sciences Malaysia
Academia Mexicana de Ciencias
Nigerian Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of New Zealand
Polish Academy of Sciences
Russian Academy of Sciences
l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
Academy of Science of South Africa
Sudan Academy of Sciences
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Tanzania Academy of Sciences
Turkish Academy of Sciences
Uganda National Academy of Sciences
The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
National Academy of Sciences, United States
Zambia Academy of Sciences
Zimbabwe Academy of Science
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
American Astronomical Society
American Chemical Society
American College of Preventive Medicine
American Geophysical Union
American Institute of Physics
American Medical Association
American Meteorological Society
American Physical Society
American Public Health Association
American Quaternary Association
American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Society of Agronomy
American Society for Microbiology
American Society of Plant Biologists
American Statistical Association
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Botanical Society of America
Crop Science Society of America
Ecological Society of America
Federation of American Scientists
Geological Society of America
National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Natural Science Collections Alliance
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Society of American Foresters
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society of Systematic Biologists
Soil Science Society of America
Australian Coral Reef Society
Australian Medical Association
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Engineers Australia
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
Geological Society of Australia
British Antarctic Survey
Institute of Biology, UK
Royal Meteorological Society, UK
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
European Federation of Geologists
European Geosciences Union
European Physical Society
European Science Foundation
International Association for Great Lakes Research
International Union for Quaternary Research
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
World Federation of Public Health Associations
World Health Organization
World Meteorological Organization

Damn, that Al Gore guy is goooooood. 

But doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of people saying that climate change is not happening or that the science is far from done.  Yes, it does seem that way.  I will write on this later but for now think of it this way.

Remember when everyone thought smoking was honky dory?  Then a few scientists started producing evidence that smoking was linked to lung cancer.  The tobacco industry created a research consortium called the U.S. Tobacco Institute and within a few years some scientists and “experts” appeared with studies showing that there was no credible data linking smoking to cancer.  The tobacco industry bought off scientists, hired PR firms to spread disinformation, and lobbied heavily with government officials.  The whole goal of the campaign was to create doubt in the public mind.  We all know how it turned out.  The body of evidence became overwhelming and the tactics and fraud of Big Tobacco were revealed to the public.  We now all accept as common knowledge that smoking can kill you.

That is our reality now.  The illusion of doubt around climate change is simply the output of a well-funded campaign orchestrated by the fossil-fuel industry (because it threatens their profits) and right-wing political parties (because the solutions threaten their world view). 

The evidence however is overwhelming, and climate change can kill you.  We need action now.

Learn more here.

Change your life to reduce emissions that cause climate change.

Demand political action now.  Call your elected official and tell them you want action.

Want to learn more?

Here is a report that shows how Exxon Mobil has funded over 40 organizations to spread disinformation on climate change.

whew...i am exhausted....gotta write something shorter tomorrow


  1. I like to emphasize that the IPCC Report is a giant literature review representing the work of say 50,000-100,000 scientists worldwide. I've not counted but that's my estimate based on the number of references in the appendices--so way beyond the 3,000 who authored the report. It would be challenging to have that many scientists in on the hoax--particularly many who are doing work on trends not necessarily related to climate change--e.g. on Phenology--but reviewed by the IPCC as evidence of change.

  2. Wow, great info., Michael! The science is irrefutable.