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Andrew Bolt gets a perfect score on global warming

By Tim Lambert - posted Thursday, 18 January 2007


Andrew Bolt welcomes Al Gore to Australia with a column that accuses Gore of being "one of the worst of the fact-fiddling Green evangelicals".

Bolt writes:

Well, here are just 10 of my own "minor quibbles" with Gore's film. These are my own "inconvenient truths", and judge from them the credibility of Gore's warnings of the end of all civilisation.

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So let's assess Bolt's 10 "inconvenient truths". I'll classify them as either:

  1. wrong; or
  2. not wrong, but misleading, Bolt having omitted other facts that undercut his position; or
  3. a valid point about Gore's movie.

To get a passing grade Bolt needs 5 out of 10. Let's go:

1: Gore claims that a survey of 928 scientific articles on global warming showed not one disputed that man's gasses were mostly to blame for rising global temperatures ...

In fact, as Dr Benny Peiser, from Liverpool John Moores University has demonstrated, Gore relies on a bungled survey reported in Science.

Peiser checked again and found just 13 of those 928 papers explicitly endorsed man-made global warming, and 34 rejected or doubted it.

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This one is wrong. Even Peiser has admitted his analysis was full of errors.

2: Gore says the man who first made him realise we were heating up the earth was his late professor, oceanographer Roger Revelle, who noticed carbon dioxide levels were increasing.

In fact Revelle, shortly before his death, co-authored a paper warning that "the scientific basis for a greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at this time".

This one is misleading. Bolt does not mention that Revelle died in 1991. Needless to say, the scientific basis has strengthened since then.

3: Gore says ice cores from Antarctica, that go back 650,000 years, show the world got warmer each time there was more carbon dioxide in the air.

In fact, as the University of California's Professor Jeff Severinghaus and others note, at least three studies of ice cores show the earth first warmed and only then came more carbon dioxide, many hundreds of years later. So does extra carbon dioxide cause a warming world, or vice versa?

This one is very misleading. Let's look at what Severinghaus says about this:

Does this prove that CO2 doesn't cause global warming? The answer is no.

The reason has to do with the fact that the warmings take about 5,000 years to be complete. The lag is only 800 years. All that the lag shows is that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5 000 year trend. The other 4,200 years of warming could in fact have been caused by CO2, as far as we can tell from this ice core data.

In other words, CO2 does not initiate the warmings, but acts as an amplifier once they are underway. From model estimates, CO2 (along with other greenhouse gases CH4 and N2O) causes about half of the full glacial-to-interglacial warming.

Note that Severinghaus was the authority Bolt cited.

4: Gore shows a series of slides of vanishing lakes (like Lake Chad) and snow fields (like Mt Kilimanjaro's) and blames global warming for it all.

Mt Kilimanjaro was losing its snows more than a century ago, not because of global warming, but - says a 2004 study in Nature - largely because deforestation has cut the moisture in the air.

This one is wrong. Eric Steig explains:

The Heartland Institute's propagation of the notion that the Kilimanjaro glacier retreat has been proved to be due to deforestation is even more egregious. They quote "an article published in Nature" by Betsy Mason ("African ice under wraps," Nature, November 24, 2003) which contains the statement, "Although it's tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain's foothills is the more likely culprit".

Elsewhere, Heartland refers to this as a "study". The "study" is in reality no scientific study at all, but a news piece devoted almost entirely to Euan Nesbit's proposal to save the Kilimanjaro glacier by wrapping it in a giant tarp. The article never says who the "experts" are, nor does it quote any scientific studies supporting the claim.

Bolt didn't even get the year of the non-study right.

5: Gore shows scary maps of how New York and Shanghai would drown under 20 feet (600cm) of water if all Greenland's ice melted.

In fact, various studies say Greenland's snow cover - and Antarctica's - is increasing or stable. The scientists of even the fiercely pro-warming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict seas will rise (as they have for centuries) not by Gore's 600cm by 2100, but by between 14 and 43cm.

This one is wrong. First, the IPCC projection for 2100 is 11-77cm. Second, recent evidence suggests that the eventual rise will be 400-600cm. Eric Steig writes:

Projecting forward in time, the implication is that our future will also see 4-6 m of sea level rise, and that - given the recent evidence for accelerated flow of both Greenland and Antarctic glaciers - this may occur much faster than we expect.

6: Gore claims the seas have already risen so high that New Zealand has had to take in refugees from drowning Pacific islands.

In fact, the Australian National Tidal Facility at Tuvalu in 2002 reported: "The historical record from 1978 through 199 indicated a sea level rise of 0.07 mm per year." Or the width of a hair.

Says Auckland University climate scientist Chris de Frietas: "I can assure Mr Gore that no one from the South Pacific islands has fled to New Zealand because of rising seas."

This one is wrong. The South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project 2005 report on Tuvalu says (PDF 1.66MB):

The sea level trend to date is +5.0 mm/year but the magnitude of the trend continues to vary widely from month to month as the data set grows. Accounting for the precise levelling results and inverted barometric pressure effect, the trend is +4.3 mm/year. A nearby gauge, with a longer record but less precision and datum control, shows a trend of +0.9 mm/year.

And despite de Freitas' denial, people have fled to New Zealand from Tuvalu:

Seeing themselves as climate refuges some Tuvalans are already leaving their islands, moving their communities to higher ground in a new land. ... Fala and Suamalie, along with international environmental activists, argue that Tuvaluans and others in a similar predicament should be treated like refugees and given immigration rights and other refugee benefits.

This tiny nation was among the first on the globe to sound the alarm, trekking from forum to forum to try to get the world to listen. New Zealand did agree to take 75 Tuvaluans a year as part of its Pacific Access Category, an agreement made in 2001.

Bolt's score so far is 0 out of 6. Even if he gets the next four, he still won't pass. But I'll keep going.

7: Gore claims global warming has helped cause coral reefs "all around the world" to bleach.

In fact, new research from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the seas rapidly cooled from 2003 to 2005. And most bleaching is caused by El Nino events.

This one is misleading. Because of global warming, El Nino events are warmer than they would have been. The National Geographic reports:

"By and large, reefs have collapsed catastrophically just in the three decades that I've been studying them," said Nancy Knowlton, a marine biology professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. ...

[She] notes that corals live precariously close to their thermal limits.

As a result, even the most isolated reefs are vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

"These increasingly warm temperatures that we've been seeing in the last couple of decades have been tipping reefs over in terms of these fast bleaching events," she said.

Bolt's got three chances left to at least get one right.

8: Gore claims hurricanes are getting worse because of global warming, and he shows pictures from Hurricane Katrina.

In fact, America has this year had fewer hurricanes than usual. And most hurricane experts agree with Dr Chris Landsea of the US National Hurricane Centre, who says, "there has been no change in the number and intensity of (the strongest) hurricanes around the world in the last 15 years".

This one is wrong. Most hurricane experts don't agree with Landsea on this point. Gavin Schmidt summarises:

Basically, although everyone acknowledges that there are data problems early in the record, it seems clear that there has been a global rise of the most intense hurricanes over the last 30 years and the most obvious explanation is that this is related to the contemporaneous increases in tropical SST in each basin.

Two chances left.

9: Gore claims warming is causing new diseases and allowing malarial mosquitoes to move to higher altitudes.

In fact, says Professor Paul Reiter, head of the Pasteur Institute's unit of insects and infectious diseases: "Gore is completely wrong here." Reiter says "the new altitudes of malaria are lower than those recorded 100 years ago" and "none of the 30 so-called new diseases Gore references are attributable to global warming".

This one is misleading. Other experts disagree with Reiter. For example, Paul Epstein, an expert in tropical health at the Harvard Medical School writes:

Insects and insect-borne infections are being reported at high elevations in South and Central America, Asia, and east and central Africa. Since 1980 Ae. aegypti mosquitoes, once limited by temperature thresholds to low altitudes, have been found above one mile in the highlands of northern India and at 1.3 miles in the Colombian Andes.

And:

Could global warming be contributing to the resurgence of malaria in the East African Highlands?

A widely-cited study published a few years ago said no, but new research by an international team that includes University of Michigan theoretical ecologist Mercedes Pascual finds that, while other factors such as drug and pesticide resistance, changing land use patterns and human migration also may play roles, climate change cannot be ruled out.

"Our results do not mean that temperature is the only or the main factor driving the increase in malaria, but that it is one of many factors that should be considered," Pascual said.

Last chance for Bolt.

10: Gore never even hints at other possible explanations scientists have given for the warming globe.

And here's just one: increased solar activity. That's a theory suggested by leading American scientists such as Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon, Fred Singer and Frederick Seitz, past president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some even predict we're about to suffer a new bout of global cooling. Says Professor Bill Gray, world hurricane authority from Colorado State University: "My belief is that three, four years from now, the globe will start to cool again."

This one is wrong. For increased solar activity to explain recent warming, there would have had to have been an actual increase in solar activity. RealClimate:

Regardless of any discussion about solar irradiance in past centuries, the sunspot record and neutron monitor data (which can be compared with radionuclide records) show that solar activity has not increased since the 1950s and is therefore unlikely to be able to explain the recent warming.

As for Gray, he says it will cool, but he won't put his money where his mouth is.

Final score for Bolt: zero out of ten. Not just a failure, a miserable failure.

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First published in Deltoid - ScienceBlog on September 15, 2006. It is republished as part of "Best Blogs of 2006" a feature in collaboration with Club Troppo, and edited by Ken Parish, Nicholas Gruen et al.



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About the Author

Tim Lambert is a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales. He blogs at Deltoid ScienceBlogs.

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