July 28, 2008 A Skeptic's Guide to An Inconvenient Truth
by Marlo Lewis, Jr.
An Inconvenient Truth (AIT), Vice President Al Gore's book on "The planetary emergency of global
warming and what can be done about it," purports to be a non-partisan, non-ideological exposition
of climate science and moral common-sense. In reality, AIT is a colorfully illustrated lawyer's brief
for global warming alarmism and energy rationing.
It is a j'accuse hurled at fossil-energy-based civilization, especially the USA, and above all the Bush Administration and its allies in the U.S. oil and auto industries.
We do not expect lawyers to argue both for and against their clients, nor do we expect balance from
party men. However, although Gore reminds us (in the film version of AIT) that he "used to be the
next President of the United States," and concludes the book and film with a call for "political
action," he presents AIT as the work of a long-time student of climate science-and a product of
meditation on "what matters." He thus asks us to expect more from him than the mere cleverness
that can sway juries or win elections.
This reasonable expectation is unmet. In AIT, the only facts and studies considered are those
convenient to Gore's scare-them-green agenda. And in many instances, Gore distorts the evidence
The present paper, a running commentary on AIT, finds that most of Gore's claims regarding
climate science and climate policy are either one sided, misleading, exaggerated, speculative, or
wrong. An extensive summary of AIT's distortions is provided in Appendix A.
Below is a list of 25 of egregious examples.
• It neglects to mention that aggregate mortality and mortality rates due to extreme weather
events declined dramatically during the 20th century.
• It neglects to mention the circumstances that make it reasonable rather than blameworthy for
America to be the biggest CO2 emitter: the world’s largest economy, abundant fossil energy
resources, markets integrated across continental distances, and the world’s most mobile
• The book impugns the motives of so-called global warming skeptics but never acknowledges the
special-interest motivations of those whose research grants, direct mail income, industrial policy
privileges, carbon trading commissions, regulatory power, prosecutorial plunder, or political
careers depend on keeping the public in a state of fear about global warming.
• AIT never addresses the obvious criticism that the Kyoto Protocol is all economic pain for no
environmental gain and that regulations stringent enough to measurably cool the planet would
be a “cure” worse than the alleged disease.
• AIT implies that, throughout the past 650,000 years, changes in CO2 levels preceded and largely
caused changes in global temperature, whereas the causality mostly runs the other way: CO2
changes followed global temperature changes by hundreds to thousands of years.
• It ignores the societal factors that typically overwhelm climatic factors in determining people’s
risk of damage or death from hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wildfires, and disease.
• It erroneously implies that a study, which found that none of 928 science articles (actually
abstracts) denied a CO2-global warming link, shows that Gore’s apocalyptic view of global
warming is the “consensus” view among scientists.
• It reports that 48 Nobel Prize-winning scientists accused Bush of distorting science, without
mentioning that the scientists acted as members of a 527 political group set up to promote the
Kerry for President Campaign.
• AIT hypes the importance and exaggerates the certainty of the alleged link between global
warming and the frequency and severity of tropical storms.
• It claims polar bears “have been drowning in significant numbers,” based on a single report that
four polar bears drowned in one month of one year, following an abrupt storm.
• It portrays the collapse in 2002 of the Larson-B ice shelf—a formation the “size of Rhode
Island”—as harbinger of doom. For perspective, the Larson-B was 220th the size of Texas and
1/246th the size of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).
• AIT presents a graph suggesting that China’s new fuel economy standards are almost 30% more
stringent than the current U.S. standards. In fact, the Chinese standards are only about 5%
• AIT blames global warming for the record-breaking 37-inch downpour in Mumbai, India, in
July 2005, even there has been no trend inMumbai rainfall for the month of July in 45 years.
• It blames global warming for recent floods in China’s Sichuan and Shandong provinces, even
though more damaging floods struck those areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
• It blames global warming for the disappearance of Lake Chad, a disaster more likely stemming
from a combination of natural regional climate variability and societal factors such as
population increase and overgrazing.
• AIT warns that a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels to 560 ppm will so acidify seawater that all
optimal areas for coral reef construction will disappear by 2050—implausible because coral
calcification rates have increased as ocean temperatures and CO2 levels have risen, and today’s
main reef builders evolved and thrived during the Mesozoic Period, when atmospheric CO2 levels
hovered above 1,000 ppm for 150 million years and exceeded 2,000 ppm for several million years.
• It warns of “significant and alarming structural changes” in the submarine base of the WAIS,
but does not tell us what those changes are or why they are “significant and alarming.” The
WAIS has been retreating since the early Holocene. At the rate of retreat observed in the 1990s,
the WAIS should disappear in about 7,000 years.
• It warns that “moulins”—vertical water tunnels formed from surface melt water—could cause
half the Greenland Ice Sheet to break off and “slide” into the sea, even though the scientific
study to which Gore alludes found that moulins increase glacial flow by only a few meters a
• AIT claims glaciologist Lonnie Thompson’s reconstruction of climate history proves the
Medieval Warm Period was “tiny” compared to the warming observed in recent decades. It
doesn’t. Four of Thompson’s six ice cores indicate the Medieval Warm Period was as warm as
or warmer than any recent decade.
• It claims the rate of global warming is accelerating, when it has been remarkably constant for
the past 30 years—roughly 0.17°C/decade.
• It attributes Europe’s killer heat wave of 2003 to global warming; it was actually due to an
atmospheric circulation anomaly.
• It claims that 2004 set an all-time record for the number of tornadoes in the United States.
Tornado frequency has not increased; rather, the detection of smaller tornadoes has increased.
If we consider the tornadoes that have been detectable for many decades (F-3 or greater), there
is actually a downward trend since 1950.
• It blames global warming for a “mass extinction crisis” that is not, in fact, occurring.
In light of these and other distortions, AIT is ill-suited to serve as a guide to climate science and
climate policy for the American people.