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Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

Al Gore's film was "broadly accurate" according to an expert witness called when an attempt was made through the courts to prevent the film being shown in schools.

Climate Myth...

Al Gore got it wrong
“Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, was […] criticised by a high court judge who highlighted what he said were "nine scientific errors" in the film.

Mr Justice Barton yesterday said that while the film was "broadly accurate" in its presentation of climate change, he identified nine significant errors in the film, some of which, he said, had arisen in "the context of alarmism and exaggeration" to support the former US vice-president's views on climate change.”  (The Guardian)

Al Gore, certainly the most vilified proponent of climate change anywhere in the world, earned most of this enmity through the success of a film he presented called An Inconvenient Truth (AIT). The film was a staid presentation of climate science to date, a round-up of research, science and projections, with many cinematic sequences employed to harness the power of the medium.

The majority of the film, covering issues like Himalayan Glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica losing ice, the severity of hurricanes and other weather phenomena, was accurate and represented the science as it stood. Since the release of the film, considerably more evidence has been found in support of the science and projections in the film.

One claim was in error, as was one attribution of a graph. The error was in the claim that climate change had caused the shrinking of Mount Kilimanjaro, although the evidence that the shrinkage was most likely caused by deforestation did not appear until after the film was made. The error of attribution was in reference to a graph of temperature and attributes it mistakenly to a Dr. Thompson, when it was actually a combination of Mann’s hockey stick and CRU surface temperature data.

The Legal Case

The film is also subject to attack on the grounds that Al Gore was prosecuted in the UK and a judge found many errors in the film. This is untrue.

The case, heard in the civil court, was brought by a school governor against the Secretary of State for Education, in an attempt to prevent the film being distributed to schools. Mr. Justice Burton, in his judgement, ordered that teaching notes accompanying the film should be modified to clarify the speculative (and occasionally hyperbolic) presentation of some issues.

Mr. Justice Burton found no errors at all in the science. In his written judgement, the word error appears in quotes each time it is used – nine points formed the entirety of his judgement - indicating that he did not support the assertion the points were erroneous. About the film in general, he said this:

17. I turn to AIT, the film. The following is clear:

i) It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.

22. I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that:
"Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate."

The judge did identify statements that had political implications he felt needed qualification in the guidance notes for teachers, and ordered that both qualifications on the science and the political implications should be included in the notes. Al Gore was not involved in the case, was not prosecuted, and because the trial was not a criminal case, there was no jury, and no guilty verdict was handed down.

Note: the vilification of Al Gore is best understood in the context of personalisation. When opponents attack something abstract - like science - the public may not associate with the argument. By giving a name and a face and a set of behavioural characteristics - being a rich politician, for example - it is easy to create a fictional enemy through inference and association. Al Gore is a successful politician who presented a film, his training and experience suitable to the task. To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame.

Basic rebuttal written by GPWayne

Last updated on 7 January 2014 by Bob Lacatena. View Archives

Printable Version  |  Offline PDF Version  |  Link to this page

Related Arguments

Further reading

  • Al Gore responds to the UK court case that questions An Inconvenient Truth.
  • William Connelley writes a good article The Boring Truth about the judge finding 9 errors in An Inconvenient Truth including links to other blog reactions.
  • Real Climate's Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann look at exactly what Gore said in each of his 9 errors in Convenient Untruths and find "the 9 points are not "errors" at all (with possibly one unwise choice of tense on the island evacuation point)".
  • Catherine Brahic at New Scientist wonders Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth: unscientific? She concludes "Gore oversimplified certain points, made a few factual errors and, at times, chose the wrong poster child (Mount Kilimanjaro should have been replaced by any number of Alaskan or Andean glaciers, for instance). It's unfortunate, but it remains the most comprehensive popular documentary on climate change science I have seen."
  • Greg Hoke has gone to the trouble of transcribing an unofficial transcript of An Inconvenient Truth - useful for reading Al Gore's exact words.
  • Kåre Fog provides a comprehensive List of acknowledged errors in Gore´s book and film.

Update

On 21 January 2012, 'the skeptic argument' was revised to correct some formatting errors.

Comments

Comments 1 to 14:

  1. Al Gore also got "Dr. Thompson's Thermometer" quite wrong (please see http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=2335 for more)

    1. The y-axis is inverted so the graphic actually shows temps are _cooling_ not warming!
    2. The graphic is actually a reconstruction from Michael Mann, combined with Jones' CRU data, and not Thompson data at all.
    3. The graph is centered at 0.5 instead of 0.

    It is also interesting to note that prominent AGW credulist Tim Lambert knew of these errors yet said nothing as revealed in the comments in this post - http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=2328 .

    It makes one wonder why Mann and Thompson did not say something about the misrepresentation. Perhaps they did not see the movie?
    Response: Thanks for the links - I've added a new post about Dr Thompson's thermometer.
  2. The British high court sided with schools, allowing the screenings of An Inconvenient Truth to continue. The court ruled the film was accurate in its four main scientific hypotheses, "each of which is very well supported by research published in respected, peer-reviewed journals.” The court challenge was funded almost entirely by a mining concern owned by Robert Durward, a long-time critic of environmentalists.
  3. Gore mischaracterizes the effect of global warming on Greenland/Antarctica ice fields/sheets in a big way, and mischaracterizes the long-term consequences of global warming on them as a result.

    In my opinion, this should be bumped to the "he got it wrong" column.
  4. This is an unfair statement. Of course he got it wrong. He's a politician.
  5. Carrick
    Recent articles published within the past year have indicated that the ice sheets that are in fact melting in both Greenland and Antarctica is "at least in part due to vulcanism" (they discovered active volcanos under the ice sheets, first one, then another ...).
  6. Seems Gore was wrong afterall:

    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/monckton/monckton-gores_10_errors_old_and_new.pdf

    http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/environment/gore.html

    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/monckton/goreerrors.html

    http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YmFiZDAyMWFhMGIxNTgwNGIyMjVkZjQ4OGFiZjFlNjc=
  7. Anthony
    Interesting links, thanks.
  8. The following is quoted from How the world was bullied into silence
    *************
    Even those directly involved in the process have joined the shift as the extremist positions grow. Meteorologist Hajo Smit of Holland, and former member of the Dutch UN IPCC committee became a skeptic because of Al Gore..
    “Gore prompted me to start delving into the science again and I quickly found myself solidly in the skeptic camp…Climate models can at best be useful for explaining climate changes after the fact.”
    The function of extremism is to determine limits for the majority. Gore’s extremism provided Mr.Smit with a limit. Cold weather is providing another limit. It is driving proponents of human caused global warming to increasingly extreme positions. This, in turn, is encouraging even those who should have spoken out to take positions. The bullying is over and the bullies are in a panic.

    *************
    IMO Gore has had this effect on many of us.
  9. "The film said a sea-level rise of up to 20ft would be caused by melting of either west Antarctica or Greenland in the near future. The judge ruled that this was "distinctly alarmist"

    A 2007 report by the IPCC explained the maximum we can expect the sea level to rise is 1 foot 5 inches, alarmist indeed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rImKRTBwXkc&feature=related

    This speaker holds similiar opinions in his book, and talks about the energy crisis, good video
  10. why are errors by al gore acceptable just because he isnt a scientist? he is reading a script isnt he? hopefully, scientists wrote the 'script'. but, if 'scientists' did write the script, then why is it filled with so many glaring lies. sorry, i cant call them errors or untruths. the included 'information' was clearly deliberate for causing alarm.

    so, then, back to my original question. why are errors acceptable in the global warming but so aggressively belittled and attacked when skeptics raise a legitimate question?

    i am very curious about the bias attitude of error forgiving/overlooking nature of global warming vs strike down global warming skeptics.

    heck, i would rather be a ufo believer. at least i will just get laughed at instead of being vehemently attacked!
  11. I am astounded to see point 8 ("that coral reefs were bleaching because of global warming") included as an 'error'. I'd suggest you could safely add that one to the list of what Al got right.

    Yes, there are other factors that cause corals to bleach, but mass coral bleaching is accepted to occur as a result of higher-than-normal sea temperatures resulting from global warming. Leaving it to the experts: "The primary cause of mass coral bleaching is increased sea temperatures. At a local scale, many stressors including disease, sedimentation, cyanide fishing, pollutants and changes in salinity may cause corals to bleach. Mass bleaching, however, affects reefs at regional to global scales and cannot be explained solely by localised stressors operating at small scales. Rather, a ontinuously expanding body of scientific evidence indicates that such mass bleaching events are closely associated with large-scale, anomalously high sea surface temperatures. Temperature increases of only 1-2ºC can trigger mass bleaching events because corals already live close to their maximum thermal limits." (Marshall and Schuttenberg, 2006)

    Re: bleaching, climate change and temperature, the Australian Institute of Marine Science simply states:

    What is known:
    - Global climate is changing rapidly due to human activities and will result in continued rising temperatures both on land and in the sea.
    - Climate change due to the enhanced greenhouse effect has significant consequences for coral reefs. There is a direct link between unusually warm seawater temperature and bleaching of reef-building corals around the world.
    (http://www.aims.gov.au/pages/search/search-coral-bleaching.html)

    Some overviews of bleaching science containing dozens of references to the primary literature:

    Johnson JE and Marshall PA (editors) (2007) Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef

    http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/corp_site/info_services/publications/misc_pub/climate_change_vulnerability_assessment/climate_change_vulnerability_assessment

    In particular, see Chapter 10:
    Hoegh-Guldberg O, Anthony K, Berkelmans R, Dove S, Fabricus K, Lough J, Marshall P, van Oppen MJH, Negri A and Willis B (2007) Chapter 10 Vulnerability of reef-building corals on the Great Barrier Reef to Climate Change. In Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef, eds. Johnson JE and Marshall PA. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Australian Greenhouse Office, Australia

    Marshall and Schuttenberg (2006) "A Reef Manager's Guide to Coral Bleaching", Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

    http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/13083/AReefManagersGuidetoCoralBleaching.pdf


    A few useful links:
    Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (what is coral bleaching)
    http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/corp_site/key_issues/climate_change/climate_change_and_the_great_barrier_reef/what_is_coral_bleaching

    NOAA Coral Reef Watch (satellite based sea temperature monitoring for coral bleaching prediction)
    http://coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite/index.html

    Status of Coral Reefs of the World
    http://www.aims.gov.au/pages/research/coral-bleaching/scr2004/
  12. 'Quietman' should take the hint from his own handle, and stay quite quiet! For everything he has said here has been either misleading or outright wrong.

    Perhaps that is why he cannot give us a reference for his alleged scientific evidence that vulcanism is (at least in part) responsible for melting ice sheets.

    Where did you get this, 'quietman'? From The Journal of Irreproducible Results?
  13. nbrack-

    Your information concerning predicted sea-level rise is already out of date. Elsewhere on this site you will find the scientific evidence that up-to-date oceanography is now expecting a larger rise than when the IPCC docs were written.
  14. Re: transjasmine (14)

    Your comment was deemed in violation of the Comments Policy.

    Insinuations are troublesome. Sticking to reference-able facts is best.

    The Yooper

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