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Newsletter 12th October

- An Inconvenient Judgement - Gore and IPCC win Nobel prize

An Inconvenient Judgement

On Wednesday, in the High Court, Mr Justice Burton ruled that Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film – An Inconvenient Truth – contained nine scientific errors, and should not be shown to schoolchildren without them also receiving the other side of the argument. Essentially, the judge has said what any reasonable person watching the film would conclude; that it promotes a clear and committed point of view and uses every presentational device it can to do push home the message. It is a polemic from someone who clearly believes the message.

Compare this, if you will, with the much-criticised Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle. This was also a polemic, putting forward a very different view. It also made some mistakes, but its overall thesis – that there are reasons to question the received wisdom of human-driven climate change – is one which deserves proper consideration and cannot simply be dismissed. Neither film is perfect, and neither gives the whole truth, inconvenient or otherwise. But one is portrayed as presenting a genuine and factual account, marred by a handful of inconsequential errors, the other is vilified as a partisan attempt to undermine reality. It is this lack of objectivity which is more worrying than the nature of Gore’s film itself.

The sheer intolerance of dissent is well illustrated by a piece by Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s Environment Analyst, headlined The Heat and Light in Global Warming. In this comment on the court case, he admits to a “flutter of unease” when watching the film because of it goes too far or uses contentious facts. “This leaves the film open to attack by the ever-dwindling band of sceptics who do not want to accept that climate change is anything to do with humans…” says Harrabin.

Now Harrabin is a true believer in the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, and makes this very clear. He presents An Inconvenient Truth as Al Gore’s attempt to counter the “often cynical” campaign of the sceptics (“many in the pay of the oil industry”). Nevertheless, as a professional journalist, he challenged Gore about misrepresentation of the historical evidence of the link between temperature and carbon dioxide level on BBC television. The reaction? “And after the interview he and his assistant stood over me shouting that my questions had been scurrilous, and implying that I was some sort of climate-sceptic traitor. It is miserable when such a vastly important debate is reduced to this. The film and the High Court row are, though, products of their time.”

The argument from people who believe that climate change is currently primarily driven by fossil fuel emissions is that any questioning of their views makes it more difficult for politicians to take the radical action necessary to limit the negative consequences of increasing temperatures. This is well-intentioned but deeply worrying. It is akin to a state of war, where the presence of a powerful enemy means that all resources have to be focussed on the fight, and dissent is seen as treachery. The problem here is that the enemy has been identified as carbon dioxide emissions, whereas there is only a plausible but circumstantial link between these and average temperatures. Going whole-heartedly down the route of stringent emission reductions is like declaring war on the wrong country, leaving the real enemy to attack from the rear.

In reality, despite the avowed intentions of policymakers, little real impact has been made on emissions. Not only that but, by some measures, the USA is achieving more outside the Kyoto protocol than the EU, Canada and others are having ratified the treaty. China, India and the US are taking part in negotiations for a post-Kyoto deal, but there seems little likelihood of anything being achieved through this route which might cut global emissions as drastically as campaigners demand. And trying to scare people into accepting restrictions on their use of energy is neither effective nor tolerable in a free society. The way forward must surely be to acknowledge that there is a legitimate scientific debate and work on policy options which have a real chance of protecting vulnerable communities, increasing energy efficiency or whatever else may be the goal.

This week’s High Court decision was a small victory for commonsense. In itself, it will not be enough to stem the rising tide of almost religious belief and intolerance from mainstream environmentalists, scientists and politicians. But it does give a clear message that polemic should not be confused with the truth.

Gore and IPCC win Nobel prize

Not entirely unexpectedly, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize jointly to Al Gore and the IPCC for "their efforts to build up and disseminate knowledge about man-made climate change".

Is this really what the Peace Prize should be awarded for? There is a tenuous link in that rising global temperatures are predicted to cause floods, droughts and other problems which have the potential to cause or intensify conflicts. Maybe, but merely pointing out a possible cause will not do anything to prevent or limit wars. Even enthusiasts for the Kyoto protocol and its successors say that there is a significant degree of built-in temperature rise, even if no more carbon dioxide were to be emitted. It the predicted linkages are correct, this additional rise could in itself trigger conflicts, whereas the proposed mitigation policies would only have a significant effect many years hence.

If changes to the climate cause wars, the Nobel Peace Prize should go to whoever helps societies to adapt to or protect themselves from such changes. Next year, let’s hope that the Nobel Committee look in that direction rather than climbing on another fashionable bandwagon.