wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

Most Read: Local

Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 04/07/2008

Freedman: The Price of Al Gore's Climate Battle

To a climate change contrarian, Al Gore is a one-man axis of evil. By publicizing the dangers of global climate change, and now launching one of the most expensive and far-reaching issue advocacy campaigns of at least the past several years, Gore has helped to vault climate change to the front burner of the environmental agenda. He's also continuing to draw fire from those who aren't sold on the idea that human activities are the primary contributor to modern global climate change.

Because of his position as the unofficial spokesperson for climate change science, Gore is in a delicate position. He is an advocate, yet has become synonymous with climate change science, and also with public fears about climate change. This mixture adds up to an attractive single target for anyone with an interest in casting doubt on the scientific evidence that points to the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change. Gore's political advocacy presents a danger that climate change science will continue taking hits along with the former politician.

It also means that when Gore says something misguided about climate change, as he did on national television on March 30, or fails to walk the walk of the climate change activist that he makes himself out to be, critics are likely to conflate his mistakes to encompass the entire field of climate change science (which actually encompasses many scientific disciplines).

In an appearance on CBS News' "60 Minutes" on March 30, Gore said that climate change contrarians are a dwindling group, and are now akin to "the ones who still believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie lot in Arizona and those who believe the earth is flat."

While it is likely true that the numbers of contrarians has dwindled along with some of their influence on policy, likening all contrarians to crackpots was unfair. Most scientists who take issue with the scientific consensus on global climate change are not motivated by a belief in conspiracy theories, but rather by a conviction that the real story of what is causing climate change has not yet come to light and/or that risks of human-caused climate change are overstated. In addition to being belittling, Gore's comments were a tactical mistake, considering the ammunition it provided to his opposition.

The opponents of mainstream climate science are aiming to take Gore down at all costs and then use Gore to discredit climate change science in general. This is no better demonstrated than in a recently posted tirade from AccuWeather senior meteorologist Joe Bastardi on the AccuWeather.com Global Warming blog. Bastardi frames the issue of human caused climate change as nothing more than a scare tactic that Gore himself devised, rather than something that was discovered through more than 100 years of scientific inquiry. He seizes on Gore's admittedly fast and loose use of sensational imagery in "An Inconvenient Truth", neglecting the well-established science underpinning the film.

"I am absolutely astounded that someone who refuses to publicly debate anyone on this matter and has no training in the field narrated a movie where frames of nuclear explosions were interspersed in a subliminal way in scenes of droughts and flood, among other major gaffes, can say these things and then have them accepted... by anyone,"

After hitting Gore with that sucker punch, Bastardi then takes a crack at demonstrating that Gore, and, by association, climate change science have gotten a free pass, and have not been subjected to a rigorous enough debate, when in fact the opposite is true.

"What gets me most is he goes on unchallenged one-on-one on this," Bastardi wrote of Gore. "Never in all my years of competition have I seen someone elevated to a level that he is, in any thing, without any face-to-face competition to establish credibility."

Gore is a just a messenger of climate science. He doesn't need to debate anyone. As a meteorologist of Mr. Bastardi's standing would know, climate science has been, and continues to be, analyzed and re-analyzed within the scientific literature, which has rigorous peer review standards for publication. As any scientist can attest, the process of publishing papers in scientific journals, and then defending the findings in such research, is not for the weak-minded. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, requires multiple stages of review by experts in numerous fields, and political representatives of the world's governments must approve one key section of the report line-by-line. In fact, it's possible that there has not been a scientific issue that has ever been studied as closely, by as many scientists and from as many diverse disciplines, as climate change has.

If Bastardi and others believe that they are the ones who are truly following the scientific method, then they should conduct and publish that research, subjected to the peer review of other scientists, rather than firing off rants that offer little to no scientific evidence.

But it seems Bastardi would rather subscribe to wild speculation by meteorologists who are unschooled in global climate dynamics, people like San Diego weatherman and Weather Channel founder John Coleman. Their feud with Gore is part of a general tussle between climate change researchers, some of whom are armed with sophisticated computer models, and meteorologists who deal in the day-to-day weather and have their own computer models. Within this context, attacking Gore is a way to score points over the climate scientists.

"We are talking issues that ORIGINATE WITH THE WEATHER, but have far reaching tentacles," Bastardi wrote.

Coleman even suggested suing Gore in order for climate change science to be exposed in a court of law.

It's a sad day when a professional in a scientific field has more trust in a court of law to determine scientific merit than a jury of their peers in the scientific community. Judges and juries simply don't have the knowledge necessary to determine the accuracy of complicated scientific matters.

I suspect that for Coleman and Bastardi, that's not the real goal, so much as it is to take Gore down from his lofty perch. Of course, no one should feel sorry for Gore, who put himself squarely in the line of fire. But should the reputation of climate science be the victim?

By  |  11:00 AM ET, 04/07/2008

Categories:  Freedman, Freedman, Freedman, Freedman, Freedman

Read what others are saying

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company