The Al Gore rhythm
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on August 31, 2006.
Because of global warming, "some specific places may experience more pleasant winter weather." "It is certainly true that the temperature is not rising at every point on the planet. In Michael Crichton's novel The State of Fear, characters pass around graphs that show specific places around the world where temperatures are decreasing slightly or remaining the same. The graphs represent real data from real scientists."
So which "so-called global warming skeptic" am I quoting? These quotes are from Al Gore's new book, An Inconvenient Truth. Of course, Gore goes on to argue that the net effects of global warming would be harmful and that average temperatures are rising.
Gore decries the "'propaganda' techniques" of "corporate lobbying efforts" to confuse the public about global warming. Unfortunately, Gore makes more personal attacks against the "so-called skeptics" than factual rebuttals. And, without cause, he dismisses as "insulting and ludicrous" the suggestion that some science might be biased because of all the government money tied to global warming. Yet Gore's book is better than I expected, and it reasonably addresses criticisms within the limits of its picture-book format.
Gore does not turn his criticism against others on the left, such as Michael Moore and the Violence Policy Center, who regularly employ deceit and pseudo-science in their crusades. More disturbing is Gore's gushing praise for the works of Rachel Carson and Upton Sinclair.
As economist Thomas DiLorenzo writes in his history of capitalism, "Sinclair was the early-twentieth-century socialist author of the book The Jungle, which turned out to be a wildly inaccurate and unfair portrayal of the beef industry. Rachel Carson's fable about the allegedly disastrous effects of pesticides, Silent Spring, became a classic of the environmental movement... Full of gross exaggerations, this enormously popular book was so influential that pesticides were banned in certain Third World countries, causing massive crop failures due to insect infestations and contributing to literally thousands of deaths. Nevertheless, Silent Spring served the political agenda of the anti-industry industry..."
And, while Gore worries about the rise of infectious diseases with warmer temperatures, he fails to mention that environmentalists are responsible for countless deaths from malaria by preventing the use of DDT to control mosquitoes.
Gore demonstrates that temperatures are increasing. He shows that humans are causing higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He also demonstrates a historical relationship between temperature and carbon dioxide. However, his graphs demonstrate that the Earth's many ice ages and warm periods corresponded with changing levels of carbon dioxide (obviously long before industrialization). In the past, it seems temperature drove carbon dioxide levels, at least initially. (Gore notes that past cycles are linked to the sun, and his graphs show that we were already in a warming period.) What Gore does not prove is that additional increases of carbon dioxide will result in temperature increases comparable to historical relationships.
Gore focuses on worst-case scenarios of global warming, then he dramatically exaggerates the potential harms even of those scenarios. He claims that warming is "putting the future of human civilization at grave risk."
Nonsense. Average temperatures may increase by something like a degree or two centigrade by the end of the century. That's not going to threaten human civilization. It will constitute at most a mild problem for most people. Even Gore admits that some effects will be positive, and potential harms can be mitigated with planning and application of available technology.
Gore laments the widespread use of coal and gas to produce energy, as he laments the dramatic rise of human population. The point that he does not make clear is that most people living today owe their very lives to the Industrial Revolution. I agree with Gore that this is a moral issue. However, while Gore finds a moral problem with the expansion of humanity, I see it as a profound moral achievement. While Gore wants to limit the number of people and restrain their use of energy, I want to see human population and consumption of energy expand exponentially, a view that anticipates both new sources of energy and eventual off-world settlement.
Even if Gore's proposals are effectively implemented, U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide will decline modestly, according to his own graphs. Gore ignores Robert Samuelson's point that more people in developing countries will continue to use more energy. "With modest growth, energy use and greenhouse emissions will more than double by 2050," he writes.
The issue will not be resolved by reducing home power use, driving more efficient cars, recycling, or saving paper (suggestions I found in Gore's printed book), even though greater efficiency often makes sense because it saves money. Those things will only slightly delay buildup of carbon dioxide. The real answer is to develop cleaner sources of energy (as Samuelson suggests). Gore discusses possibilities such as biodiesel, even as he ignores an obvious existing technology: nuclear power.
While Gore talks about using capitalism to promote energy changes, he's fundamentally distrustful of free-market capitalism and an advocate of more statism and market controls. I look to free markets to do what they've always done when allowed to operate: expand human numbers, extend human life, improve human comfort, and allow unfettered human creativity to solve problems with progressively advanced technology.