Al Gore's Crusade
Wednesday night I heard the global warming presentation that former Vice President Al Gore has now given many hundreds of times around the country and the world in recent years. The speech was turned into a movie, An Inconvenient Truth (with accompanying book) produced by Laurie David, the comedian Larry David's wife, who has become a major contributor to environmental causes with her husband's enormous Seinfeld wealth.
About 3 million people have paid to see Gore's film. That is big box office for a documentary (over $20 million), though Gore's film, which claims to address the most serious crisis the planet has ever faced, has attracted an audience less than a fifth as large as the number who paid to see a much less serious film, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, released just in time to try to influence the 2004 Presidential election.
Gore, to his credit, has bigger visions than merely influencing the midterm elections in 2006. He is also not a Johnny—come—lately to this issue. In his hour—long talk, Gore was at times passionate and angry, and at other times, sounded almost annoyed, as if the audience should know all this already.
On some counts the presentation Gore made is quite compelling. There are lots of graphs that Gore runs though quickly that seem to show parallels between rising temperatures at the surface and rising ocean temperatures, or between rising temperatures and increases in the frequency of various natural catastrophes, along with lots of photos of melting glaciers and ice formations in the polar regions. Some of the presentation could best be described as anecdotal, and certainly far short of meeting any standard of scientific proof of causation.
Some of what Gore points to is indisputable. We have clearly embarked on a process of expelling increasing amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and nobody thinks this is a good thing. And there is evidence of modest temperature changes in the last 30 years — about 0.2 degrees centigrade increase per decade. Gore did not throw out forecasts of future global temperature increases that will occur if greenhouse emissions continue on their un—merry way. One of the problems some have had with global warming alarmists, is that various climate scientists have created models that take an increase of 0.6 degrees over 30 years and use this to project increases of almost ten degrees in the next hundred years.
Such models sound a bit juiced on the high side (sort of like Sammy Sosa home run totals during his glory years). When the range of potential temperature changes due to greenhouse gas emissions is said to be 2 to 10 degrees centigrade in a century, one also has to wonder about the reliability of the various forecasting models. When meteorologists seem to miss the forecast for the next three days half the time, one is not sticking his head in the sand or shilling for an oil company to be a bit skeptical about a collection of climate models predicting a widely varying range of potential temperatures a century out.
The earth has had ice ages, and warming periods in its past, that were not attributable to greenhouse gas emissions. There is natural variability in temperatures over time.
That said, I do not argue with Gore's primary hypothesis, that humans are creating changes in the climate. And not knowing exactly how much change we are causing, or exactly how increasing temperatures will impact the planet are not excuses for ignoring the issue.
I found Gore's warning of the possibility that western Antarctica or Greenland might break off and float into the sea unduly alarmist. Gore said such a phenomenon would cause a 20 foot rise in the oceans that would drive millions from their coastal habitat. Even if that occurred, this would not be a new phenomenon. Coastlines have moved many times in the past. Many are living on reclaimed land today, from Holland to lower Manhattan to Tokyo.
The map with the site of the former World Trade Center being overrun by water was a touch I could have done without. There are real threats to sane people on the planet other than from global warming that Gore barely mentions, and one of them, al Qaeda, already reduced the WTC to rubble.
Gore says all the tools to reverse the rise in emissions are already out there. While Gore is correct that there is a seeming near—consensus in the scientific community on the relationship between increasing greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures, there is no consensus supporting his optimism about quick solutions using existing tools.
When it comes to actually getting things done, a kind of policy gridlock takes place. Some group or faction vetoes a measure that would help overall but conflicts with its own policy framework. For instance, most of Gore's environmental allies are not interested in considering expansion of nuclear power generation, though it would replace fossil fuel use for energy generation.
One might think that if global warming were the world's greatest crisis ever, there might be some flexibility on the issue. More nuclear power would seem to be a good option if it meant less ice breaking off into the oceans from Antarctica, and all the dire consequences that Gore says would follow from this. But that does not seem to be the case. Zealots are not known for their ability to compromise.
While Gore argues that global warming is an international issue and not a partisan one, he took a few shots at the Bush administration that one might better expect from Howard Dean. Gore paints a picture of the Bush administration as opposed to dealing with climate change. But the Clinton Gore team briefly considered and then abandoned any gas tax increase because of the political risks, just after the Clinton administration took office in 1993 and held solid majorities in both houses of Congress.
Similarly, Gore presents a list of all the countries supporting the Kyoto accord, with only the US and Australia on the sidelines. But the Kyoto pact was signed on Gore's watch, and there was no effort made to get it through the Senate. If the world's future depends on something, shouldn't it have been worth expending some political capital on the issue?
Gore's list of nations ratifying the Kyoto accord is very misleading. The Senate voted 95—0 that the Kyoto accord, as written, should not be signed because it exempted from its emission reduction targets the worlds' two most populous nations, China and India. It was easy for these two nations to sign on to agreements which make their global competitors subject to emissions reductions, but not themselves.
With roughly 8—10% annual GDP growth in both countries, China will soon be emitting more greenhouse gases than America, and the growth in emissions from these two countries will dwarf any reductions in emissions in the developed world, even if all of them met the Kyoto standards.
And the dirty secret is out on this one too: almost none of the signatories to Kyoto will come anywhere close to meeting their targets of a reduction from 1990 emission levels. As a means of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, Kyoto has so far been a failure.
Some of the signatory nations bound by Kyoto have had a much faster percentage increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the treaty was signed than the United States, which did not agree to be bound by Kyoto protocols. Since Gore cannot accuse these nations which to date have earned a failing grade of being led by George Bush, or the victim of an oil company disinformation campaign, it might suggest that the reductions in emissions he seeks, are not as easy to achieve as he maintains, and that Kyoto is not the vehicle to achieve them.
Gore never mentioned in his talk what might seem to be another serious problem with the status quo energy use scenario. Today the world's developed countries are sending over half a trillion dollars a year to the likes of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran to purchase their oil.
Reducing dependence on energy from the world's worst regimes would seem to be a good theme that would bolster Gore's global warming message. Promoting energy independence and addressing global warming would seem to be a twofer, more popular than either alone.
But energy independence might mean drilling for oil in ANWR. The Alaskan site might contain 10 billion barrels of oil or more, potentially a trillion dollar supply that would not need to be purchased from overseas sources, helping address our balance of payments problem, and allowing other energy alternatives to be developed with those dollars kept at home.
But environmentalists are fiercely opposed to ANWR drilling, as is Gore, and want to protect the caribou. As with expanding nuclear energy use, there are considerations extraneous to energy independence or reducing greenhouse emissions that seem to trump serious policy initiatives.
When I was in Washington a few years back I suggested to Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin that one way to get the Congress to accept higher fuel efficiency (CAF standards for new auto fleets (leading to fewer gas guzzlers on the road), might be to allow ANWR drilling. This compromise might overcome opposition to each measure, since the opponents of one measure would at least get their own desired project through. Durbin, not known for any reservoir of political courage, responded quickly that this was a no go. ANWR was simply off limits.
What Durbin did not say is that opposition to increasing the CAFÉ standards was not just a Republican cause. In fact, many of the automakers' representatives in Congress from Michigan are Democrats who have fought fiercely to protect the dinosaurs of the auto industry and their ability to make low mileage SUVs to satisfy their suburban buyers. Again, one interest group is appeased, and the bigger problem is not addressed.
It is easy to see why Gore felt more comfortable trashing the White House and the oil companies. The record of the Clinton administration and many Democratic members of Congress and some of his environmental allies have not always been that well aligned with his objective of reversing the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. Bush and the oil companies are just too juicy a target to be honest about the politics of special interests, whether they are geographic interests or corporate lobbyists or labor unions or environmental groups, who prevent effective action so long as the path chosen will not guarantee 100% down the line support for that group's agenda.
The dynamic entrepreneurial sprit of this country will likely offer one way out of the global warming problem, so long as energy prices remain high enough to reduce some of the risk of alternative energy innovation. High prices, of course, are not very popular. Several congressmen were willing to sell their souls to get some discounted home heating oil from Hugo Chavez last winter. And by the way, they weren't Republicans.
Also welcome would be less hypocrisy among the leading advocates of addressing global warming. Laurie David and her husband fly private jets to get around the country. Many leading environmental advocates are very wealthy individuals with several mega—houses, all of which have to be heated and cooled. Modest living is for the masses. Trading carbon credits is a game that the rich can play to assuage any guilt over their enormous consumption habits and their own contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Buying a hybrid car is trendy, but does not make up for the rest of the lifestyles of the über wealthy, whose personal consumption adds to the environmental collapse they seem to fear so much.
The other thing I did not find very appealing in Gore's talk was the attempt to capitalize on Hurricane Katrina to support the global warming argument. The facts are that, whether or not any greenhouse gas induced temperature change has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in the last 30 years (a rise of 0.3 degrees centigrade), when that particular storm quickly crossed over Florida and blew into the Gulf, it grew in strength, much like any other hurricane would have on that path. The storm damage from Katrina was much heavier in Mississippi, all but ignored by the media, than in New Orleans, which received a less direct and less intense hit. The collapse of the levies was the problem in New Orleans, and this was not a result of global warming.
The other thing I took away from this evening is the near certainty that Al Gore is not running for President in 2008. Gore has insulated himself with the left wing of his party on Iraq by opposing the war from the beginning and backing Howard Dean in 2004. And his global warming message is a popular one for the party faithful.
But Gore is making big money out of office, like Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, and seems passionate about the global warming issue. He seems to be enjoying his life too much to want to go and squeeze a few votes out of Iowa caucus voters in the winter of 2008.
Being a prophet for a cause means you have the stage and others get to do the dirty work of campaigning and passing legislation, with all the horse trading and impurity of the real world. Al Gore is trying to write a final act to his political career that he surely believes will brighten his story when the history of our time is written.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.