Pat Michaels Bashes Gore for Cato

How dare Al Gore open his mouth and say things! Here comes the Cato Institute to the rescue, featuring denialist Pat Michaels (Also see Sourcewatch).

What were Gore’s great gaffes worthy of scorn from the esteemed think tank?

First he suggested dramatic increases in sea level if significant ice sheets were to melt.

You know, even a one-meter increase, even a three-foot increase in sea level would cause tens of millions of climate refugees.

If Greenland were to break up and slip into the sea or West Antarctica, or half of either and half of both, it would be a 20-feet increase, and that would lead to more than 450 million climate refugees.

Then he suggested a link between global warming and droughts:

Today, 49 percent of America is in conditions of drought or near drought. And we have had droughts in the past, but the odds of serious droughts increase when the average temperatures go up, as they have been going up.

We have fires in California, in Florida, in other states, unprecedented fire season last year, directly correlated with higher temperatures, which dry out the soils, dry out the vegetation.

Then he dared to suggest global warming might adversely affect agriculture:

We have a very serious threat of losing enough soil moisture in a hotter world that agriculture here in the United States would be greatly affected.

What was Pat Michaels response? Well the usual misinterpretations and cherry-picking.

FACT 1. There is not one shred of evidence in the refereed scientific literature speaking of a three-foot increase in sea level in ten years. The best estimates from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change range from 0.8 to 1.7 INCHES.

Interesting, I didn’t see that Al Gore suggested that sea levels would rise 3 feet in ten years, and the IPCC report specifically mentions that their considerations of sea level rise do not include considerations of increases that would be brought about from the loss of major ice sheets. So, I’d say this is a straw man and cherry-pick. The real source of that kind of projection is discussed at RealClimate and is based on studies of ancient climate in which those regions were deglaciated resulting in 3-4 meter increased sea levels. The concern is that these sea level rises will occur in about 100 years when temperatures reach those seen during these previous periods of deglaciation. This is not an unreasonable assumption.

FACT 2. There is no trend towards increasing drought area in the United States that is related to planetary warming. We have good data on drought area back to 1895. The correlation between the area of the U.S. under drought and planetary temperature is statistically ZERO.

Well, here is where we do have a sloppy statement from Gore. It would be inaccurate to say that drought is occurring right now at these levels as we’re just getting into summer when droughts become more common. A more accurate statement would be we’ve seen increasing droughts in the last decade, reaching as high as 49-51 percent in 1999-2002, 2004 and 2005. Right now about 29% of the US is experiencing some level of drought as of March which isn’t too bad (full data here) and we haven’t seen extended droughts as bad as those during the dust bowl. The other issue is that drought caused by warming won’t necessarily be reflected in increases in these total areas of drought to which Gore refers. There is a difference between alleging an increase in frequency of droughts as a result of warming and an increase in area suffering from drought. Global warming will likely result in more severe droughts in the southwest and higher precipitation in the northeast and Canada according to the IPCC models. Michaels is therefore still wrong when he suggests there isn’t any data to suggest increasing drought in the US as a risk of global warming, but then, he probably only sees what he wants to in the AR4 IPCC report (specifically regional climate predictions (PDF)).

As far as the link between warming and droughts, it is a reasonable statement based on findings like these from the 2001 TAR which suggest a link between warming and extreme weather.

Superimposed on the changing development landscape is the possibility that climate warming will reduce the risk of some extreme events and increase the risk of others (Karl et al., 1996; White and Etkin, 1997). Changes in the frequency, severity, and duration of extreme events may be among the most important risks associated with climate change. In some parts of North America, this includes fewer periods of extreme cold, fewer snowstorms (although there may be an increase in the number of intense storms), increased spring flooding, more frequent summer droughts, and more wildfires. Studies also suggest that there will be a more thermodynamically unstable atmosphere in the future, which probably will result in more frequent heavy rainfalls and possibly increased hail risk and more tornadoes and downbursts (Etkin, 1996).

What’s Michaels’ last great assertion about Gore’s lies?

FACT 3. As the mean planetary temperature has warmed since 1975, U.S. crop yields have INCREASED significantly, just as they did during the period of cooling from 1945 through 1975, or during the warming from 1910 to 1945.

It is a true outrage that Gore can get away with this on live television and not be called out by the inconvenient facts.

Now this is just a red herring and straw man. Crop yields increase, sure, this is for many reasons including better methods, more efficient technology and genetic engineering. But that has nothing to do with whether agriculture will be adversely affected by global warming. Sure yields have been increasing, and might continue to increase, but variability from climate change as suggested by the 2001 TAR may result in decreased efficiency which means increased cost of production. No one is saying that past warming has affected crops or was even bad for crops, this is just besides the point. The issue is what future warming might do in terms of economic harm from more frequent extreme weather events and overall increased temperatures.

The true outrage here is that people think Cato is a legitimate source of scholarship when they promote fake experts preaching global warming denialism.

PS. I’m not an expert in global warming either, but I read the assessment reports, and more importantly recognize BS arguments from denialists when I see them. If anyone with greater expertise on global warming would like to correct my understanding of the science I will welcome the criticism. But I don’t expect any errors I have made will make Michaels’ cherry-picking and logical fallacies any less blatant.


7 responses to “Pat Michaels Bashes Gore for Cato”

  1. trrll

    Interesting, I didn’t see that Al Gore suggested that sea levels would rise 3 feet in ten years

    If Cato Institute’s transcript is accurate, Gore was asked “what issues caused by climate change globally are likely to affect the United States security in the next 10 years?” It’s possible that Gore missed the “10 years” part of the question, or was trying to make a broader point about medium-term risks, but he really should be stating explicitly that a 20 ft increase is not considered likely in the very near term, considering that he has been criticized for this before.

  2. Quite correct trrll. I don’t think for a minute that Al Gore was suggesting these changes to the ice sheet were going to occur in 10 years. It didn’t even occur to me that Patrick Michaels was being so uncharitable in his interpretation of Gore’s statement.

    It was quite clear, to me at least, that Gore was saying that these were things of concern because we starting to see them melt, and the various discussions of reaching “tipping points” which may occur in the near future. I didn’t think for a minute that Gore was saying the ice sheets were going to slide in the sea within a decade, that is laughable, and no fair read of his statment should conclude that.

  3. Kevin

    What does uncharitable interpretation have to do with it? He was asked a specific question and his reply was either false or non-responsive depending on his intent. How does that fit into your denialism profiling?

  4. Pete Dunkelberg

    What does uncharitable interpretation have to do with it?

    This: we know from Gore’s movie that that is not his position.

    That was easy.

  5. Also the reply using the IPCC report, when it specifically excludes scenarios of ice-sheet loss since they’re poorly understood at the moment, is dishonest.

    Al Gore says, if we lose the ice sheets we’ll have massive flooding. Michaels quotes a completely irrelevant aspect of the report to suggest Gore is making this up – when the report says it doesn’t take into consideration these potential events.

    While it’s unlikely such an event will occur within 10 years, it is a concern since the data appears to be true that the sheets are becoming more mobile and melting right now. The science simply isn’t good enough to make predictions about how long they’ll last, and I don’t think Gore was actually suggesting they’ll slide into the sea by 2017, but it is a reasonable assertion that their loss could lead to the 3 meter increases in sea levels based on what we know of paleoclimate.

  6. Matilda Zuckerman

    First, Pat Michaels is not a “denialist”. He fully acknowledges global warming and supports the greenhouse theory. What he doesn’t support are rediculous catastrophe scenarios that are thrown around without merit.

    Al Gore may or may not have said “3 feet in ten years” but he has constantly implied 20 feet in 100 years. Google “al gore 20 feet” and get about 1,260,000 hits. Last century, sea level went up 6 inches. Now, it is rising at a rate of 8 inches per century. Neither rate is much different from the past 1000 years or so. I’d say Al Gore is out on a serious limb here with the sea level hype. It is alarmist and irresponsible and not supported by science.

  7. Matilda Zuckerman

    The transcript…

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vice President Al Gore, what issues caused by climate change globally are likely to affect the United States security in the next 10 years?

    KING: Al?

    GORE: You know, even a one-meter increase, even a three-foot increase in sea level would cause tens of millions of climate refugees.

    If Greenland were to break up and slip into the sea or West Antarctica, or half of either and half of both, it would be a 20-feet increase, and that would lead to more than 450 million climate refugees.

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