Gore revives image with documentary

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 26, 2006

The global-warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”supposedly raises the curtain on the new Al Gore. And it does, inthe sense that it’s not possible to have a nearly two-hour featurefilm devoted to lionizing you and your views without sprucing upyour image. If nothing else, Gore’s dogged devotion to his cause -raising the alarm on global warming – is admirable.

But the Al Gore of “An Inconvenient Truth,” which is builtaround his PowerPoint presentation on the topic, isn’t really thatnew. There is the same earnestness. The same dire comparisons – helikens global warming to the threat from Nazi Germany and Islamicterrorists. The same nearly religious fervor. Gore has a gnostic’sfaith that he gained special insight into the most important forcein the universe when a college professor of his warned of risingC02 levels in the atmosphere decades ago.

Thus, his movie has about as much nuance as “Basic Instinct II.”It plays by the rules set by Michael Moore, which established thatno left-wing political documentary can hope for success unless itis dishonest, or at the very least, extremely tendentious. Gorescores his most compelling points on behalf of his inconvenienttruth by leaving out inconvenient facts.

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His account of melting glaciers causing increased sea levelswill be enough to prompt some people to begin to plan theirevacuations of New York City, San Francisco and most of Floridaright now. Gore even raises the prospect of a total melt-off of theGreenland ice sheet, causing a change in ocean currents that couldbring a new ice age to Europe in a decade – a scenario ripped fromthe script of the ridiculous global-warming-cum-ice-age film “TheDay After Tomorrow.”

For someone who is such a self-professed stickler for science,Gore leaves out all the complications in the glacier picture, asJason Lee Steorts argues in the latest National Review. The world’stwo largest ice sheets cover Greenland and Antarctica. TheAntarctic Peninsula has indeed been melting, but it constitutesonly 2 percent of Antarctica’s total area. A 2002 study in Naturefound that two-thirds of the continent actually got colder from1966 to 2000. A 2005 study published in Science looked at about 70percent of Antarctica’s surface area and reported that the EastAntarctic ice sheet had gained – yes, gained – 45 billion tons ofice annually between 1992 and 2003.

A more recent Science article argued that Antarctica has beenlosing ice over the past three years. But Steorts notes, “2002 wasa high-watermark for Antarctic ice, so it’s not too surprising tosee some decline since then.”

In Greenland, warmer temperatures are also causing the ice tomelt at the edges, but the ice sheet is building up in theinterior. A study in Science showed that the ice sheet had gained5.4 centimeters of elevation annually between 1992 and 2003. Ifthat increase is taken into account, the loss of ice in Greenlandbecomes too small to terrify anyone.

A central conceit of Gore’s film is that C02 is basically theonly important driver of climate change. It’s not so. Climate isastonishingly complex. Greenland’s rising temperature might bemostly the result of a pattern of changes in the oceans’ surfacetemperature known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.Greenland experienced just as much warming between 1920 and 1930 asit has in the past 10 years – except the warming 80 years agohappened at a faster rate. Since CO2 wasn’t a major factor then,this datum steps on Gore’s message and doesn’t make his PowerPointpresentation.

Global warming is real, and C02 almost certainly contributes toit, but this doesn’t mean the planet as we know it is ending. Goreobviously feels the need to be hyperbolic to get people’sattention. But simplistic alarmism is only self-discrediting, andmight mean that people pay as little attention to the new Al Goreas they did to the old.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail atcomments.lowry@nationalreview.com.