The Rush of Politically Correct Science

When it comes to the subject of global warming, is science being sacrificed on the altar of political activism? Yes, says the German magazine Der Spiegel (h/t Glenn) in a report that sounds strangely familiar. It's funny how many on the left are now complaining that we "rushed to war" in Iraq are now rushing to implement far more expensive and economy-destroying programs on the subject of global warming--with far less certitude of success. The irony is further compounded when you consider that the main person leading this rush is the guy who would have been president had George Bush not won in 2000.

Here's Der Spiegel:

No United Nations organization currently dominates the headlines as much -- or is as controversial -- as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Critics call the panel politically one-sided and its reports alarmist. Its defenders say the opposite is true. The IPCC will publish its third report on Friday. [...]

There is hardly a newspaper article and hardly a TV or radio program that doesn't conjure up images of "climate catastrophe," prophesy floods of gigantic proportions, droughts and hunger. Indeed, the media have developed something akin to a complete apocalyptic program.

It's the fault of the media, of course, but not exclusively. It's also the fault of a new hero, an environmental activist who likes to introduce himself by saying: "Hello, I was once the next President of the United States of America."

Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," is a PowerPoint presentation, a modern-day slide show about the causes and consequences of climate change. It also paints apocalyptic scenarios, and its dramatic climax shows large parts of Florida, as well as San Francisco, Beijing, Shanghai, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and New York, complete with the World Trade Center memorial, being swallowed by the sea. Gore spends a great deal of time on this sequence, in which each region appears on the screen and the regions ultimately disappear, one after another, into the dark sea.

The world climate report assumes that sea levels will rise by about 38.5 centimeters (15 inches). This is the mean of all scenarios, which predict increases of between 18 and 59 centimeters (7 and 23 inches). The report also states that sea levels could even rise by several meters if Greenland and western Antarctica were to become ice-free. According to the IPCC's estimates, this process, if it happens, would take several centuries, perhaps even millennia. Gore neglects to mention this time frame.

This doesn't mean that Gore should necessarily be taken to task for his statements. He is a politician. But it is odd to hear IPCC Chairman Pachauri, when asked what he thinks about Gore's film, responding: "I liked it. It does emotionalize the debate, but it seems that it has to do that." And when Pachauri comments on the publication of the first SPM by saying, "I hope that this will shock the governments so much that they take action," this doesn't exactly allay doubts as to his objectivity. When Renate Christ, the secretary of the IPCC, is asked about her opinion of reporting on climate change, she refers to articles that mention "climate catastrophe" and calls them "rather refreshing."

Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of the physics of oceans at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the world's bona fide experts on the subject and the lead author of the current report, praised Gore's film unconditionally, even for its inclusion of the sequence depicting New York sinking into the ocean. And Rahmstorf's boss, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who serves as the institute's director and as an advisor to the German government, sounded a lot like Al Gore recently when he said in an interview: "We could see a one-meter rise in sea levels by 2100. The expected, climate-related shift in the ocean current could cause the water to rise by an additional meter in the Helgoland Bight." It sounds as if it could happen tomorrow. But it can't, and Schnellnhuber's colleague Rahmstorf, who has an inclination toward extreme scenarios, estimates that there is only a 10-percent probability that it will even happen at all.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013