Gore's Data is Twisting in the Wind

Al Gore gave another PowerPoint performance to many of the delegates, activists, and reporters at the UN Climate Conference (COP-20) in Peru, even though many, if not most, of the data presented is contradicted by the IPCC's latest synthesis report. From Reason (emphasis added):

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate noted that most of the excess heat from global warming is being stored in the oceans and hinted, without stating outright, that rising sea surface temperatures are already intensifying hurricanes and typhoons. As examples, he cited the massive damage that Typhoon Haiyan and Superstorm Sandy inflicted on the Philippines and the U.S. respectively. Those storms were indeed intense, but not as intense as earlier storms such as Typhoons Tip (1979), Nora (1973), and Ida (1958). Gore also failed to mention that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) new Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report found, "There is low confidence that long-term changes in tropical cyclone activity are robust and there is low confidence in the attribution of global changes to any particular cause."

The former Vice-President evidently concluded if it rains more that must mean it floods more. Gore said that floods and mudslides are increasing "on every continent." He then treated the audience to a long series of slides featuring pictures and videos of recent fearsome floods and landslides from around the world. The cumulative impact of the dramatic images is to suggest that floods are getting worse and coming soon to your town. But the Synthesis report observes, "There is low confidence that anthropogenic climate change has affected the frequency and magnitude of fluvial floods on a global scale."

If it is raining more, then why isn't it flooding more? Largely because significant floods don't result from intense short downpours, but instead from longer events such as a slow moving storm systems that intersect with spring snow melt. In any case, the good news is that number of people who die annually from floods around the world is down 98 percent since the 1930s. It is true that floods are destroying more property than before, but that's almost entirely because, as a result of economic growth, there's more property around to be destroyed.
Gore next suggested that the extra heat from man-made global warming "also pulls water out the soil which deepens droughts and makes them longer." Consequently, the world is experiencing "more droughts" and more "epic droughts." Again, the former Vice-President ran through a succession of photographs depicting heat-blasted fields and dried up reservoirs to illustrate his point. During his talk, Gore certainly left the impression, but didn't quite say, that global warming caused the recent California drought. And well he should be reticent; even Mother Jones reported just two days ago that "according to new research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California's drought was primarily produced by a lack of precipitation driven by natural atmospheric cycles that are unrelated to man-made climate change." Due largely to data issues, the Synthesis report concludes, "There is low confidence in observed global-scale trends in droughts."

Somewhat oddly in the context of a talk on the dangers of climate change, Gore next cited the recent Living Planet Index report by the World Wildlife Fund that finds since 1970 that the populations of vertebrate species—mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish—have dropped by half. This is indeed alarming, but the report itself notes that climate change accounts for only 7 percent of the threats to the survival of the measured wildlife populations. That's not insignificant, but as the report makes clear reducing hunting, habitat loss and habitat degradation would do a lot more to protect endangered species.

Having recited his litany of the present and future dangers of man-made global warming, the Vice-President suggests that humanity is at a tipping point. "Easter Island stands as example of choices made wrongly by an ancient civilization," intones Gore. "We have a similar choice to make." Obviously, Gore is deploying as a parable for our times the popular narrative in which the population and culture of Easter Islanders collapsed after supposedly committing ecocide by chopping down all of their trees. Unluckily for Gore, that account is now being challenged by archaeologists, many of whom argue that any social "collapse" occurred after European contact as a result of epidemic disease and enslavement.

So what then is the opportunity that the climate crisis presents us? Investing in wind and solar power. No really. Gore enthusiastically cited the fact that wind turbine generation capacity has increased globally 10-fold since 2000. Actually, it's increased nearly 20-fold and is projected to nearly double by 2018. The investment consultancy Lazard reports that the cost of installing wind turbines has fallen by 58 percent since 2009. The firm now estimates that the unsubsidized levelized cost of wind is now between $37 and $81 per megawatt-hour compared to $61 and $87 per megawatt-hour for natural gas generation.

In his presentation Gore skipped over the intermittency issue (the sun doesn't always shine and wind doesn't always blow) that makes wind and solar power problematic as baseload sources of electricity. Given that issue, an optimistic assessment of the prospects for renewable energy issued by the International Energy Agency this year forecasts that wind and solar together could supply 38 percent, and solar PV 16 percent of the world's electricity by 2050.

The icing on the cake was Gore reciting poetry to the attendees as reported by Michael Bastasch of The Daily Caller:

Former Vice President Al Gore showed up at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru Wednesday to show creative support for an international global warming treaty.

Gore quoted poets from three different languages, according to the news site Responding to Climate Change. Apparently, Gore quoted poetry from China, Spain and the United States — likely because China, Europe and the U.S. are the world’s top emitters of carbon dioxide emissions.


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