See the attached article by Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann reporting on the high court judgement against Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. For more information see: http://www.realclimate.org/
I thought this was a really useful, plane english, set of comments
in response to the Judge's ruling that Al Gore's film has 9 errors
in it and can be shown to schools, but only if these are
Just two days after a high court judge ruled that the Inconvenient
Truth contained "nine scientific errors" Al Gore and the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to global climate change
On the grounds of these `errors', the judge Mr Justice Barton ruled
that the film can still be shown in schools (which was being
challenged), as part of a climate change resource pack, but only if
it is accompanied by fresh guidance notes to balance Gore's `one-
sided' views…Encouraging a more in depth discussion within in the
classroom is certainly a good idea - but they should bear in mine
that the `other side' bases its argument on exclusion of key facts
and fundamentally flawed or old science (see article on the Great
Global Warming Swindle here).
Scratch the surface, however, and we find it's the same old story -
a corporation with an ulterior motive secretly provide financial
support for a legal case against one of the most effective efforts
to raise awareness about climate change.
Stewart Dimmock, the Kent school governor who kicked up a stink
about the government's plans to show the Oscar winning film The
Inconvenient Truth to secondary school students was effectively
funded by a mining company - Cloburn Quarry Limited, based in
Lanarkshire. Just to let you know - they also advised Channel 4 on
The Great Global Warming Swindle (see previous article here).
While, Dimmock credited the little-known New Party with supporting
him in the test case, the Observer (Sunday 14 October 2007) revealed
that he conveniently failed to mention that the New Party received
nearly all of its money between 2004-2006 from the Lanarkshire
Before the deluge of contrarians come knocking at the door - let's
asses what these `nine-scientific errors' are. Note here that even
the judge used the word `errors' in quotations to emphasise that it
was not clear that they were actually errors!
Many of the 9 `errors' were actually due to simplification of what
is an extremely complicated science. This happens in schools all the
time - remember the model of an atom in chemistry class at secondary
The most common way of describing an atom is using the solar system
model - a nucleus with electrons orbiting around it. Of course in
reality an atom is far more complicated, and this model is merely a
simplification to help a student conceptualise something that is
really very difficult to understand. Since atomic physics isn't a
particularly controversial science, unless of course you are
thinking about making a nuclear weapon - scientific inaccuracy being
taught to hundreds of thousands of 16 year olds each year doesn't
really bother anyone. The same goes for photosynthesis, respiration
The point is that in order to make science accessible,
simplification is necessary. We cannot expect a movie to have the
same depth as a scientific paper - who would watch it!
The judge also failed to recognise the inherent uncertainty of
climate change. The uncertainty lies, not with that it is actually
happening, but precisely what will happen, and what has happened in
the past. While understanding of the climate system is constantly
improving, there are still many things to be understood.
Communication of uncertainty (degrees of error, or accuracy if you
like), has always been a problem in science that captures the
attention of the public.
Error #1: The Inconvenient Truth claimed that low-lying inhabited
Pacific atolls `are being inundated because of anthropogenic global
warming' - but there is no evidence that any evacuation is actually
Response: In fact, there is evidence of evacuation due to rising
seas in low-lying Pacific atolls. In 2005, a small community living
in the Pacific island chain of Vanuatu became one of, if not the
first, to be formally moved out of harms way as a result of climate
The villagers have been relocated higher into the interior of Tegua,
one of the chains' northern most provinces, after their coastal
homes were repeatedly swamped by storm surges and aggressive waves
linked with climate change.
The line that caused the dispute, however, was `That's why the
citizens of these pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New
Zealand". The reality is, this is ahead of its time, but the
Government of Tuvalu has asked New Zealand to be ready to evacuate
islanders if needed. Currently, only 75 people per year can be
evacuated but this will change if the situation worsens.
Error #2: The film suggested that the ocean conveyor (thermohaline
circulation) may shut down. According to the IPCC, this was very
unlikely and that the ocean conveyor may slow down, but won't shut
Response: No one really knows whether the thermohaline circulation
will slow down or even shut down. The behaviour of the thermohaline
circulation in the past is still uncertain. Did it stop? Did the
North Atlantic Branch of it shift? Did it slow down? From the latest
IPCC report climate models suggest that there may be a 30% slow down
by 2100, but there is still much to understand. I see no harm in
pointing out that climate change may have an effect on the
thermohaline circulation, engaging in a full debate about whether it
will or won't shut down or slow down, would have detracted from the
main point - there may be many non-linear (small change = big
response) climate change responses and the impacts will be difficult
The Natural Environment Research Council (the UK's main funder of
climate change research) was concerned enough about its shut down/
slow down that they have spent £20 million on a six year research
project (see here). If you are interested in this issue, this is a
really good place to start.
Error #3: Gore claims that the graph of CO2 and temperature over the
past 650,000 years show and `exact fit'. The two graphs do not
establish what Mr Gore asserts.
Response: See Great Global Warming Swindle article here. Gore's
argument simplified a complex relationship which is actually still
not completely resolved. But, it really doesn't matter what the
relationship between CO2 and temperature was like in the past. Never
before in the past 650,000 years have concentrations of CO2 risen so
rapidly, nor has this been due to human activities. CO2 is causing
current temperatures to rise. (see RealClimate for a more in depth
Error #4: Mr Gore said that disappearance of snow on Mount
Kilimanjaro was expressly attributable to human-induced climate
change. The judge said that the consensus could not be established.
Error #5: Mr Gore ascribes Hurricane Katrina to global warming, but
there was "insufficient evidence to show that".
Response: Errors #4 and #5 both deal with an issue of attribution -
i.e. is climate change responsible for these impacts? Unfortunately,
this question is unanswerable. We can say climate change may have
played a part, but I don't think an extensive discussion into
probabilities and risk would have made the film accessible. Gore has
also used these examples to illustrate what may happen in the future.
Error #6: Mr Gore referred to a study that showed polar bears were
being found that had drowned "swimming long distances to find
ice". "The only scientific study that either side before me can find
is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been
found drowned because of a storm."
Response: The decline in sea ice is affecting them severely, since
they depend on it for hunting seal. The specific anecdote in the
film came from observations of anomalous drownings in 2004 - and was
Error #7: The film said that coral reefs all over the world were
bleaching because of global warming and other factors. The judge
said separating the impacts of stresses due to climate change from
other stresses, such as overfishing and pollution, was Response.
Reponse: Corals `bleach' when they are under stress. It is correct
to say a number of environmental factors cause coral bleaching, but
many recent episodes have been linked to abnormally warm ocean
water. This example also illustrates how climate change exacerbates
already existing vulnerabilities.
Error #8: The drying up of Lake Chad was used as an example of
global warming. The judge said:" it is apparently considered to be
more likely to result from …population increase, over-grazing and
regional climate variability."
Response: actually there is substantial evidence to suggest that at
least a portion of this drying out is human caused - due to
decreases in rainfall across the whole Sahel.
Error #9: The film said a sea-level rise of up to 20ft would be
caused by melting of either west Antarctica or Greenland in the near
future; the judge ruled this was `distinctly alarmist'.
Response: I agree, 20 ft is rather a lot in the `near future' Gore
makes the mistake of not specifically mentioning a timescale. The
20ft (6 metres) figure, however, does relate to how high sea levels
were 125,000 years ago.The most severe `near future' estimate I have
read is by James Hansen from NASA who suggests that a rise of
several metres may occur by the end of the century. 20ft is rather
more than the 2-3 metres `worse case scenario'. Still, 2-3 metres is
pretty bad, in fact even the IPCC estimate of just under a metre
will have a significant impact for many nations, particularly
Pacific Atolls which are only a few feet above sea level and
Bangladesh. In addition, absolute rise in sea level means that
inundation from storm surges and coastal erosion is more likely.
Gore gets the science right and the "small errors don't detract from
Gore's main point", which is ultimately that the scientific evidence
for anthropogenic global warming is now overwhelming.
Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann