Like many doom-mongers before him, Al Gore's predictions of impending disaster have fallen somewhat short of the mark -- a point to keep in mind as his Inconvenient Sequel hits theatres this summer.
It's a good thing he was wrong, too, because I was worried we might not be around in 2017, given the alarms he was sounding in 2006's An Inconvenient Truth!
For one thing, I thought sea levels would have risen 20 feet by now thanks to the melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland. Al Gore claimed that this would happen in the "near future," but thankfully, we've been spared so far. In fact, sea levels seem to be rising at maybe three millimetres per year. Twenty feet is over six thousand millimetres, so at this rate, we wouldn't even be halfway by the year 3017.
That's what a High Court judge in the United Kingdom said ten years ago when he ruled that Gore's film could only be shown in British schools with guidance notes to prevent political indoctrination: "The Armageddon scenario he predicts, insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of seven metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus" and would only happen "after, and over, millennia."
The judge had other problems with the film's claims. For instance, the film speaks of global warming "shutting down the Ocean Conveyor," by which the Gulf Stream is carried over the North Atlantic to Western Europe, among other things. But the judge said it was "very unlikely" that the Ocean Conveyor would shut down, although it might slow down, based on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Again, though, so far so good, as NASA found in 2010 that there had been no significant slowing over the previous 15 years, and in fact that the Ocean Conveyor "may have even sped up slightly in the recent past."
The polar bears are doing fine as well, despite the film's claims that they were drowning because they were unable to find ice. In fact, their numbers have increased over the past decade, from 20,000-25,000 to 23,000-32,000 bears in 2016.
Finally, though not in the film, Al Gore often predicted that the Arctic Ocean would be ice-free in the summer by now. To be specific, according to the fact checkers at Snopes.com, "In the late 2000s, Al Gore made a series of high-profile statements suggesting the possibility that Arctic sea ice could be completely gone during the summer by around 2013 or 2014." They go on to conclude that while "Arctic sea ice is, without question, on a declining trend," Al Gore "definitely erred in his use of preliminary projections and misrepresentations of research."
None of this is to say that climate change is not an issue worth addressing, that it won't require adaptation and innovation in the coming decades. It is and it will. But is it an impending catastrophe? Is it a concern that should outweigh, for instance, efforts to help the poorest parts of the world rise out of crushing poverty through the use of cheap and efficient fossil fuels?
In trying to answer these kinds of questions, we need reliable information of likely costs and benefits. "Misrepresentations of research," which Al Gore seems all too fond of, are the opposite of helpful.
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