Poor Al Gore. As if an im- pending divorce and allegations of sexual misconduct from an Oregon masseuse weren’t bad enough (he has since been cleared of wrongdoing), the apparent collapse of “cap-and-trade” legislation in the U.S. Senate has driven the former vice president to despair.
As reported by Steve Milloy on his blog Green Hell, Mr. Gore recently admitted to supporters in a conference call, “[T]his [cap-and-trade] battle has not been successful and is pretty much over for this year.” Mr. Gore blamed everyone and their monkey for the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive climate legislation, including his former colleagues: “The U.S. Senate has failed us,” he lamented, “the federal government has failed us.”
The fortunes of Mr. Gore’s global-warming crusade certainly are in decline: A recent Rasmussen poll found that just 34 percent of respondents “feel human activity is the main contributor” to global warming and that the percentage of those who consider global warming a “serious issue” has “trended down slightly since last November.”
Mr. Gore himself is to blame for at least some of the public backlash against global-warming orthodoxy: Using bad science to justify bad policy will inevitably rub people the wrong way. And Mr. Gore has not helped his cause by consistently expressing outrageous falsehoods (“the debate is over”) and shamelessly trying to shield his assertions from legitimate criticism by claiming “settled science.” All the while, he has enriched himself and pushed a left-wing economic agenda.
Take, for example, the infamous “hockey stick” graph, a version of which was featured prominently in Mr. Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” The graph appeared to show global temperatures relatively flat for a millennium and then suddenly spiking upward in the late 20th century - proof, according to Mr. Gore and his acolytes, of man-made global warming caused by industrial carbon emissions.
Temperature records for the past century are based on instrumental data: thermometers, satellites, etc. For prior centuries, however, scientists rely on proxy data; in the case of the original hockey-stick graph, researchers relied on tree rings. But as Roy Spencer, former senior scientist for climate studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, writes in “The Great Global Warming Blunder,” “the most recent tree-ring data do not even show the warming that occurred in the second half of the 20th-century, but appear to indicate a cooling instead.” Because tree rings do not show the recent warming that we know occurred, it follows that tree rings are not an adequate proxy by which we can accurately gauge past temperatures.
The unreliability of tree-ring data has long been known. Nevertheless, the hockey-stick graph was embraced enthusiastically by Mr. Gore and the global-warming crowd, for it conveniently dispensed with two significant climate events: the Medieval Warm Period (10th to 13th centuries) and the Little Ice Age (14th to 19th centuries). The former saw temperatures in the North Atlantic warm enough that vikings could settle and flourish in a lush Greenland, the latter temperatures so low that people routinely ice-skated on a frozen River Thames. Both of these climate events, for which there are masses of historical evidence, began before the Industrial Revolution and therefore are unattributable to man-made carbon emissions.
That’s why the global-warming crowd was so desperate to hide them: If people realize that temperature fluctuations occur naturally and cyclically, they are less likely to embrace the draconian, job-killing energy taxes favored by Mr. Gore and his ilk as punishment for their own carbon sins.
The hockey stick conveniently hid this natural temperature variation - for a while. Fortunately, thanks largely to the tireless work of independent researchers Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, the flaws in the statistical methodology used to create the various hockey-stick graphs have received widespread attention, and the once-iconic symbol of global warming has since been largely marginalized in the climate-change debate.
But not before it helped Al Gore to earn an Academy Award, a Nobel Peace Prize and an undeserved reputation as a scientific guru. As The Washington Post once noted of Mr. Gore’s academic credentials: “For all of Gore’s later fascination with science and technology, he often struggled academically in those subjects. The political champion of the natural world received [a] sophomore D in Natural Sciences 6 … and then got a C-plus in Natural Sciences 118 his senior year.”
Imagine: We nearly let this former politician, who barely passed sophomore science at Harvard, persuade us to acquiesce to the monstrous statism of cap-and-trade, which would have resulted in higher energy and food prices and imposed yet another economic hardship on the poorest members of our society. All in the name of bad science.
Shame on him. And thank God he failed.
Matt Patterson is editor of Green Watch, a publication of the Capital Research Center.