Patrick Michaels falsely compared Al Gore's claim that global warming could cause "sea level worldwide [to] go up 20 feet" with a portion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report that predicted a sea-level increase of 8 to 18 inches. In fact, the IPCC report made that estimate based only on increases in temperature, while Gore was discussing what would occur if vast sections of polar ice "broke up and slipped into the sea."
On the March 21 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, Cato Institute senior fellow Patrick Michaels repeated a false comparison between former Vice President Al Gore's claim that global warming could cause "sea level worldwide [to] go up 20 feet" with a section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report, which, in the scenario Michaels cites, says sea levels would rise about 8 to 18 inches by the end of the 21st century. But as Media Matters for America has noted (here and here), Gore was specifically addressing what could happen if the West Antarctic ice shelf or the Greenland ice dome "broke up and slipped into the sea." The portion of the IPCC report that Michaels cited referred only to projected sea-level increases based on increases in temperature.
Michaels used this false comparison as the basis for characterizing Gore's position as "beyond shrill" and "thermonuclear."
In the film An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics, May 2006), Gore actually stated:
GORE: If [the West Antarctic ice shelf] were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet. They've measured disturbing changes on the underside of the ice sheet. It's considered relatively more stable, however, than another big body of ice that's roughly the same size -- Greenland would also raise sea level almost 20 feet if it went.
In fact, the IPCC report supports Gore's position. It states that "[c]ontraction of the Greenland ice sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100" and that "[i]f a negative surface mass balance were sustained for millennia, that would lead to virtually complete elimination of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7 m," which is equivalent to approximately 23 feet.
Furthermore, a February 2 New York Times article stated:
Should greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at even a moderate pace, average temperatures by the end of the century could match those last seen 125,000 years ago, in the previous warm spell between ice ages, the report said.
At that time, the panel said, sea levels were 12 to 20 feet higher than they are now. Muych [sic] of that extra water is now trapped in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, which are eroding in some places.
The panel said there was no solid scientific understanding of how rapidly the vast stores of ice in polar regions will melt, so their estimates on new sea levels were based mainly on how much the warmed oceans will expand, and not on contributions from the melting of ice now on land.
Other scientists have recently reported evidence that the glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic could flow seaward far more quickly than estimated in the past, and they have proposed that the risks to coastal areas could be much more imminent. But the I.P.C.C. is proscribed by its charter from entering into speculation, and so could not include such possible instabilities in its assessment.
From the March 21 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: Ouch! Not the warmest reception for Gore, who is back at his old stomping grounds for the first time since 2001. So, since he's taking the heat, why not be in the kitchen? Is Al Gore ready to give up the Oscar crowd and the rock-star status and jump into the political ring with a possible run in '08?
With me now, Patrick Michaels, senior fellow of environmental studies at the Cato Institute, and Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for Politico.com. Patrick, let me go to you first. Al Gore made his global-warming pitch today. Was he persuasive?
We have, actually, a question about it. The "Goracle" speaks. Planet fever or P.R. fever? What was he doing today?
MICHAELS: Well, I like his statement that what he said might be a little shrill, when he said that this threatens the very survival of our civilization. That's almost like thermonuclear language, you know?
Thermonuclear war might threaten the survival of our civilization, but warming up the planet another degree? I think not. And, also, this notion that he is in great agreement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, no. The IPCC says sea levels would rise about 8 to 18 inches under their median scenario for the 21st century. And he's talking about 20 feet? No.
This was way over the top. This was beyond shrill. This was thermonuclear.