Criticizing Gore, Gazette praised discredited global warming skeptic

In an editorial criticizing former Vice President Al Gore's congressional testimony on global warming, The Gazette of Colorado Springs stated that Danish author Bjorn Lomborg had “a saner take on the situation.” Further, The Gazette uncritically repeated the author's criticism regarding one of the central claims of Gore's An Inconvenient Truth without noting that experts have discredited Lomborg and a United Nations climate change report largely has corroborated Gore's work.

In a March 24 editorial, The Gazette of Colorado Springs stated that during recent congressional testimony discredited Danish statistician and author Bjorn Lomborg had “a saner take on the situation” of climate change than former Vice President Al Gore. The Gazette claimed that "[t]he 'evidence' itself is questionable regarding the human contribution to climate change," and uncritically repeated Lomborg's claim that “the U.N.'s climate change panel predicts the increase [in sea level due to ice cap melting] will be merely one foot,” instead of the 20 feet Gore highlighted in his testimony. In fact, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet “would lead to ... a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7m,” which is equivalent to approximately 23 feet, as Media Matters for America has noted.

After calling Gore the "Elmer Gantry of global warming," The Gazette noted that during his testimony Gore “call[ed] on Congress to cut greenhouse gases 90 percent by 2050, impose new taxes on carbon emissions and block the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they can find a place to store their carbon dioxide emissions.” The Gazette further editorialized that "[t]he sad thing is, people take this stuff seriously," before stating:

Members of Congress thankfully didn't have to wait long for a saner take on the situation, courtesy of Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish author of 'The Skeptical Environmentalist' and a noted environmentalist who became a global warming skeptic.

However, as Media Matters noted, Lomborg's work has been discredited by highly respected climate experts. In his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Lomborg purported to conduct a “non-partisan analysis” of environmental data in the hope of offering the public and policymakers a guide for “clear-headed prioritization of resources to tackle real, not imagined, problems.” His conclusion was that the concerns of scientists regarding the world's environmental problems -- including global warming -- were overblown. But in January 2002, Scientific American published a series of articles from four well-known environmental specialists that lambasted Lomborg's book for “egregious distortions,” “elementary blunders of quantitative manipulation and presentation that no self-respecting statistician ought to commit,” and sections that were “poorly researched and ... rife with careless mistakes.”

A backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists similarly reported that Lomborg's findings and methodology “fail[] to meet basic standards of credible scientific analysis.”

In addition to omitting information about concern over Lomborg's purported credentials, the editorial stated, “While Gore has predicted that sea levels would rise 20 feet in the next century, Lomborg noted that the U.N.'s climate change panel predicts the increase will be merely one foot.” Lomborg's testimony echoed a February 7 New York Sun op-ed he authored in an attempt to debunk Gore's prediction of a 20-foot rise in sea levels made in his Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth:

[The IPCC] fundamentally rejects one of the most harrowing scenes from Al Gore's movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” In graphic detail, Mr. Gore demonstrated how a 20-foot rise in the sea level would inundate much of Florida, Shanghai, and Holland. The IPCC report makes it clear that exaggerations of this magnitude have no basis in science -- though clearly they frightened people and perhaps will win Mr. Gore an Academy Award.

Lomborg's criticism, however, relies on a false comparison.

In the book associated with the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale Books, May 2006), Gore wrote that if the West Antarctic ice shelf “melted or slipped off its island mooring into the sea, it would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet.” He added that “the West Antarctic ice shelf is virtually identical in size and mass to the Greenland ice dome, which also would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet if it melted or broke up and slipped into the sea” (Page 190):

The East Antarctic ice shelf is the largest ice mass on the planet and had been thought to be still increasing in size. However, two new studies in 2006 showed first that the overall volumes of ice in East Antarctica now appear to be declining, and that 85 percent of the glaciers there appear to be accelerating their flow toward the sea. Second, it showed that air temperatures measured high above this mass of ice appear to have warmed more rapidly than air temperatures anywhere else in the world. This finding was actually a surprise, and scientists have not yet been able to explain why it is occurring.

East Antarctica is still considered far more stable over long periods of time than the West Antarctic ice shelf, which is propped up against the tops of islands. This peculiar geology is important for two reasons: first, its weight is resting on land and therefore its mass has not displaced seawater as floating ice would. So if it melted or slipped off its island mooring into the sea, it would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet. Second, the ocean flows underneath large sections of this ice shelf, and as the ocean has warmed, scientists have documented significant and alarming structural changes on the underside of the ice shelf.

Interestingly, the West Antarctic ice shelf is virtually identical in size and mass to the Greenland ice dome, which also would raise sea levels worldwide by 20 feet if it melted or broke up and slipped into the sea.

The IPCC, however, addressed rising sea levels as they are affected by "[c]ontinued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates." A chart projecting the rise of sea levels in six different scenarios showed that “the best estimate for the high scenario,” which defined the "likely range" of temperature increases over the next century to be from “2.4°C to 6.4°C,” resulting in an increase in sea levels between 0.26 meters and 0.59 meters, which converts to a range of 10.24 inches to 23.23 inches. The IPCC further claimed 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.

Finally, in addition to baselessly asserting "[t]he 'evidence' itself is questionable regarding the human contribution to climate change," The Gazette claimed:

The so-called global warming crisis is predicated on uncertain, changing science that even over the past decade has predicted dramatically differing outcomes. From that shaky foundation, alarmists draw questionable inferences and predict unverifiable possibilities. Based on that dubious foundation, they urge more regulations and taxes, though we also lack a clear understanding of whether these will do any good.

As Media Matters repeatedly has documented, scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the IPCC share the consensus view that, as stated in a June 2006 NAS report, “human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming” of the planet. As the IPCC report found:

Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-produced] greenhouse gas concentrations. This is an advance since the TAR's [Third Assessment Report] conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns. [The report defines “very likely” as a greater than 90 percent probability of occurrence.]

Nearly identical versions of the Gazette editorial also appeared in the Orange County Register and the Clovis News Journal -- among the publications that, like The Gazette, are owned by Freedom Communications Inc. The company cites "[i]ntegrity, Self-Responsibility, Respect for Individual Freedom, Community and Life-Long Learning" as its “legacy values.”