Fred Barnes still mired in sea level misinformation

On the June 1 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes falsely claimed that there is a “difference between [former Vice President] Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] of the United Nations” because “Al Gore says that over the next century sea level rises 20 feet” but the IPCC “says, 'Well, maybe 17 to 23 inches.' ” In fact, Gore never said in either the film or book version of An Inconvenient Truth that the potential 20-foot rise in sea levels would happen “over the next century,” as Barnes claimed. Indeed, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, the supposed “difference” between Gore and the IPCC on the issue of sea levels relies on a false comparison. While the February 2007 IPCC report projected a maximum 23-inch sea-level rise before 2100 as a result of rising temperatures, Gore's statement predicted a 20-foot rise in sea levels if the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets were to melt completely or collapse at an indefinite point in the future.

The IPCC estimate cited by Barnes pertains to the gradual sea level rise that could result from increases in global surface air warming over the next century. The IPCC report offered high and low scenarios warming and resulting sea level rise. In the “high scenario,” the IPCC estimated a "likely range" (the report defines “likely” as a greater than 66 percent probability of occurrence) of temperature increases from “2.4°C to 6.4°C,” and estimated that the corresponding sea level increase would be between 0.26 m and 0.59 m (which converts to a range of 10.24 to 23.23 inches). But the IPCC further stated 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. The IPCC also supports Gore's claim that a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would result in a sea level rise as high as 20 feet. From the IPCC:

Recent satellite and in situ observations of ice streams behind disintegrating ice shelves highlight some rapid reactions of ice sheet systems. This raises new concern about the overall stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the collapse of which would trigger another five to six metres [approximately 16 to 20 feet] of sea level rise. While these streams appear buttressed by the shelves in front of them, it is currently unknown whether a reduction or failure of this buttressing of relatively limited areas of the ice sheet could actually trigger a widespread discharge of many ice streams and hence a destabilisation of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

In the book An Inconvenient Truth, 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).

Further, Barnes claimed that “we don't know whether humans are causing” global warming and that “we don't even know whether global warming's bad.” He added: “Me, I like warmer weather.” As Media Matters has noted, Barnes has previously questioned whether humans are the cause of global warming. However, the 2007 IPCC report -- which Barnes earlier used to smear Gore -- described the probability that "[m]ost of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is ... due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations" as “very likely.” (The report defines “very likely” as a greater than 90 percent probability of occurrence.) The report further noted that "[c]ontinued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century."

This is also not the first time that Barnes has falsely accused Gore of exaggerating the projected rise in sea levels. Citing a highly flawed New York Times article by William J. Broad, Barnes asserted on the March 24 edition of The Beltway Boys that “scientists are increasingly embarrassed by the wild exaggerations of Al Gore, where he says ... the sea level will rise 20 feet, and the U.N. [United Nations] group that's looked into this says it'll be 23 inches.”

From the IPCC Summary for Policymakers:

Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic 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.

From the complete IPCC report:

It is very likely that heat waves will be more intense, more frequent and longer lasting in a future warmer climate. Cold episodes are projected to decrease significantly in a future warmer climate. Almost everywhere, daily minimum temperatures are projected to increase faster than daily maximum temperatures, leading to a decrease in diurnal temperature range.


Globally averaged mean water vapour, evaporation and precipitation are projected to increase.


Intensity of precipitation events is projected to increase, particularly in tropical and high latitude areas that experience increases in mean precipitation. Even in areas where mean precipitation decreases (most subtropical and mid-latitude regions), precipitation intensity is projected to increase but there would be longer periods between rainfall events.


As the climate warms, snow cover and sea ice extent decrease; glaciers and ice caps lose mass owing to a dominance of summer melting over winter precipitation increases.

From the June 1 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

JIM ANGLE (guest host): Now, Fred, one of the interesting things about the European proposal is it would cut by 2050 -- it would cut everybody's emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels, which was the year used in Kyoto.

Now, according to some studies we are, the U.S., is 18 percent above 1990 now, we would have to cut 50 percent below the 1990 levels. What kind of impact would that have on the economy?

BARNES: Well, probably not that much because those goals would never be reached. I mean, that's really pie in the sky; it's ridiculous. You know -- and I notice that [Rep.] Ed Markey [D-MA] said this is a red-hot issue, red hot, have to act right away. Well, we know -- look, there's only one thing that we know for sure, and that is that the temperature has increased one degree over the last century. One degree. Now, that to me doesn't make it a red-hot issue. We know -- although Mort will -- who believes in this fad, will tell you that there's a scientific consensus --

MORTON M. KONDRACKE (Roll Call executive editor): There is.

BARNES: There is --

KONDRACKE: Oh, please.

BARNES: No, Mort. You've been in Tibet for three weeks. Believe me, every day you were gone, some new scientist came out and said he didn't believe in the extravagant tales that are told by people like Al Gore. Al Gore -- remember the difference between Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations? Al Gore says that over the next century, sea level rises 20 feet. This panel on climate change says, “Well, maybe 17 to 23 inches,” which I think we can live with. Look, we don't know whether humans are causing this -- we don't even know whether global warming's bad. Me, I like warmer weather.

ANGLE: OK, got to stop here. Mort, that'll teach you to leave town.