Recycling misinformation, WSJ's Fund accused Gore of “environmental exaggerations and hypocrisy”

In his March 19 Wall Street Journal column -- titled "Whose Ox is Gored?" -- columnist John Fund replicated misinformation from a March 13 New York Times article by William J. Broad and produced some of his own to accuse former Vice President Al Gore of “environmental exaggerations and hypocrisy.”

Ignored Easterbrook's extreme views on global warming

In the column, Fund cited the Broad article as evidence that “the media is finally catching up with Al Gore” and claimed that Broad “reported that several eminent scientists 'argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points [on global warming] are exaggerated and erroneous.' ” But Fund failed to note that many of the scientists quoted in the Times article have skeptical views about global warming that put them at odds with the scientific consensus on the issue, as Media Matters for America documented. From Fund's column:

The New York Times last week interviewed many scientists who say they are alarmed “at what they call [Mr. Gore's] alarmism on global warming.” In a front-page piece in its science section, the Times headline read “From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype.”

The Times quoted Don Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, as telling hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America that “I don't want to pick on Al Gore. But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.” Mr. Easterbrook made clear he has never been paid by any energy corporations and isn't a Republican.

As Grist magazine's weblog, Gristmill, noted, an October 12, 2006, Geological Society of America press release announcing an upcoming lecture by Easterbrook claimed that he “predicts that temperatures should cool between 2065 until 2100, and that global temperatures at the end of the century should be less than 1 degree cooler than at present.” The release further noted that “Easterbrook challenges the theory that the global warming of the past century was caused by human input of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” These views put Easterbrook at odds with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which released a report in February that found that "[c]ontinued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming," and that the “best estimate” for the “low scenario” of temperature change in the next century is a "likely range" of an increase between “1.1°C to 2.9°C.”

Selectively quoted Hansen

Fund also cited a quote in the Times article from James E. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a Gore adviser. Fund wrote: “Even James Hansen, a scientist who began issuing warning cries about global warming in the 1980s and is a top adviser to Mr. Gore, concedes that his work may hold 'imperfections' and 'technical flaws.' ” But Fund made no mention of Hansen's praise for Gore's work quoted elsewhere in the Times article. According to the Times, Hansen stated: " 'Al does an exceptionally good job of seeing the forest for the trees,' adding that Mr. Gore often did so 'better than scientists.' "

Offered false comparison on rising sea levels

Fund claimed that some of Gore's “flaws are more serious, such as Mr. Gore's depiction of sea level rises of up to 20 feet, which would cause Florida and New York City to sink below the surface.” Fund then contrasted the possible scenario offered by Gore with the that offered by the IPCC, whose “best high-end estimate of the rise in sea levels by 2100 was three feet.” But this is a false comparison -- one made by Broad in the Times article, as Bob Somerby noted on his weblog, The Daily Howler.

In his book on the threat posed by global warming, 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). Gore made the same claim in the film An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics, May 2006).

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 “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 about 23 feet.

Recycled attack on Gore's home energy use

Additionally, Fund wrote that the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) “obtained public records showing that for years Mr. Gore has burned through more electricity at his Nashville home each month than the average American family uses in a year.” But in explaining Gore's attempts to reduce his effect on global warming, Fund wrote only that “Mr. Gore's office responded by claiming that the Gores 'purchase offsets for their carbon emissions to bring their carbon footprint down to zero.' ” In fact, as Media Matters has noted, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, The Tennessean of Nashville, and CNN financial correspondent Ali Velshi all reported on February 27 that Gore has in recent months begun purchasing blocks of “green power” -- derived from various renewable energy sources -- at considerable additional expense.

From The Tennessean:

Gore purchased 108 blocks of “green power” for each of the past three months, according to a summary of the bills.

That's a total of $432 a month Gore paid extra for solar or other renewable energy sources.

Additionally, Olbermann reported that, according to Green Power Switch, “some smaller homes consume energy in the same range of usage as does the one on the Gores' property.”

Moreover, there is reportedly doubt that TCRP “obtained” the public records or relayed them accurately. As Media Matters noted, a February 27 Associated Press article, questioned TCPR's assertion that the Gores used more than 220,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2006. The AP reported that “according to bills [it] reviewed,” "[t]he Gores used about 191,000 kilowatt hours in 2006," while TCPR “said that Gore used nearly 221,000 kilowatt hours.” The AP reported that TCPR president Jason “Drew” Johnson “said his group got its figures from Nashville Electric Service. But company spokeswoman Laurie Parker said the utility never received a request from the policy center and never gave it any information.”

Further, Fund misleadingly claimed that “The Carbon Neutral Co. -- one of the two vendors that sell [carbon] offsets to Mr. Gore's company, says that offset purchases 'will be unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ... in the short term.' ” But Fund's cropping of the quote results in a distortion of what the Carbon Neutral Company (TCNC) actually said. In its 2006 “Carbon Neutral Protocol,” under the banner “Why offset?” the guide stated (emphasis added):

TCNC recognises that, given the limited availability of zero carbon intensity energy and materials, most organisations will be unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with their activities and/or products to zero in the short-term.

Offsetting allows businesses to recognise and do something positive about those emissions that remain.

TCNC did not state that carbon offsets “will be unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ... in the short term,” as Fund claimed. Rather, it conceded that “given the limited availability of zero carbon intensity energy and materials,” most companies “will be unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with their activities and/or products to zero in the short-term.” Because of this, TCNC is actually encouraging businesses to purchase carbon offsets in order to “do something positive about those emissions that remain.” founder Steven Milloy placed ellipses in the same part of TCNC's quotation in his March 12 column.

Suggested that Gore allows zinc mine to pollute on his property

Citing a March 19 Tennessean article which discussed mining royalties Gore received from a zinc mine located on property he owns in Tennessee, Fund noted that in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (Plume), Gore wrote: “The lakes and rivers sustain us; they flow through the veins of the earth and into our own. But we must take care to let them flow back out as pure as they came, not poison and waste them without thought for the future.”

Fund then asserted that while the zinc mines on Gore's property “had a generally good environmental record ... they wouldn't pass muster either with the standard Mr. Gore set in 'Earth in the Balance' or with most of his environmentalist friends.” But Fund left out comments from an actual conservationist cited in the Tennessean article who apparently thought the mining operations did “pass muster.” The Tennessean quoted Caney Fork Watershed Association representative John Harwood, who claimed the “operation has a record of vigilance in not operating to harm the environment.”