Myles Allen, with the complicity of the UK’s Guardian, has put words into Al Gore’s mouth in order to attack the Nobel-Prize winning former Vice President. What makes this attack a particularly egregious breach of journalism is that Allen and the Guardian could have avoided it had they spent even 30 seconds reading their own damn links.
As we’ll see, what Gore is actually saying about the link between extreme weather and climate change is something countless scientists and independent experts have been saying — and throughout this post I will run through what many of the experts have said.
Indeed, the journal Nature just ran a story just last month with this headline:
Can violent hurricanes, floods and droughts be pinned on climate change? Scientists are beginning to say yes.
It is in this context that we have this phony attack on Gore in the Guardian:
To claim that we are causing meteorological events that would not have occurred without human influence is just plain wrong
When Al Gore said last week that scientists now have “clear proof that climate change is directly responsible for the extreme and devastating floods, storms and droughts that displaced millions of people this year,” my heart sank. Having suggested the idea of “event attribution” back in 2003, and co-authored a study published earlier this year on the origins of the UK floods in autumn 2000, I suspect I may be one of the scientists being talked about.
When I read this my heart sank since I knew, once again, that Gore was being defamed yet again for something he didn’t actually say. I’ve never heard Gore talk this way, particularly using a phrase like “directly responsible” in this context. Also, I had interviewed Gore months ago and knew which scientists he had been talking about. The list he gave didn’t include Allen. Go figure!
Allen may be a scientist, but he apparently can’t be bothered to even read the links he uses. I guess the Guardian’s fact-checkers are as nonexistent as the Washington Post’s because the link is to another (dreadful) Guardian story:
Former US vice president tells Scottish green conference that evidence from floods in Pakistan and China is compelling
Al Gore has warned that there is now clear proof that climate change is directly responsible for the extreme and devastating floods, storms and droughts that displaced millions of people this year.
That’s right, the claim that Gore said scientists have “clear proof that climate change is directly responsible” for this year’s extreme weather is false. It was a Guardian journalist’s (mis)reporting of what Gore said.
Had I seen this first nonsensical story at the time, I’d have debunked it, but then I could spend all of my time debunking dreadful media coverage.
The Guardian and Allen owe Gore a retraction and apology. Let’s see if they have the decency to do so.
This phony quote is now racing through the bunkosphere and no half-hearted correction will fix this.
Gore perhaps more than any modern figure has been attacked for things that he didn’t actually quite say (see, for instance, here), so people who recklessly smear him deserve no sympathy.
Indeed, reporters are now so terrible at paraphrasing him that I am beginning to suspect their ability to even report what he actually said.
Let’s try to distinguish what Gore actually said from what the Guardian claims he said. Yes, I know that this still means trusting the reporter got the direct quotes accurate, which is obviously doubtful, but it’s all we have right now. I can’t find the talk online, though no doubt it is very similar to his closing talk of the 24 Hours of Reality.
In a near hour-long speech to the Scottish low-carbon investment conference, Gore said the evidence from the floods in Pakistan, China, South Korea and Columbia was so compelling that the case for urgent action by world leaders to combat carbon emissions was now overwhelming, Gore said [sic!!!]
[Yes, the Guardian hasn’t corrected that editorial mistake in two weeks — where are the copy editors?]
That may have been what he said, but given that Gore said the case was compelling back in 2006, who knows if the reporter got this right?
“Observations in the real world make it clear that it’s happening now, it’s real, it’s with us,” he said. Failing to take action meant the world would face a catastrophe.
Again, this is true of global warming and climate change. Dr. Richard Somerville, a coordinating lead author on the IPCC’s 2007 review of climate science, told ABC this year: “This is no longer something that’s theory or conjecture or something that comes out of computer models. We’re observing the climate changing. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s scientific fact.”
He added that nearly every climate scientist actively publishing on the subject now agreed there was a causal link between carbon emissions and the sharp increase in intense and extreme weather events seen across the globe.
Gore’s statement is on strong scientific grounds — since it is a statistical one (see literature review here: Two seminal Nature papers join growing body of evidence that human emissions fuel extreme weather, flooding that harm humans and the environment). But again, it’s not a direct quote, so we don’t know if Gore said it.
“Every single national academy of science of every major country on earth agrees with the consensus and the one’s that don’t agree with it do not exist. This is what they say to governments: ‘The need for urgent action is now indisputable’.
“The scientists have made a subtle but profound change in the way that they speak about the connection between the climate crisis and the extreme weather events. They used to say you can’t connect any extreme weather event to climate because there are multiple factors. Now they’ve changed.
“The environment in which all storms are formed has changed. It’s influence is now present according to the leading scientists in all storms, and they speak of relative causation.”
Gore told me in July:
“I have paid very careful attention to the way Jim Hansen and Kevin Trenberth and other leading climate scientists have shifted the way in which they frame this connection….
Both Jim and Kevin, as well as others, have gone to some lengths to reframe that characterization by saying, if you ask the question “would this have happened in this way without the climate crisis?” the answer is almost certainly no.
Kevin Trenberth is distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He told the NY Times in a story headlined “In Weather Chaos, a Case for Global Warming”:
“It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both.”
For more on Hansen’s thinking, see NASA’s Hansen: Would recent extreme “events have occurred if atmospheric carbon dioxide had remained at its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm?” The “appropriate answer” is “almost certainly not.”
The original Guardian story continues:
Gore said there was now evidence that the globe’s hydrological cycles were changing: as the atmosphere and oceans warmed, more water was evaporating and getting stored in the atmosphere. The amount of water vapour over the oceans had increased by 4% in 30 years, particularly around the tropics and sub-tropics….
Gore then cited a recent report from the global insurance Munich Re, that climate change was “the only plausible explanation” for the rapid increase in extreme weather events. “They’re paid to get this right. It’s their job,” he said.
A year ago September, Munich Re issued a news release, “Large number of weather extremes as strong indication of climate change,”
… it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge as set out in the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report.
Peter Hoppe, Head of the Geo Risks Research Department at Munich Re, wrote me:
For me the most convincing piece of evidence that global warming has been contributing already to more and more intense weather related natural catastrophes is the fact that while we find a steep increase in the number of loss relevant weather events (about tripling in the last 30 years) we only find a slight increase in geophysical (earthquake, volcano, tsunami) events, which should not be affected by global warming.
But Allen apparently considers himself the arbiter of what can and can’t be said on this subject. Well, many leading scientists dispute his perspective and back up Gore.
Allen writes in his piece:
So when Gore says: “the environment in which all storms are formed has changed,” he isn’t actually lying, but he is begging to be misunderstood.
That is beyond a cheap shot. Here is what Trenberth told the NY Times in June:
“Global warming is contributing to an increased incidence of extreme weather because the environment in which all storms form has changed from human activities,” Dr. Trenberth said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Records are not just broken, they are smashed. It is as clear a warning as we are going to get about prospects for the future.”
Texas Climatologist Katherine Hayhoe wrote Climate Progress last month:
We often try to pigeonhole an event, such as a drought, storm, or heatwave into one category: either human or natural, but not both. What we have to realise is that our natural variability is now occurring on top of, and interacting with, background conditions that have already been altered by long-term climate change.
As our atmosphere becomes warmer, it can hold more water vapor. Atmospheric circulation patterns shift, bringing more rain to some places and less to others. For example, when a storm comes, in many cases there is more water available in the atmosphere and rainfall is heavier. When a drought comes, often temperatures are already higher than they would have been 50 years ago and so the effects of the drought are magnified by higher evaporation rates.
So Gore made a completely accurate statement, one that leading scientists have made, and Allen/Guardian write, “he isn’t actually lying.”
That is another shameful sentence that should be retracted.
Gore isn’t begging to be misunderstood. He explains at great length exactly what he means — he means there is more moisture in the atmosphere to be swept into storms, and there are higher temperatures that worsen heatwaves and have myriad other impacts.
People deserve to know how much climate change is affecting them, and not be fobbed off with banalities like: “this is the kind of event that we might expect to become more frequent.”
But the fact that a method exists for establishing whether or not a statement is true does not mean that it is true, still less that anyone has done the study to find out.
Trenberth wrote me:
I take issue with this. Here there is clearly an underlying assumption that the climate has not changed and so we have to prove that it has. This is clearly wrong, because we know for a fact that the climate has changed and the environment that all weather events now form in is different than in the past (say more than 30 years ago).
The bottom line is that the Guardian and Myles Allen don’t speak for science. They aren’t in a position to say that anybody is doing a disservice to science — particularly given their own egregious blunder and overstatements.
All of Gore’s direct quotes cited in the Guardian articles are eminently defensible statements that many leading scientists have made. Allen is entitled to his own opinion, but he has no business smearing Gore over their differences, especially the way he did.
Time for an apology and retraction.