Questions for Al Gore

By Dr. Roy Spencer
25 May 2006

Gore's Inconvenient Truth....

Dear Mr. Gore:

I have just seen your new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," about the threat that global warming presents to humanity. I think you did a very good job of explaining global warming theory, and your presentation was effective. Please convey my compliments to your good friend, Laurie David, for a job well done.

As a climate scientist myself -- you might remember me...I'm the one you mistook for your "good friend," UK scientist Phil Jones during my congressional testimony some years back -- I have a few questions that occurred to me while watching the movie.

1) Why did you make it look like hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, droughts, and ice calving off of glaciers and falling into the ocean, are only recent phenomena associated with global warming? You surely know that hurricane experts have been warning congress for many years that the natural cycle in hurricanes would return some day, and that our built-up coastlines were ripe for a disaster (like Katrina, which you highlighted in the movie). And as long as snow continues to fall on glaciers, they will continue to flow downhill toward the sea. Yet you made it look like these things wouldn't happen if it weren't for global warming. Also, since there are virtually no measures of severe weather showing a recent increase, I assume those graphs you showed actually represented damage increases, which are well known to be simply due to greater population and wealth. Is that right?

2) Why did you make it sound like all scientists agree that climate change is manmade and not natural? You mentioned a recent literature review study that supposedly found no peer-reviewed articles that attributed climate change to natural causes (a non-repeatable study which has since been refuted....I have a number of such articles in my office!) You also mentioned how important it is to listen to scientists when they warn us, yet surely you know that almost all past scientific predictions of gloom and doom have been wrong. How can we trust scientists' predictions now?

3) I know you still must feel bad about the last presidential election being stolen from you, but why did you have to make fun of Republican presidents (Reagan; both Bushes) for their views on global warming? The points you made in the movie might have had wider appeal if you did not alienate so many moviegoers in this manner.

4) Your presentation showing the past 650,000 years of atmospheric temperature and carbon dioxide reconstructions from ice cores was very effective. But I assume you know that some scientists view the CO2 increases as the result of, rather than the cause of, past temperature increases. It seems unlikely that CO2 variations have been the dominant cause of climate change for hundreds of thousands of years. And now that there is a new source of carbon dioxide emissions (people), those old relationships are probably not valid anymore. Why did you give no hint of these alternative views?

5) When you recounted your 6-year-old son's tragic accident that nearly killed him, I thought that you were going to make the point that, if you had lived in a poor country like China or India, your son would have probably died. But then you later held up these countries as model examples for their low greenhouse gas emissions, without mentioning that the only reason their emissions were so low was because people in those countries are so poor. I'm confused...do you really want us to live like the poor people in India and China?

6) There seems to be a lot of recent concern that more polar bears are drowning these days because of disappearing sea ice. I assume you know that polar bears have always migrated to land in late summer when sea ice naturally melts back, and then return to the ice when it re-freezes. Also, if this was really happening, why did the movie have to use a computer generated animation of the poor polar bear swimming around looking for ice? Haven't there been any actual observations of this happening? Also, temperature measurements in the arctic suggest that it was just as warm there in the 1930's...before most greenhouse gas emissions. Don't you ever wonder whether sea ice concentrations back then were low, too?

7) Why did you make it sound like simply signing on to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions would be such a big step forward, when we already know it will have no measurable effect on global temperatures anyway? And even though it represents such a small emission reduction, the economic pain Kyoto causes means that almost no developed country will be meeting its emission reductions commitments under that treaty, as we are now witnessing in Europe.

8) At the end of the movie, you made it sound like we can mostly fix the global warming problem by conserving energy... you even claimed we can reduce our carbon emissions to zero. But I'm sure you know that this will only be possible with major technological advancements, including a probable return to nuclear power as an energy source. Why did you not mention this need for technological advancement and nuclear power? It is because that would support the current (Republican) Administration's view?

Mr. Gore, I think we can both agree that if it was relatively easy for mankind to stop emitting so much carbon dioxide, that we should do so. You are a very smart person, so I can't understand why you left so many important points unmentioned, and you made it sound so easy.

I wish you well in these efforts, and I hope that humanity will make the right choices based upon all of the information we have on the subject of global warming. I agree with you that global warming is indeed a "moral issue," and if we are to avoid doing more harm than good with misguided governmental policies, we will need more politicians to be educated on the issue.

Your "Good Friend,"

Dr. Roy W. Spencer

Dr. Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA's Aqua satellite. In the past, he has served as Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. ??Dr. Spencer is the recipient of NASA's Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the American Meteorological Society's Special Award for his satellite-based temperature monitoring work. He is the author of numerous scientific articles that have appeared in Science, Nature, Journal of Climate, Monthly Weather Review, Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, Journal of Climate and Applied Meteorology, Remote Sensing Reviews, Advances in Space Research, and Climatic Change. Dr. Spencer received his Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Wisconsin in 1981.