Gore, the greens and a pimped-out panic

Al Gore now says the Himalayan glaciers story was just ‘one small error’. In fact, it was every green’s trump card.

James Howell

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‘I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere — as if it were an open sewer.’

Former US vice-president and Nobel laureate Al Gore, writing yesterday in the New York Times, is just the latest high-profile climate alarmist to have a bash at damage limitation in the wake of a series of gaffes and revelations that have undermined the credibility of the official view of global warming. In particular, a claim made in 2007’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – that half of humanity will be starved of water in 25 years time – was more than just a typo. It was a huge blunder that reveals much about the scaremongering and belligerent tactics of the environmentalist movement.

Since the IPCC officially accepted the mistake on 19 January this year, the green movement has rallied around AR4, protesting that the errors that have come to light were minor blemishes on an otherwise solid body of science. But even if they are right, the green movement has been pimping out that glacier factoid ever since the report was published in order to promote its agenda. What could be better to promote climate alarmism than the idea that billions of people could be threatened in just a couple of decades or so if we don’t do something radical right now? Take away the glacial melting and the problem of climate change becomes distinctly less pressing.

As recently as October 2009, Indian and Chinese scientists were still using the claim to promote their research, arguing that black soot is ‘unequivocally having an impact on glacial melting in the Himalayas’. High-profile green activist Vandana Shiva told CNN that ‘Himalayan rivers support nearly half of humanity; everyone who depends on water from the Himalayas will be affected’. This panic has, in turn, led to world leaders arming themselves with scaremongering ammo to target the public and bully us into maintaining an eco-lifestyle. We’ve been given a choice: cycle to work and stop flying, or kill a billion people.

There was even been talk of resource wars between India and China as the water supply turned to a trickle. Green author and campaigner Mark Lynas used a mixture of dodgy science and a feverish imagination for his book Six Degrees. The book’s blurb speculates about a warmer future: ‘Pakistan, crippled by drought brought on by disappearing Himalayan glaciers, sees 27million farmers flee to refugee camps in neighbouring India. Its desperate government prepares a last-ditch attempt to increase the flow of the Indus river by bombing half-constructed Indian dams in Kashmir. The Pakistani president authorises the use of nuclear weapons in the case of an Indian military counter-strike.’ Crikey.

How embarrassed must environmentalism’s most famous pie thrower feel when even in November 2009 he was still condemning the Indian government for its unwillingness to face the ‘truth’: ‘Interestingly, not everyone wants to admit that these glaciers are actually melting. The Indian government, for example, presumably to support its insistence on high-carbon coal-based growth, recently released a report suggesting that the current rate of glacial retreat was nothing out of the ordinary.’ No, the Indian government report was based on actual evidence, rather than a magazine interview and a pressure-group report which were the sources of the IPCC claim.

In December 2009, Independent columnist and climate sceptic-baiter Johann Hari seethed over the failure of the Copenhagen summit, accusing the Chinese government in particular of wrecking the talks. ‘[The] Chinese premier Wen Jiabao behaved appallingly. His country is the single largest overall emitter of gases, albeit with a far larger population, and much more need for development. Yet he vetoed the 80 per cent target by 2050, and refused to allow other countries to carry out basic checks to ensure China was carrying out the smaller cuts they were committed to. Again, he is betraying his own people: most of China’s population depend on rivers that flow down from the Himalayan glaciers, yet they are rapidly disappearing. His name will be cursed in the Chinese history books.’

It wasn’t only journalists and scientists who used the glacier story – that ‘one little error in the IPCC reports’ – to induce fear in the public; politicians also rallied around the cause in an attempt to seem in-touch with the British public. In June last year, in a speech setting out a roadmap to Copenhagen, UK prime minister Gordon Brown said: ‘The latest evidence has shown us that climate change is even more rapid than we had assumed. In 2007 we saw the melting of Arctic summer sea ice. By 2035, glaciers in the Himalayas which provide water for three quarters of a billion people in Asia could entirely disappear.’ Brown wants to be seen to support those who believe that their minuscule efforts of recycling old jam jars and milk cartons will stop a drought that would otherwise kill millions and millions of Asians.

One thing missing from Al Gore’s New York Times piece was an apology for his own scaremongering. In April 2009, Gore claimed: ‘The air pollution levels in the upper Himalayas are now similar to those in Los Angeles… The cryosphere – the frozen water part of the Earth – is disappearing.’ Comparisons of a bustling, modern, progressive city to a remote group of lakes that are frozen thousands of feet above sea level? Something appears amiss here. But Gore’s comparison does illuminate two green themes. Firstly, it dismisses a city like Los Angeles as being a scummy pit of smog rather than the metropolis of technology and film that it actually is. Secondly, a claim about melting glaciers is bandied around to bolster that old chestnut that human beings are consuming and destroying monsters who should stop burning stuff.

Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the highly influential Stern Review on the economics of climate change, used the fallacious glacier factoid in a speech to a Goldman Sachs conference: ‘The glaciers on the Himalayas are retreating, and they are the sponge that holds the water back in the rainy season. We’re facing the risk of extreme run-off, with water running straight into the Bay of Bengal and taking a lot of topsoil with it… A few hundred square miles of the Himalayas are the source for all the major rivers of Asia – the Ganges, the Yellow River, the Yangtze – where three billion people live. That’s almost half the world’s population.’

The Himalayan glaciers do appear to be melting, but not at the fatal rate first predicted. It is utterly disingenuous for Gore and others now to say that the glacier claim was just one small error in thousands of pages of good science, because the fact is that this ‘fact’ was latched on to like no other, and used to promote hysterical fears about the future of humanity. The good news, I hope, is that Climategate, Glaciergate and the rest may encourage a healthy scepticism about such wild claims in the future.

James Howell is a first-year student at Goldsmiths, University of London, and an intern at spiked.

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