Honest Al He Isn't: Don't Trust Al Gore on the Environment

 

DATE: January 15, 2004

BACKGROUND: Former Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to deliver a speech "indicting" the Bush Administration on environmental issues at noon today.

According to speech sponsors MoveOn.org and Environment2004, "Mr. Gore will issue an indictment of the Bush administration's inaction on global warming, linking the issue to U.S. national security. He will show that global warming is happening right now, and yet the President is choosing to help his coal- and oil-company supporters rather than advance modern technologies that can affordably solve this critical problem. The speech will also explore the administration's deliberate attempts to mislead the public as it attacks basic environmental laws and protection."

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Vice President Gore is a fine one to talk about "deliberate attempts to mislead the public," as Gore himself is notorious for making inaccurate statements on environmental issues.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Due perhaps to the complexity of most environmental issues, Al Gore has frequently gotten away with exaggerations, spins, and outright untruths in his past remarks on environmental issues. The public would be wise to seek independent, authoritative confirmation of any allegations Gore makes about the environment.

DISCUSSION: Judge for yourself Gore's reliability on environmental issues from these three examples:

Assertion 1 - Gore Says George W. Bush Tried to Increase the Amount of Arsenic in America's Drinking Water: "Instead of ensuring that our water is clean to drink, [the Bush Administration] tried to increase the amount of arsenic in our water." - Al Gore, April 22, 2002
1

Evaluating His Claim: Three days before George W. Bush was inaugurated, the Clinton Administration announced a rule reducing the amount of arsenic allowed in public water systems from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb.2 The new rule, which was to replace a standard in effect since 1942, was one of many regulations proposed by the Clinton Administration during the brief time between Bush's acknowledged election victory and Bush's inauguration.

On January 20, 2001, Bush signed an order temporarily delaying issuance of many of Clinton's last-minute regulations3 to give his new Administration a chance to review their content. The new arsenic standard rule was among them. However, as it was not due to take effect until 2006, Bush's temporary hold in 2001 had no impact on water quality.

Tougher standards had been controversial because they were expected to be expensive (especially for small communities served by small water systems and in the Western U.S., which has more naturally-occurring arsenic) and because some argued tougher standards were unnecessary for human health.

The Clinton Administration's EPA had estimated a 10 ppb standard would save 23-33 lives per year. A joint American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution study, however, had concluded the new rules would actually cost lives (due to the negative impact of higher water costs on low income families).4

The Bush Administration asked the National Academies of Science to report to the Administration on the likely health impacts of various possible new arsenic standards (3 ppb, 5 ppb, 10 ppb and 20 ppb). (Notably, the Administration did not ask the NAS to study the impact of leaving the 1942 standard in place,5 making it unlikely that the Administration ever seriously contemplated leaving the rules unchanged.)

The NAS studied the issue and, on September 11, 2001, issued a report concluding that the bladder/lung cancer risk for a 3 ppb standard would be 4 persons in 10,000; at 5 parts per billion, 6.5 in 10,000; at 10 parts per billion, greater than 1 in 1,000; and at 20 parts per billion, more than 2 in 1,000.6

After reviewing the NAS study, the Bush Administration decided to accept the Clinton Administration recommendation of a new 10 ppb standard and to keep the Clinton Administration implementation date of 2006. On November 26, 2001, almost half a year before Gore's speech quoted above, Bush lowered the allowable arsenic level to 10 ppb.7

Conclusion: Al Gore's allegation was clearly untrue. Bush adopted the tougher Clinton standard, thereby lowering arsenic levels in drinking water. Had Bush not adopted Clinton's proposed rule, the 1942 standards would have remained in place. Either way, Gore's allegation is untrue: allowable arsenic levels would not have been increased. Bush never tried to increase the amount of arsenic in our drinking water.


Assertion 2 - Gore Blames a Major Forest Fire on Global Warming: "There's only a one in one-thousandth chance that [1998's major Florida wildfire] is normal without the effects of global warming factored in." -Al Gore, June 30, 1998
8

Evaluating His Claim: With or without global warming, major forest fires occur.

Prior to settlement of North America, during the Little Ice Age, an estimated four to eleven percent of the land mass that is now the United States burned each year.9 Explorers Sir Francis Drake and Giovanni da Verrazano reported seeing fires in Florida during the Little Ice Age. The National Interagency Fire Center says naturalist William Bartrum, working in the 1700s, reported seeing fires burning somewhere in Florida nearly every day.10

The July 1998 wildfires to which Gore referred, which burned a half-million acres in Florida, were caused and then exacerbated by an unusually high number of lightening storms and by record-breaking drought,11 not directly by any global warming.

But what about indirectly?

Says The National Center's David Ridenour: "The then-vice president's reasoning went like this: Human beings, through their burning of fossil fuels, are accelerating global warming. This increased global warming, in turn, is inducing more frequent and more powerful El Niños. In Central Florida in 1998, El Niño produced heavier rains in the spring, which increased vegetation, and a drought in the summer created the ideal conditions for wildfires. Unfortunately for Gore, however, droughts in Florida appear to be no more common during El Niño years than non-El Niño years. The most severe droughts this century occurred during 1907-1908, 1932-1933, 1963-1964 and 1980-81, not the strong El Niño years 1904-1905, 1917-1918, 1940-1941, 1957-1958, 1965-1966, 1972-1973, 1982-1983 and 1991-1992. Dr. Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia examined 100 years of Florida drought history and found that El Niños have not led to droughts in Florida. Michaels found that wet conditions prevailed in Central Florida more often than dry conditions during El Niño years."

At the time of the then-vice president's remarks, David Ridenour contacted the office of the vice president to establish a source for the vice president's formulation of a "one in one-thousandth chance" that major wildfires could erupt except under conditions of global warming. He received no reply.

Conclusion: Gore's conclusion that global warming caused or was a cause of severe wildfires in Florida in 1998 cannot be borne out scientifically. Gore may nonetheless believe it is true.


Assertion 3 - Gore Says Glaciers are Melting Due to Global Warming:
"I have come here today because Glacier National Park faces a grave threat to its heritage -- and it's one that can't be met with a simple restoration plan. The 50 glaciers in this park -- which date back to the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago -- are melting away at an alarming rate... What's happening at Glacier National Park is strong evidence of global warming over the past century -- the disruption of our climate because of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, all over the world. The overwhelming evidence shows that global warming is no longer a theory -- it's a reality... we see all around us today glaciers that have survived for 10,000 years, now facing the prospect of melting away in a single century." - Al Gore, September 2, 199712

Evaluating His Claim: The behavior of a single glacier or group of glaciers does not prove or disprove the global warming theory. Glaciers are far to complex for that.

As John Carlisle wrote for The National Center in his paper "Behavior of World's Glaciers Fails to Prove Global Warming Theory":

Glaciers are poor barometers of global climate change. Glaciers are influenced by a variety of local and regional natural phenomena that scientists do not fully comprehend. Besides temperature changes, glaciers also respond to changes in the amount and type of precipitation, changes in sea level and changes in ocean circulation patterns. As a result, glaciers do not necessarily advance during colder weather and retreat during warmer weather. ...According to Professor Martin Beniston of the Institute of Geography at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, 'Numerous climatological details of mountains are overlooked by the climate models.' This makes it difficult to predict the consequences of global warming on glaciers. Beniston says it is 'difficult to estimate the exact response of glaciers to global warming, because glacier dynamics are influenced by numerous factors other than climate, even though temperature and cloudiness may be the dominant controlling factors. According to the size, exposure and altitude of glaciers, different response times can be expected for the same climatic forcing.'

That may explain why there are several Swiss glaciers that are advancing even though Switzerland has experienced a decade of mild winters, warmer summers and less rainfall.

Other scientists agree that it is unwise to look to glaciers for evidence of global warming. Keith Echelmeyer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute, says, 'To make a case that glaciers are retreating, and that the problem is global warming, is very hard to do... The physics are very complex. There is much more involved than just the climate response.' Echelmeyer points out that in Alaska there are large glaciers advancing in the very same areas where others are retreating.

Dr. Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University agrees that the response of glaciers to global temperatures can be difficult to predict. 'Glaciers do odd things sometimes,' observes Alley. 'They flow fast, then slow down... You could anthropomorphize [apply human characteristics to] them and say they have a mind of their own.'

Conclusion: Glaciers provide a nice photo op for speeches on global warming, but scientists disagree with Gore's belief that the past behavior of one or a few glaciers can reliably be used as a predictor of future global temperature.13

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Speech by Al Gore on Earth Day 2002, text available via http://www.algore04.com/gorefacts/speeches/index.shtml

Brendan Nyhan, "The Arsenic Meme," Spinsanity, 1/11/04, at http://www.spinsanity.org/post.html?2004_01_11_archive.html

Steven Milloy, "Arsenic-laced Presidential Campaign?" FoxNews.com, December 18, 2003 at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,106135,00.html

Tom Randall, "New Legislation Would End Study of Safe Arsenic Levels for Drinking Water," National Center for Public Policy Research, July 27, 2001 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR72701.html

David Ridenour, "Don't Like the Weather? Don't Blame it on Global Warming," National Center for Public Policy Research, August 1998 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA206.html

Remarks by Vice President Al Gore at Glacier National Park, September 2, 1997, archived online by the National Archives and Records Administration at http://clinton3.nara.gov/WH/EOP/OVP/speeches/glacier.html

John Carlisle, "Behavior of World's Glaciers Fails to Prove Global Warming Theory," National Center for Public Policy Research, February 1999, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA235.html

John Carlisle, "Buenos Aires Conference on Global Warming: Much Ado About Nothing," National Center for Public Policy Research, October 1998, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA218.html

Global Warming Information Center at http://www.nationalcenter.org/Kyoto.html

by Amy Ridenour

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110 or [email protected]

The National Center for Public Policy Research
501 Capitol Court, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

 


Footnotes:

(1) Speech by Al Gore on Earth Day 2002, text available via http://www.algore04.com/gorefacts/speeches/index.shtml as of January 9, 2004

(2) Tom Breen, Greenwire, "Arsenic: Opposition Mounts to EPA's Drinking Water Standards," February 1, 2001

(3) Tom Breen, Greenwire, "Arsenic: Opposition Mounts to EPA's Drinking Water Standards," February 1, 2001

(4) Ben Lieberman, Competitive Enterprise Institute, "Clinton's Legacy: Senate Dems Second-Guess Bush for Second-guessing Clinton," July 26, 2001, available at http://www.cei.org/gencon/019,02116.cfm

(5) National Academies of Science News Release, September 11, 2001, available online at http://www4.nas.edu/news.nsf/isbn/0309076293?OpenDocument

(6) National Academies of Science News Release, September 11, 2001, available online at http://www4.nas.edu/news.nsf/isbn/0309076293?OpenDocument

(7) "On Tap Magazine," Winter 2002, National Drinking Water Clearinghouse, West Virginia University, available at http://www.nesc.wvu.edu/ndwc/articles/OT/WI02/News&Notes.html

(8) David Ridenour, "Don't Like the Weather? Don't Blame it on Global Warming," National Center for Public Policy Research, August 1998 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA206.html, citing Brad Liston, "Gore Visits Florida Fire Zone as Burning Continues," Reuters, June 30, 1998 (Reuters piece is archived online at http://www.junkscience.com/news2/flafire2.htm)

(9) David Ridenour, "Don't Like the Weather? Don't Blame it on Global Warming," National Center for Public Policy Research, August 1998 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA206.html, citing R. Neil Sampson, "Living With Nature: Are We Willing to Pay the Price?" Wildfire News and Notes, February 1996

(10) Gary Mullins, Wildland Fire History, National Interagency Fire Center, http://www.nifc.gov/preved/comm_guide/wildfire/fire_8.html

(11) Ecological and Economic Conseqences of the 1998 Florida Wildfires, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service and Florida Department of Agriculture, available online at http://flame.fl-dof.com/joint_fire_sciences/

(12) Remarks by Vice President Al Gore at Glacier National Park, September 2, 1997, archived online by the National Archives and Records Administration at http://clinton3.nara.gov/WH/EOP/OVP/speeches/glacier.html

(13) John Carlisle, "Behavior of World's Glaciers Fails to Prove Global Warming Theory," National Center for Public Policy Research, February 1999, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA235.html


 

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