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I posted my first diarly on DailyKos on May25, in response to a not so favorable NPR review of "An Inconvenient Truth" by Richard Harris and Bob Mondelo on May24.  Those who read my diary may recall that I was particularly displeased with Harris's performance.

My original diary/rant is here:
The original NPR broadcast:

Well, I enjoyed that first diary and it really let me blow off some steam.  I thought that was the end of it, but HARRIS RESPONDED!  And his reponse just made things worse.

Here is Harris's reply, which I received ystdy morning:

Thanks for your note to All Things Considered.

Al Gore chose a poor example by spending time describing Kilimanjaro as an example of global warming.  I'm attaching a copy of a scientific article that articluates the issue. You will find that your assertions are not borne out by the scientific evidence.

I would have had no trouble with Al Gore if he had added the same caveats in his movie that you have in your email, however he did not. His movie is full of insinuation (he, being a good lawyer, was careful not to say so directly), suggesting among other things that Hurricane Katrina was a direct result of human-induced global warming.

I am trained as a scientist. My goal is not to create "balance" and to create a phony debate where there is none. But the public is not well served when we overstate the facts. It is my personal view that we know enough about climate change to take steps to do something about it (I, for example, commute by bicycle). But we shouldn't try to pretend we know more than we do.

Many scientists I have talked to over the years say that a sensible policy needs to ackgnowledge the uncertainties, not paper them over.

As for Al Gore in the White House, I am far from being the only one mystified by why a man so passionate about this issue did so little when he had a chance. Sure you can blame the media and Monica Lewinsky, but plenty of folks say the Clinton Administration could have initiated an energy policy that paid attention to climate change, expending little political capital in the process. It didn't.

I replied as follows:

Thanks for your reply.

I find your response problematic on several points.

For starters, you write that my assertions are not supported by "the" scientific evidence.  That is, you think I'm wrong.  In your next sentence, however, you write that you would have "had no trouble with Al Gore" had he used my language.  In other words, Gore was wrong too, but he would have been right if he said what I said...which sounds like you agree with me, or at least want me to join you in shaking my head at that incurable exaggerator that we call Al Gore.  I know that I am not a highly paid Washington correspondent, but please forgive my hubris in asking you to clarify whether or not you agree with me, and also forgive my temerity in asking you to actually describe the issues on which you may or may not agree with me.  (BTW, where are these "caveats" in my complaint of which you write?)

For the sake of argument I will assume that you do think I am wrong (and I do mean for argument's sake, as well, it's just no fun at all if you are just going to agree with everything I write).

You state that my "assertions are not borne out by the scientific evidence".  Yet aside from defending your motives and again impugning Gore, you do not actually address my assertions.  Nor do you provide evidence, besides attaching the study by Kaser, Hardy, et al. [2004] that is frequently cited by global warming skeptics.

Since you do not, let me address my assertions and compare them with the evidence that you present.

In my original complaint, I wrote "the threat of Global Warming is not that every single spot on earth will experience the same slight increase in mean temperature?  Global warming means climate change, and this change will be uneven, and could easily be in the form of decreased precipitation on the top of Kilimanjaro."

Let's see what Kaser, Hardy, et al. have to say on this (from p.336, the end of the 5th section of their paper, the bottom of the 8th page of the pdf which you attached):
"The scenario presented offers a concept that implies climatological processes other than increased air temperature govern glacier retreat on Kilimanjaro in a direct manner. However, it does not rule out that these processes may be linked to temperature variations in other tropical regions, e.g. in the Indian Ocean, where a large-scale connection between sea-surface temperature and East African rainfall amounts has been found in several studies (e.g. Latif et al., 1999; Black et al., 2003)."

Please understand that sea-surface temperatures are rising, this rising is widely attributed to global warming, and that Kaser, Hardy, et al. have no argument with the idea that this rise in sea temperature could be causing the lack of precipitation which they posit as the primary proximate factor in the disappearance of Kilimanjaro's glaciers.

As far as I can tell, Kaser, Hardy, et al. agree with what I wrote.

If you can, please explain how this makes Kilimanjaro a "poor example" of global warming?  Because the mechanism is complex?  I would argue otherwise for precisely this reason, that Kilimanjaro is a prime example of the effects of global warming as it illustrates the complex chain of meteorological events that can result due to a slight rise in global average temperature.

I concede that it's impossible to irrefutably prove that the demise of glaciers on the summit of Kilimanjaro is due to global warming.  It is also impossible to irrefutably prove that any given smoker with lung cancer developed cancer because he or she smoked.  The connection between global warming and Kilimanjaro is of a general, large scale, and statistical nature, as is the connection between lung cancer and smoking.  Does this mean that lung cancer is not a good example of a possible consequence of smoking?  If you had to counsel a friend or child about the dangers of smoking, would you honestly not mention cancer because you could not prove that any given case was caused by smoking?  Without such proof, is a relative or friend's death due to lung cancer inadmissible as an example of the dangers of smoking? Similarly, I think it is specious to reject Kilimanjaro as a "poor example" of global warming due to lack of exact proof.

Continuing on, I wrote that you took apart "an intellectual straw man" to prove that you are unbiased.  I concede that I can not know your motives.  It is certainly possible that you simply dislike Gore.  Or that you truly do not believe global warming to be real, or that you simply take the easy route of conforming to the standard media depiction of Gore.  I'll grant you this point, but I was giving you the benefit of the doubt in my original complaint.

More importantly, the straw man is still there, whatever your motives for using him.  The straw man can be summarized in two simplistic and false ideas:
         a. Global warming literally equates to a "global" warming, i.e. a globally uniform rise in annual average temperature, and no other meteorological changes.
         b. Thus glacial recession on Kilimanjaro must be due to a rise in local temperature if global warming is to blame.

Frankly, this straw man is more befitting science fiction writers (a la Crichton) than science writers.  You insist that your goal is "not to create a phony debate".  Yet your emphasis on Kilimanjaro as "controversial" does exactly that.  As Gore has so clearly stated, "the debate is over" about global warming.  As I wrote in my original complaint, one can not explain the current rise in global temperature without accounting for the man-made rise in CO2 in our atmosphere.  And this warming will change, is changing, our weather, it is causing sea levels to rise, etc.  This is the scientific consensus. Science magazine analyzed 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming published between 1993 and 2003. Not a single one challenged the scientific consensus the earth's temperature is rising due to human activity. Nor does the paper that you provided.

Technically, you are correct in that you do not need to "create a phony debate", as debate and controversy are the very nature of science.  And I expect that you will continue to doggedly insist that there is debate (if not rain clouds) surrounding Kilimanjaro.  I certainly agree.  The key point, however, is that the debate you cite is not about global warming, rather, it is about the precise mechanism of glacial recession on the summit of Kilimanjaro. You are phony not for manufacturing debate, rather, you are phony because you misrepresent the debate.

You misrepresent the debate in three ways:
          a. By implying that the debate is about global warming itself.
          b. By spending a length of time on it that is grossly disproportionate to its actual significance.
          c. By never acknowledging the larger truth of the scientific consensus regarding global warming, thereby denying the proper context and perspective for the debate in question.

These distortions leave the listener with the impression that Kilimanjaro is a problem for global warming, when in reality it is not.  The authors of the very paper you sent have stated publicly, in the pages of the New York Times, that "Using these preliminary findings to refute or even question global warming borders on the absurd."

As there is debate among climatologists regarding the mechanism of glacial recession, so too there is debate among biologists and paleontologists as to whether classical Darwinism or punctuated equilibrium more accurately describes the mechanism of evolution.  The existence of these debates, however, makes global warming no more controversial than evolution, no matter how often these debates are cited as examples of controversy by creationists or global warming skeptics.

If you still find my argument unconvincing, I will refer you to, who treat tropical glaciers, Kilimanjaro, and global warming much more ably than I.

You write that "we shouldn't try to pretend we know more than we do," and "sensible policy needs to acknowledge the uncertainties, not paper them over."  How true. In turn we also should not pretend to know less than we do, and sensible policy should not dwell on insignificant uncertainties but rather take the most practical action given the available scientific consensus.

The phenomenon of pretending to know less than we do, and of making mountainous controversies out of molehill debates is common enough to give it a name.  I call it "tobacco logic."  It has two basic principles
          a. Any uncertainty, no matter how trivial, can justify inaction, with the excuse that more research is necessary before the appropriate action can be decided upon.
          b. Since it is impossible to completely remove all uncertainty, this reasoning can be maintained indefinitely, as long as the larger reality is ignored or denied, and trivial uncertainties are emphasized.

I merely implied this in my original complaint, but I will make this a formal charge here and now.  You are using "tobacco logic" to question the validity of global warming (and also indirectly to impugn Al Gore).  I ask you to respond to this specific charge; if you can, please show how you are not guilty of both of the above principles.  Please do not equivocate as to whether I am right or wrong and then throw irrelevant scientific papers at me.

I find that the plausibility of your argument, like the glaciers of which we speak, clings tenaciously to Kilimanjaro.  And like the very same glaciers, it is receding rapidly.

But my last and most strident complaint with your response, however, is not with your treatment of global warming or Kilimanjaro, but is with your treatment of Al Gore.  First you riff on the meme of Gore as lying exaggerator.  You say that he should have used the same "caveats" as I, although I still do not understand what you mean by "caveats" in my writing.  Global warming is real, I offer no qualifications regarding this.  The only "caveat" is that the longer we wait to address the problem, the worse it will be.  I suppose you mean to say that Gore should have been more circumspect, or exact, in his language, and by so saying imply that he was exaggerating again, but you can offer no exaggerations or lies as evidence.  All you can do is offer insinuations (ah, what a useful term!  It can transform anything unsaid into a devious act!).  If I offered statistical evidence of a strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer,  I'm sure you would accuse me of insinuating that smoking caused lung cancer (and I would have to agree).

Why do you think Gore implies that global warming caused Katrina?  I admit that I have not seen the movie, as it is not playing within 150 miles of my home (I assume that the irony of driving such a distance to see a movie about global warming is not lost upon you).  But I have read some on the subject, and seen a few clips of Gore speaking on the subject.  From what I understand, there is wide agreement that the current upswing in the number of storms is mostly due to natural variation outside of global warming.  What Gore says in the clips I have seen, and again, he is merely conveying the scientific consensus, is that global warming means that sea surface temperatures are rising, and rising sea surface temperatures mean stronger hurricanes.  So, Gore implies not that global warming caused Katrina, but that global warming could very well have strengthened Katrina.  One of the reasons that NOAA officials were so urgent in their pre-landfall warnings were that they knew the sea surface temperatures along Katrina's route were at record highs.

Do you honestly think Gore being a "good lawyer" reduces his veracity?  Uh, I assume that you realize that most politicians are good lawyers.  So why is this an issue with Gore and not with any other pol?  It seems that as with the Clintons' sexuality, the media has different rules for Gore that allow his credibility to be questioned in situations where other politicians would be accepted at face value.

Here's a thought experiment.  Anytime a politician says something, like "we need to address the rising rate of crime and drug use in our community", say to yourself, "of course, being a good lawyer, [insert pol of choice here], was careful to not say directly that increasing drug use also increases the crime rate."  Try it, it's fun!  Soon your T.V., radio, and newspaper will become dens of intrigue, full of devious lawyerly lying masterminds!

And yes, I am sure that you are far from being the only one "mystified" that Al Gore didn't do more.  This is the new meme that is now emerging from your media cohort.   Why oh why didn't he save us when he could? Where was this passionate Al Gore when we needed him? Gosh, I suppose it is his fault that we didn't listen.  It always is.  He should have shouted louder perhaps, been more convincing, not listened to his advisers, not lost to W, etc.  Barring some earth-shattering movement in the nature of our media, we will be hearing this meme until Greenland gives way and the sea floods your broadcast booths.  sigh....

But understand that I am not blaming the media for Clinton or Gore's immediate political failure to enact a stronger environmental policy.  But that is not the question you asked at the end of your review.  You asked where this passionate and convincing Gore was all those years.  I merely replied that he was in the White House, same as ever, same as now.  As I wrote in my original complaint, the question that you should have asked is, why didn't we see this side Al Gore when he was in the White House?  And the blame for that I lay squarely at the feet of you and your cohort.  You were too busy with other things.

While I am at it though, I will address your claim that Gore didn't do enough for the environment when he could.  Specifically, you charge that he didn't initiate an environmental policy that paid attention to climate change.  Mr. Harris, surely you remember Al Gore negotiating and signing the Kyoto Protocol?   Since you seem to need reminding, it's a world-wide treaty to forestall global warming by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases.  If this is not initiating a global warming aware environmental policy, please explain what is such a policy.   Yes, the treaty was not ratified by the Senate.  In fact, the Senate passed a resolution, 95-0, that they would not ratify it until China, India, Brazil, and other large chunks of the developing world signed it too.  Oh, but I forget, if only Gore had expended a little of that magical political capital of which you speak, convincing 66 Senators (Gore said there was one that was willing to vote his way) should have been a snap.  Let's hope Gore's magical political fairy dust doesn't fall into the hands of W, or Social Security is a goner.  Gosh, it must be keeping you up at night.

Same for carbon or energy taxes and raising CAFE standards.  Clinton and Gore tried, and failed.  Maybe they could have had more success if they had made different proposals, or tried different tactics, or used some of that magic political capital.  Maybe if Gore had become president he could have convinced those China, India, and Brazil to sign on to Kyoto.  Maybe the GOP could have forced Clinton to resign if they had handled the impeachment differently.  Maybe the religious right could have imposed a theocracy.  Maybe they did.  Great daydreams.  Rotten journalism.  But hang on to them.  They'll make a great foundation for a seminar on the history of science and politics at the Kennedy school when you retire from NPR.

Why is this failure solely Gore's fault when he so obviously tried his best to do exactly what you wish he did?  What about the 95 senators who voted against ratifying the Kyoto protocol?  What about all the congressmen who resisted carbon taxes and raising CAFE standards?  The lobbyists for Exxon, Ford, GM, coal mines, etc.  Gosh, if Gore had just spent a little more time with them, you know, shown them his home movies and his global warming slide show, I'm sure they would have come around.  It's just a crying shame now, isn't it.  You should tell him to shut up now, he blew his chance when he had it.  Oh, that's right, you are already telling him that.  Sorry, I forgot.

I will wind up my response now with some ideas on what your job is, and a simple plea that you do it.

If it is any comfort, I am "trained as a scientist" as well (a B.S. in geology, to be specific), and I work from home, obviating a commute (although I confess, not as a geologist).  But what is in question here is your conduct as a journalist, not your scientific credentials nor your personal commitment to conservation.  I am not asking you to prove or disprove global warming with your own research, but merely to accurately report the consensus of the scientific community.  I ask you, as a journalist, to not manufacture controversy where there is none.  I ask you as a journalist to spend more of your time (and your listeners' time) on issues that are more important, and less time on those that are not so important.

I expect, however, that instead of doing your job as a journalist, that you and your cohort will find more ways to ridicule Gore. I can see the lede now, "Yesterday he invented the Internet, now he's discovered global warming.  When will Gore learn his lesson?"  But Gore is not claiming to have discovered or invented anything here.  He is merely trying to tell us the scientific consensus, trying to get us to understand the enormity of what global warming means for us now and in the future.  Simply put, he is doing your job, and in some way, I think he is doing it because he has realized that you and your media cohort are not doing your job.

In closing, if the enemy is at the gate, and one ridicules the messenger who brings warning, how culpable is one for the disaster should the enemy breach the walls? In twenty years, when your children ask you why the glaciers have disappeared, will you still be blaming Al Gore?  How will you explain that you didn't know enough to do anything about it except ride your bicycle?

(NPR ombudsman link:

Originally posted to RedCharlie on Wed Jun 07, 2006 at 10:36 AM PDT.


Will you complain to NPR?

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