CNN's O'Brien Talks to Gore Critic, Hints Doubters are 'In the Dark'
On Friday night, CNN viewers were treated to the special "Keeping Them Honest: The Truth About Global Warming," which took time to examine nine "alleged inconsistencies or exaggerations" in Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," as enumerated in a ruling by a British judge. Host Miles O'Brien also interviewed a member of the IPCC, the group which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Gore, in the form of a scientist who has challenged Gore's views on global warming. O'Brien, who a week earlier had tagged dissenters with such labels as "dead-enders" and "a very small fringe," on this show suggested that people who are "skeptical" about global warming are "in the dark," and presented what he called "surprising" polling data showing a substantial number of Americans have doubts about global warming theory. (Transcript follows)
Notably, beginning at 1:00 p.m. earlier in the day, CNN started displaying its logo in green, and, for a while, used a clock counting down how long it will be until the upcoming series "Planet in Peril" begins on Tuesday October 23. This special two-part series, which is part of CNN's regular "Anderson Cooper 360" series, will examine environmental issues.
On Friday's special, Gore's claim that global warming has had effects on the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes was the first of the nine points examined, as O'Brien brought aboard CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano to discuss the subject. A few weeks ago, on CNN's "American Morning," Marciano had notably exclaimed that he was happy to hear about the judge's skeptical view of "An Inconvenient Truth," as he commented about the movie's inaccuracies, prompting email complaints from CNN viewers.
On Friday's special, Marciano relayed that there are no studies that show "an increase in tornadoes due to global warming," and contended that there is still debate about hurricanes. He related the theory that hurricane intensity has increased because of a multi-decade cycle, and pointed to difficulties in accurately measuring hurricane intensities worldwide. He also suggested that any effects on hurricanes by global warming would likely be small. But Marciano ended his discussion by suggested that if you "go green," that "everybody wins." Marciano: "As for who's right and who's wrong, we may not know the answer until it's actually happening. Until then, I think most would agree that, if you do your part and you go green, well, everybody wins."
O'Brien soon brought aboard Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama, a member of the ICPP who was also featured on "20/20" the same night on ABC. Christy took exception with Gore's willingness to "speak with certainty" about an issue as unpredictable as climate change, and suggested the Nobel committee was trying to "influence American elections." He also pointed out the absence of media coverage when a recent study showed that "Antarctic sea ice extent reached its all-time maximum." Christy: "I suppose CNN did not announce two weeks ago when the Antarctic sea ice extent reached its all-time maximum, even though, in the Arctic in the North Pole, it reached its all-time minimum." Christy also contended that even if the world constructed nuclear plants to replace carbon-producing energy sources, that global temperature would only be affected by "one-hundredth of a degree per decade."
About halfway through the show, O'Brien brought aboard political analyst Bill Schneider to discuss poll numbers on the public's views of global warming. O'Brien had earlier plugged the segment by suggesting that those who do not agree with the more liberal view of global warming are "in the dark." O'Brien: "And what do you believe about global warming? See whether Americans are getting greener or whether they're still in the dark. That's coming up."
O'Brien began his recitation of the poll results: "This one is a surprise. This is the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, recent one. 'Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of global warming?' we asked. And here's the response. Global warming is a proven fact, mostly man-made: 56 percent. Global warming is a proven fact, mostly natural: 21 percent. And then, completely unproven: 21 percent. It's interesting when you lump those bottom two together, isn't it?" He thought it "interesting" that so many Americans are in a "skeptical realm" even though "more than 90 percent of scientists would say it is man-made and happening."
Regarding the finding that only 35 percent of Americans see global warming as an "immediate threat," Schneider fretted that "our political system can deal with the problems only if people see an immediate crisis," and contended that "it's unlikely much can happen unless people sense a crisis, and the only time they've sensed it is in Hurricane Katrina, and of course then, government did not work."
In a relatively rare acknowledgement, O'Brien brought up the Clinton administration's refusal to push the Kyoto global warming treaty because of its lack of support in the Senate, as he was critiquing the handling of the global warming issue by both the Bush and Clinton administrations. Regarding President Bush, he related that after making a promise during the election to support regulations to reduce carbon emissions, he "cooled to the concept" after taking office, as global warming became a "dead issue." O'Brien contended that "government scientists who disagreed say they were censored or edited so to appear they were towing the line." After relating the Clinton administration's refusal to push the Kyoto treaty, as the issue "languished," the CNN host concluded that portion of the show by warning that "while nothing has been done, the problem has gotten harder to solve." O'Brien: "So if you're looking for the reasons the U.S. has done little to respond to the climate crisis, you can find them on both sides of the aisle. And while nothing has been done, the problem has gotten harder to solve."
O'Brien later interviewed Peter Schwartz of the Monitor Group to discuss the possibility that flooding caused by global warming could cause refugee problems which could threaten world peace, and then the CNN host finished going through the remainder of the nine points against An Inconvenient Truth, which he called "alleged inconsistencies or exaggerations." O'Brien concluded the program by insisting the British judge still endorsed the basics of Gore's movie. O'Brien: "And we should point out at this point we've gone through all nine of those alleged inconsistencies or exaggerations brought out by that British judge in the midst of that lawsuit. But worth pointing out, that the judge said in mentioning those nine inconsistencies that the scientific substance, the facts of the science that form the basis of Gore's movie, are, in fact, correct."
A transcript of the entire CNN special from Friday October 19 titled "Keeping Them Honest: The Truth About Global Warming" can be found here. Below is a transcript of some noteworthy portions of the show, with some critical portions in bold:
MILES O'BRIEN: Gore's critics also picked up some powerful ammunition just before the Nobel Committee announced the Peace Prize. A British judge ruled "An Inconvenient Truth," the Oscar-winning film of Gore's global warming lecture, contains nine errors that need to be pointed out to students as the movie is played in British schools. Since we're keeping everyone honest here, we're going to look at all nine points of contention this hour. First, the link between global warming and the weather. In the movie, Gore implies there's a direct link between global warming and the killer hurricane season of 2005, which, of course, included Katrina, as well as a series of devastating tornadoes the year before. Listen to this.
AL GORE, from "An Inconvenient Truth," clip #1: And then what happened? Before it hit New Orleans, it went over warmer waters. As the water temperature increases, the wind velocity increases, and the moisture content increases.
GORE, clip #2: And the same year that we had that string of big hurricanes, we also set an all-time record for tornadoes in the United States.
O'BRIEN: Meteorologist Rob Marciano is in the CNN Weather Center. Rob, let's start on that last point there. Is there any science which shows global warming leads to more severe tornadoes?
ROB MARCIANO: Miles, there's no study that we know of that shows an increase in tornadoes due to global warming, either now or forecast for the future. Now, on the topic of hurricanes and global warming, that is still up for debate. Storms have increased in the Atlantic since 1995. The question is why and where else? Some hurricane experts say Atlantic hurricanes have increased because of a 20- to 30-year ocean cycle. Some say it's because of global warming. Regardless, Atlantic hurricanes account for less than 15 percent of all tropical cyclones worldwide. So studies have been done to see if storms worldwide have increased. And some studies say yes. Others say the data from outside the Atlantic is not good. Estimating hurricane strength from satellites, well, it's just not precise. And the U.S. is the only country to routinely fly into hurricanes. And that's the only way to actually measure a storm's strength. A recent study conducted by respected scientist Jim Kossin re-analyzes the global data and shows that there has been no increase in hurricane strength worldwide in the last 20 years. The fact is, hurricanes need much more than just warm water to grow, but they do need at least 80-degree water to form. Warm water evaporates. It rises, form clouds, and that releases heat. That heat release then leads to more strengthening of the storm. That leads to more evaporation and the cycle repeats itself. The storm can kind of feed on itself and strengthen. Most hurricane experts agree that, if waters increase by one degree Celsius, hurricane winds will increase by about 5 percent by the end of the century. That means any increase that we have seen in recent hurricanes due to warming would only be about 2 percent, statistically indiscernible. And, of course, it's not as simple as warm water equals strong storm. Some things can kill or at least weaken a hurricane, dry land, for one thing, dry air, and something called wind shear. High-altitude winds typically energize most storms, but they actually weaken hurricanes. And when tropical cyclones ride the trade winds east to west and high-altitude winds are strong, it creates this wind shear. When a hurricane or tropical storm hits wind shear, the top of the storm actually gets choked and torn off. This not only weakens hurricanes, but it also prevents storms from forming in the first place. And a recent study done by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory says global warming may increase wind shear and therefore decrease hurricanes. Now, I'm sure there's going to be more studies down the road, Miles, and no doubt this debate will continue. As for who's right and who's wrong, we may not know the answer until it's actually happening. Until then, I think most would agree that, if you do your part and you go green, well, everybody wins. Miles?
O'BRIEN: I guess we're all part of the experiment. Thank you very much, meteorologist Rob Marciano.
O'BRIEN: But many skeptics are quick to point out Gore does not have any scientific credentials. And that's what leads us to a crucial ocean current widely known as the Conveyor belt. What may or may not be happening to it is another bone of contention for those critical of "An Inconvenient Truth."
O'BRIEN: No one doubts it can be sudden, but IPCC scientists see no evidence it will happen any time soon.
O'BRIEN: Politics makes for strange bedfellows, of course. Well, so does winning one of the world's most prestigious awards. Up next, I'll speak with a man who shares a slice of this year's Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, but doesn't see eye to eye with him at all. And what do you believe about global warming? See whether Americans are getting greener or whether they're still in the dark. That's coming up.
O'BRIEN: But I'll tell you who's not laughing, the critics who accuse Gore of being an alarmist, who say global warming is not a catastrophe. One of them is, ironically, one of the scientists who shares a piece of the Nobel Peace Prize with Gore, former NASA scientist John Christy, joining from us Huntsville, Alabama. Dr. Christy, good to have you with us.
Dr. JOHN CHRISTY, University of Alabama: Hello.
O'BRIEN: I assume you're not happy about sharing this award with Al Gore. You going to renounce it in some way?
CHRISTY: Well, as a scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, I always thought that, and I may sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas here, that prizes were given for performance, and not for promotional activities. And when I look at the world, I see that the carbon dioxide rate is increasing, and energy demand, of course, is increasing. And that's because, without energy, life is brutal and short. So I don't see very much effect in trying to scare people into not using energy when it is the very basis of how we can live in our society.
O'BRIEN: So what about the movie do you take issue with, then, Dr. Christy?
CHRISTY: Well, there's any number of things. I suppose, fundamentally, it's the fact that someone is speaking about a science that I've been very heavily involved in and have labored so hard in, and been humiliated by, in the sense that the climate is so difficult to understand, Mother Nature is so complex, and so the uncertainties are great, and then to hear someone speak with such certainty and such confidence about what the climate is going to do is, well, I suppose I could be kind and say, it's annoying to me.
O'BRIEN: But you just got through saying that carbon dioxide levels are up, temperatures are going up. There is a certain degree of certainty that goes along with that, right?
CHRISTY: Well, the carbon dioxide is going up. And remember that carbon dioxide is plant food in the fundamental sense. All of life depends on the fact carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere. So we're fortunate it's not a toxic gas. But, on the other hand, what is the climate doing? And when we build, and I'm one of the few people in the world that actually builds these climate data sets, we don't see the catastrophic changes that are being promoted all over the place. For example, I suppose CNN did not announce two weeks ago when the Antarctic sea ice extent reached its all-time maximum, even though, in the Arctic in the North Pole, it reached its all-time minimum.
O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the critics in general. Many of the critics we hear from have links to the fossil fuel industry. A lot of their funding comes from the coal and oil industries. How about you?
CHRISTY: All of my funding is federal and state grants. And I apply for them and write my papers, which are peer-reviewed. So I have disengaged and never was really involved in any of that.
O'BRIEN: Does it make you angry that Al Gore got the Peace Prize?
CHRISTY: No, I think it's just a commentary on a prize that is a political prize. I think it was clearly designed to influence American elections and so on. But, in a sense, you can't begrudge someone who has become a star. I mean, he has really attracted the media attention and so on. So that's just what happens in the world of politics.
O'BRIEN: So you say this is a political award then?
CHRISTY: Well, as I said at the very beginning, I don't see any accomplishment here. I don't see CO2 going down because of the campaign, the crusade that he's on. And I only see it going up, because, and I come back to this, energy is absolutely vital for human society, and its use will increase. There's a tremendous amount of pent-up energy demand, especially in the Third World right now. So we shall see it rise.
O'BRIEN: But some would say it's time to look at alternatives that don't put that CO2 into the atmosphere.
CHRISTY: Well, I've done the work on that, and the only alternative that can make a tiny dent in the rate of temperature increase, if it is increasing at a high rate, is nuclear power. So if you built 1,000 nuclear power plants right now, you would be able to affect the global temperature by, listen to this, one-hundredth of a degree per decade. I don't know if that's the price we want to pay, but nuclear power, in democratically accountable countries, is fairly safe and useful that way.
O'BRIEN: John Christy, thank you for your time.
CHRISTY: My pleasure.
O'BRIEN: The scientists who share the Peace Prize with Gore say evidence the climate system is warming is unequivocal, and it's everywhere -- increased air and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, and melting snow and ice. And check out this chart. Based on information gleaned from Antarctic ice core samples, it shows carbon dioxide and temperature levels on Earth over the past 650,000 years.
GORE, in An Inconvenient Truth: Look how far above the natural cycle this is, and we've done that.
O'BRIEN: There really isn't anyone who denies these numbers. As Gore puts it:
GORE: The so-called skeptics look at this and they say, "So? That seems perfectly okay."
O'BRIEN: And some skeptics suggest the graph on its own does not prove a link between human production of greenhouse gases and global warming. True, perhaps, but it is only one graph, one compelling piece of circumstantial evidence.
O'BRIEN: We're looking at global warming, just the facts, and we're keeping them all honest as we look at Al Gore, his movie and those who say he didn't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
So what does the evidence show about what you think? Al Gore may be winning all kinds of awards, but a lot of Americans are not buying what he is selling. For some insights into some surprising numbers, we turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Bill, good to have you with us here.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Sure.
O'BRIEN: Let's look at the numbers, first of all. This one is a surprise. This is the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, recent one. "Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of global warming?" we asked. And here's the response. Global warming is a proven fact, mostly man-made: 56 percent. Global warming is a proven fact, mostly natural: 21 percent. And then, completely unproven: 21 percent. It's interesting when you lump those bottom two together, isn't it?
SCHNEIDER: Well, yeah, because it says only 56 percent. The top two, the top answer, rather, agree with the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is not just a fact but it's caused by people. If you don't think it's caused by people, then you probably don't think there's much people can do about it. Like the weather. Everybody talks about it; nobody does anything about it.
O'BRIEN: It's interesting because more than 90 percent of the scientists would say it is man-made and happening. And about 40 percent of Americans are still in the skeptical realm.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. They are still skeptical of that argument.
O'BRIEN: All right. Next, this is also from the same poll, CNN/Opinion Research Poll. Question, first question. "Is global warming a threat to the world?" 72 percent of you say yes, 27 percent no, but this is the interesting one to follow up on here.
O'BRIEN: The question then was: "Is it an immediate threat, an eventual threat, or not a threat?" And look at how the numbers went there. That's interesting, isn't it?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, because only 35 percent, just over a third, consider global warming an immediate threat. That's significant because our political system can deal with the problems only if people see an immediate crisis. That's the way it was designed. It was designed for weak government. If there's no overwhelming sense of public urgency, there's too many ways to block things from happening. So it's unlikely much can happen unless people sense a crisis, and the only time they've sensed it is in Hurricane Katrina, and of course then, government did not work.
O'BRIEN: We work best when our back is against the wall.
O'BRIEN: All right, listen to this. This final one is interesting. This is from a different poll organization. This is from Pew Global Attitudes, their project there. And the question, they gave people a list of worries, potential worries, and asked people if environmental problems were at the top of their list. And based on the answer, 70 percent in China say yes. All the way at the bottom is the U.S. at 37 percent. How do you explain that one?
SCHNEIDER: Well, Americans see other things as bigger problems because, of course, we're the only global superpower today. What other things did they pick higher than the environment? They pick the spread of nuclear weapons. They pick religious and ethnic hatred. Russians and Chinese worry a lot about the growing income gap between rich and poor in their fast-growing economies. People in developing countries often pick AIDS and the spread of infectious diseases as a top threat. And interestingly, people in Japan gave very high priority to the spread of nuclear weapons, and I can think of a reason why.
O'BRIEN: Yeah, for sure. Sounds like people generally think locally, not globally, right?
SCHNEIDER: Exactly right. They think locally and they think about immediate crisis.
O'BRIEN: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much for sorting through these numbers with us. We appreciate it.
O'BRIEN: What about Al Gore's record when he was in the White House? Now, you would think he and Bill Clinton would have done a lot to curb global warming. Well, think again. There was a brief moment in time when Al Gore and George Bush actually agreed on global warming. When they were running for the Oval Office in 2000, they were asked in a debate if they would promise to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Global warming needs to be taken very seriously, and I take it seriously.
O'BRIEN: But that didn't last long. Once Bush became President, his administration cooled to the concept, if you will. Vice President Cheney told CNN's John King that Bush's campaign promise to cap greenhouse emissions would hurt the U.S. economy.
DICK CHENEY: It was a mistake because we aren't in a position today to be able to do that in terms of sort of capping emissions, CO2 emissions.
O'BRIEN: And that was that. In the Bush White House, global warming became a dead issue. Government scientists who disagreed say they were censored or edited so to appear they were towing the line. The administration flatly rejected the Kyoto treaty, which holds industrialized nations to limits on greenhouse gas production. But Kyoto was an orphan before Bush left it on the world's doorstep. It languished during the Clinton/Gore years as well, even with the issue's best-known global activist a heartbeat away.
BILL CLINTON: We need a climate change on Capitol Hill on this issue, and it should not be a partisan issue.
O'BRIEN: Political considerations hindered both administrations.
DAVID HAMILTON, Sierra Club: I would say that the Bush administration has a "D" and that the Clinton administration probably got a "C plus." Either way, not very good grades. We're very far behind the curve on where we need to be on controlling global warming both in the process and the politics.
O'BRIEN: Last year, Gore told Larry King he urged Clinton to push for ratification of the treaty.
AL GORE: I have to say that it was perfectly reasonable for him to say, look, our congressional relations people tell us there is no support for it there, and I personally tried. I could only convince one senator out of all 100 to say that he or she would definitely vote to ratify.
O'BRIEN: The Senate voted 95 to nothing not to accept Kyoto's caps, and Bush has remained steadfastly opposed to mandatory regulation, insisting voluntary measures and high technology are the solution.
BUSH: These technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment. And they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.
O'BRIEN: So if you're looking for the reasons the U.S. has done little to respond to the climate crisis, you can find them on both sides of the aisle. And while nothing has been done, the problem has gotten harder to solve.
O'BRIEN: Throughout this hour, we're bringing out the points of contention with Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth." On to number seven now. The polar bears, as you well now, have become an icon of global warming, and they are literally on thin ice, but could they actually be drowning? That's what Gore says in the movie.
GORE: A new scientific study shows that, for the first time, they're finding polar bears that have actually drowned swimming long distances up to 60 miles to find the ice. And they didn't find that before.
O'BRIEN: Critics, including that British judge we've been telling you about, say there is no proof polar bears have died because of global warming. The scientific study in question says four bears died after swimming in open water in Hudson Bay through a storm. Was it the storm that killed them, as skeptics suggest, or was it climate change? Well, we do know this. They wouldn't have drowned if they were on the ice, and there is no doubt the ice there is steadily retreating, especially in places like Hudson Bay.
O'BRIEN: And we should point out at this point we've gone through all nine of those alleged inconsistencies or exaggerations brought out by that British judge in the midst of that lawsuit. But worth pointing out, that the judge said in mentioning those nine inconsistencies that the scientific substance, the facts of the science that form the basis of Gore's movie, are, in fact, correct.