Muller Misinformation #3: Al Gore and polar bears

Many thanks to Brad Johnson for allowing SkS to repost an amended version of a ThinkProgress post.

In previous posts, we've looked at how Dr. Richard Muller confuses "Mike's trick" with "hide the decline" and how he falsely claims the "decline" data was leaked rather than publicly released. Muller also provides misinformation regarding Vice President Al Gore, whom he calls an “extremist” and “alarmist.” In a recent lecture at the University of California at Berkeley, Muller claimed that Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was lambasted by esteemed climate scientist Dr. Ralph Cicerone, the head of the National Academy of Sciences:

Al Gore, when he talks about the polar bears being killed by the receding glaciers, no basis for that. In fact, let me jump ahead and tell a little story. Ralph Cicerone, head of the National Academy, said there are lots of things wrong in his movie, and Al Gore asked him to come and explain this to him, and he did come. And he said, “Well, what’s wrong with my movie?”

“Well, lots of things, like the polar bears. We track polar bears. Not a single polar bear has died because of retreating ice.”

And Al Gore turned to his movie producer and said, “So, why did we put that in?” The movie producer said, “Well, it really gets people emotionally involved.”

See, this is what politicians do. They put in things that they consider a real danger that represents what they consider to be reality. Doesn’t matter if it’s technically true or not. So, there’s so much misinformation on this field. Global warming is real. I am deeply concerned about it. I am leading a major study on global warming. But most of what made the newspaper headlines is either wrong, or backward, or simply exaggerated.

Muller’s story is not “technically true.” In fact, it’s false. The meeting between Gore and Cicerone that Muller describes is apocryphal. A fiction.

After I queried Cicerone’s office, Bill Skane, the Executive Director of News & Public Information for the National Academy of Sciences explained in an email that the supposed conversation never took place:

There was no meeting or conversation between Dr. Cicerone and Vice President Gore or his film producer regarding An Inconvenient Truth and thus no comment about polar bears. We’ve contacted Dr. Muller today about his speech and are hoping to hear back from him.

“Thanks for taking the time to check this material before using it in something you might write,” Skane concluded. “Dr. Muller’s remarks regarding Dr. Cicerone were in error.”

Gore’s spokesperson Kalee Kreider confirmed to me that the Cicerone-Gore confrontation was a fantasy.

Not only did the conversation not take place, Muller’s depiction of An Inconvenient Truth was false as well. Here’s the transcript of what Gore actually said about polar bears in his documentary, which was released in 2006:

Right now, the Arctic ice cap acts like a giant mirror, all the sun’s rays bounce off, more than 90%. It keeps the Earth cooler, but as it melts, and the open ocean receives that sun’s energy instead, more than 90% is absorbed, so there is a faster buildup of heat here, at the North Pole, in the Arctic Ocean, and the Arctic generally than anywhere else on the planet. That’s not good for creatures like polar bears, who depend on the ice. They’re now, actually, looking for other ecological niches. It is sad what’s going on in the Arctic ecosystem.

Unsurprisingly, Cicerone said essentially the same thing a year before Gore’s documentary came out, in testimony before the U.S. Senate:

The Arctic has warmed at a faster rate than the Northern Hemisphere over the past century. A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (2004) reports that this warming is associated with a number of impacts including: melting of sea ice, which has important impacts on biological systems such as polar bears, ice-dependent seals and local people for whom these animals are a source of food; increased rain and snow, leading to changes in river discharge and tundra vegetation; and degradation of the permafrost.

Both Gore and Cicerone’s statements succinctly summarized the known science on the radical changes of the Arctic ecosystem and the threat to polar bears. In the Hudson Bay, for example, where sea ice breaks up three weeks earlier than it did in 1980, the average weight of female polar bears had dropped by about 21 percent, and the population declined by 22 percent, by 2004.

Since An Inconvenient Truth, the situation has grown increasingly dire for the Arctic. The rate of Arctic sea ice decline has increased precipitously, from a decline of 8.6 percent per decade to 11.5 percent per decade. In 2005, five of 19 polar bear subpopulations were known to be in decline (5 stable, 2 increasing, 7 unknown); by 2009, eight of the 19 subpopulations were known to be in decline (3 stable, one increasing, 7 unknown).

Posted by Brad Johnson on Sunday, 17 April, 2011

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