Al Gore’s claims to climate truth make no sense: no one knows 

 Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition The central premise of former US Vice President Al Gore’s climate change films is impossible. Not merely wrong or exaggerated, as many of his opponents claim, but, literally, impossible. Gore is supposedly telling us ‘truth’ about climate science. After all, his 2006 movie was entitled An Inconvenient Truth. And his film released in August of this year is called, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. But Gore does not really know the truth about the causes and consequences of climate change. Indeed no one does, not even the world’s leading experts. This is not just because the science is enormously complicated. It is also because scientific hypotheses, and even scientific theories, are not absolute truth; they can be, and often are, wrong. Science ‘facts’ are merely the current opinions of experts and, especially in the case of climate change, different experts often have very different points of view. Voltaire once said, “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” He understood how definitions direct and limit debates and ultimately control outcomes. So, we should start by clarifying what we mean by truth. Plato defined truth as something that is universal, necessary, and certain. In the climate change case, this is easy to remember: universal, necessary, and certain or UNC, which could stand for ‘United Nations Climate.’ Truth is universal in the sense that it applies everywhere. Whether you are in Athens, Sparta or on another planet, it is true. It also applies ‘everywhen,’ now, in five minutes or in a billion years. Truth is also necessary. It must be the way it is; there is no other explanation possible. It is unequivocal. And truth is certain. It is not a matter of probability. It is in the bank. Truth applies to things like mathematics or chess in which we write the rules. Two plus two equals four. That is true. The Queen can move vertically, horizontally or diagonally in a straight line around the chess board, as long as no pieces are obscuring her path. That is true. But truth never applies to our findings about nature, which are educated opinions based on scientists’ interpretations of observations. And philosophers since ancient times have recognized that observations cannot prove anything to be true. In contrast to being universal, necessary, and certain, empirical evidence is particular, contingent, and has some degree of probability. So, contrary to the confident pronouncements of climate activists, observational evidence cannot be used to prove truth. Not only are our methods of observing imperfect but we all have biases that affect how we interpret what we see. This is not a new idea. In the 17th century, English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon identified what he called four “Idols of the Mind,” ways in which our thinking is misled by inherent traits and social influences. First, Bacon had the “Idols of the Tribe,” a bias that affects everyone. This concerns our natural tendency to put more importance on positive evidence—observations that support our point of view—than on negative evidence. We also tend to look for attractive patterns in our experience, patterns that are not necessarily consistent, significant or even real. A good example in the climate change case is the conclusion that, because there is a correlation between increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) and increasing temperature in some time intervals, this supposedly proves that CO2 rise causes temperature rise. That the correlation does not apply in other time intervals is considered inconsequential by the true believer in man-made climate change. Next, Bacon spoke about the “Idols of the Cave,” specific biases that affect each of us as individuals due to our personalities, likes, and dislikes. For example, some people are convinced that industrialization is bad, so, in support of this personal hobbyhorse, they frequently see evidence that industrialization causes serious problems, even if the significance of this evidence is questionable. That the problems may have entirely different causes is often overlooked by people who are overly influenced by the Idols of the Cave. Similarly, people who are dedicated to some specific branch of learning may also fall prey to the Idols of the Cave to the extent that they interpret much of what they see in the light of their own field only. Like the chemist who sees chemistry in all things, the expert who focusses on human causes of climate change may see human causation even in environmental changes other experts regard as natural. Bacon also identified the “Idols of the Marketplace,” prejudices that come through social interactions, particularly those that are mediated through the use of language that is equivocal. Such ambiguities result in people talking past each other since they do not really understand their opponents and may use the same terms for quite different ideas. For instance, activists and the UN are often criticized for saying ‘climate change is real,’ as this statement seems so self-evident as to be useless. Climate has been changing since the origin of the atmosphere and it will continue to do so no matter what we do. So, of course, climate change is real, critics say; so is sunrise and gravity. This does not mean humanity causes them. But the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change defines the term ‘climate change’ to mean “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over considerable time periods.” So, to the promoters of the hypothesis of man-made climate change, ‘climate change is real’ is indeed meaningful. Such confusion in the use of language is one of the reasons discussions between people of differing positions on climate change often degenerate into angry arguments that accomplish nothing. Finally, Bacon identified the “Idols of the Theatre,” a tendency of people to think erroneously because of what they were taught in school. This is very prominent in the case of climate change science. Most high school, college, and university climate change courses start from a premise that science proves that human industrial activity is the primary cause of the past century’s warming and that catastrophe lies ahead if we do not change our ways. Graduates from these institutions are therefore strongly conditioned to accept academic dogma about climate change and not ask the questions that need to be asked if we are to come to a balanced understanding of the issue. Al Gore is not alone in making a serious mistake about climate ‘truths.’ Climate activists often present their opinions as truth based on settled science. In fact, the United Nations leads the way in this mistake, often labeling its science conclusions ‘unequivocal,’ in other words, statements that cannot be wrong. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report Synthesis Report, one of the most important climate change documents of the United Nations, starts, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.” Besides the fact that it is a mistake to refer to “global average air and ocean temperatures…and global average sea level” as “observations” (they are the results of statistical manipulations of thousands of observations in different places and at different times), the UN statement makes no sense philosophically. Although he supports the dangerous human-caused global warming hypothesis, Lehigh University philosophy professor Steven Goldman explained in a personal communication that the IPCC statement is flawed. It is “an attempt to persuade extra-logically,” said Goldman. “Strictly logically, no observations can lead to an ‘unequivocal’ interpretation.” David Wojick, a Virginia-based Ph.D. in the logic and philosophy of science, disagrees with Goldman about the climatic impact of human activity but agrees that the IPCC made a serious mistake in the Synthesis Report. “Reasoning from evidence is inductive logic,” said Wojick. “As for unequivocal, that is never the case in inductive logic.” Yet, in speaking about the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group I co-chair Dr Thomas Stocker asserted essentially the same again. “Warming in the climate system is unequivocal,” said Stocker. Canadian historical climatologist Dr Tim Ball calls Stocker’s statement “nonsense.” So why do more philosophers not speak out about these problems, errors that are diverting the public from properly considering the arguments presented? It may be that academics judge that acceptance of climate concerns will encourage pollution reduction, alternative energy development, conservation, increased foreign aid, and social justice, things many regard as beneficial. So they keep their opinions to themselves rather than risk impeding progressive policies. It may also be due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of philosophy professors are politically left of center and ‘stopping climate change’ is a cause liberals are expected to support. But, traditionally, liberals have usually supported skepticism and relativism. Indeed, it was the German Left who promoted Albert Einstein’s Relativity and the Right who opposed it, believing (in hindsight, correctly) that it threatened their world view. But this approach has been turned upside down in the global warming debate. While many conservatives promote open discussion about the causes of climate change, most of the Left consider this unacceptable. Like an excerpt out of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, sponsors of the California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016 even wanted some kinds of climate change skepticism made into a criminal offense. Similarly, in December 2015, activists in Canada attempted to use the federal Competition Act to curtail three groups—Friends of Science Society (Calgary), International Climate Science Coalition (Ottawa), and The Heartland Institute (Illinois)—from presenting what the complainants considered “materially false or misleading representations about climate science for the purpose of promoting business interests.” After more than a year of investigation, the Canadian federal government discontinued their inquiry. Ecojustice complained, “Now is the time we need our cops on the climate beat to be stepping up. The Competition Bureau took an encouraging first step but did not follow through.” Use of official bodies to enforce one perspective or another in science is a slippery slope. Indeed, such an approach has impeded human progress throughout history. For example, when the Greco-Egyptian writer Claudius Ptolemy proposed his Earth-centered system, he did not say it was physical astronomy, a true description of how the universe actually worked. He promoted it as mathematical astronomy, a model that worked well for astrology, astronomical observations, and creating calendars. It was the ultra-conservative Catholic Church that, relying on a literal interpretation of the Bible, promoted the Ptolemaic system as truth to be questioned at one’s peril. This was why Nicolaus Copernicus, a Canon in the Church, waited until he was on his death bed before he allowed his revolutionary book showing the Sun to be the center of the universe to be published, even though the text was completed 30 years earlier. This is also why Galileo ran into so much trouble when he claimed that the Church was wrong and that Copernicanism was the truth, a position that Galileo could not really know either. The Church eventually banned Copernicus’ book and it remained on the list of prohibited books for over two centuries. Similarly, the assumed, unquestionable truth of Sir Isaac Newton’s laws eventually acted to slow the advancement of science until Einstein showed that there were important exceptions to the laws. When authorities preach truth about science, progress stops. The greatest misinformation in the global warming debate is that we currently know, or, perhaps, even can know, the future of a natural phenomenon as complicated as climate change. University of Western Ontario professor Dr Chris Essex, an expert in climate models, lays it out clearly: “Climate is one of the most challenging open problems in modern science. Some knowledgeable scientists believe that the climate problem can never be solved.” Regardless, as demonstrated by thousands of peer-reviewed papers in leading science journals highlighted by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, there is a broad range of scientific opinion on this issue. Indeed, much of what we thought we knew about climate is now regarded as wrong or highly debatable. Albert Einstein once said, “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” It might be humorous to the gods, but the belief that we know the truth about climate change has resulted in at least one billion US dollars a day being spent on climate change mitigation. Imagine what could done with a billion more dollars a day dedicated to education, health care, cleaning up our rivers, or adapting to the inevitable natural environmental changes that lay ahead. It’s time to open up the debate about climate change, one of the most complex and costly issues of our age.

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods"


It’s time to open up the debate about climate change, one of the most complex and costly issues of our age Figure 1. Past temperatures and carbon dioxide levels show no consistent correlation in deep geologic time
Late Carboniferous to Early Permian time (315-270 million years ago) is the only time period in the last 600 million years when both atmospheric CO2 and temperatures were as low as they are today Temperature after CR Scotese CO2 after RA Berner, 2001 (GEOCARB III)