The fatuous new special-effects extravaganza The Day After Tomorrow (which, judging from the plot summaries so far released might just as well have been called Love in a Cold Climate) seems to have spurred Al Gore to think he's Roger Ebert. Ignoring both the movie's offenses against the laws of physics and the fact that it will simply make Rupert Murdoch (owner of the distributor Twentieth Century Fox) richer, the former vice president has called on Americans to see the film.
Al's reasoning is not that he's been bought by Murdoch (he's actually working with MoveOn.org, financed by another billionaire, George Soros) but that he's terribly worried about the potential damaging effects of climate change. He claimed that there would be "more vulnerability to tropical diseases like dengue fever and malaria in higher latitudes, rising sea levels and areas threatened by storm surges that have not been in the past." All of these are terrible consequences if true. But, the trouble is, the scientific evidence for these effects just isn't there.
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In fact, the Cooler Heads Coalition recently held a policy briefing on Capitol Hill at which world-renowned scientists addressed the misinformation in each of these areas. Paul Reiter of the Institut Pasteur in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Paris and formerly of the CDC, for instance, is probably the world's leading expert on mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever. He told the audience that it is a misnomer to call dengue and malaria tropical diseases. In fact, they have historically been present at high latitudes. In a malaria epidemic in the Soviet Union in the twenties, for instance, there were 30,000 cases recorded in the frozen port of Arkhangelsk, which at about 64° N. is further north than the tip of Greenland.
Indeed, malaria was present along much of the east coast of America in 1882, and was still fairly widespread in the South as recently as 1935 (which is why the CDC is headquartered in Atlanta). Reiter pointed out that there are many factors involved in the reappearance of these diseases in areas where they had been wiped out, and that climate is rarely relevant. We should, therefore, be tackling the diseases instead of trying to change the weather, as Al Gore would have us do.
As for sea-level rise, Nils-Axel Morner of Stockholm University, past president of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution, pointed out that much of what has been assumed about sea-level rise is not backed up by the evidence. Satellite measures, for instance, show no change in sea level over the past decade, which has led him to write in a peer-reviewed journal, "This implies that there is no fear of any massive future flooding as claimed in most global warming scenarios." Much of the supposed rise, it seems, has actually been a shifting of the amount of water from one area of the globe to another.
Nor is Professor Morner worried about island nations drowning. He and his team visited the Maldives, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says are at risk from sea-level rise. He found considerable evidence that the sea level around the islands has fallen over the past 30 years, and that the islands and their people had survived much higher sea levels in the past.
As for the extreme weather events that can cause storm surges and which form a big part of the movie, there is no comfort for Al Gore even there. Madhav Khandekar, recently retired after 25 years with Environment Canada, is an expert on extreme weather events and edited a special issue of the International Journal of Natural Hazards on the subject last year. He told the audience that extreme weather events as defined by the IPCC are not increasing anywhere in North America at this point in time. Nor, based on available studies, does there appear to be any increasing trend in extreme weather events elsewhere. Finally, in his judgment, the likelihood of increased incidences of extreme weather events in the next ten to 25 years remains very small at this time.
The presenters on the panel were generally scathing about the quality of the science produced by the IPCC, which is where people like Al Gore get their line that there is a scientific consensus that the world has to act over global warming. For instance, Prof. Reiter revealed that, before the publication of their first paper linking vector-borne (i.e., mosquito-transmitted) diseases to global warming, the lead authors of the IPCC chapter on the subject had published a grand total of six papers on the diseases. The three leading critics of the chapter, including Prof. Reiter, had published over 550. Prof. Morner has written that the IPCC chapter on sea-level rise represented "a low and unacceptable standard. It should be totally rewritten by a totally new group of authors chosen among the group of true sea-level specialists."
These people know what they're talking about, unlike Al Gore. He doesn't even fare well as a movie critic. Nature reported this week that, at a preview screening of The Day After Tomorrow, the "hammier sections of the film's dialogue" were met with "derisive laughter." On the day after The Day After Tomorrow's release, the cinemas may well be empty.