Koch-funded scientist Richard Muller makes up story about Al Gore, Ralph Cicerone, and polar bears
Berkeley Professor Richard Muller, author of widely debunked books, has worked hard to undermine credibility in well-established science and doesn’t have a great grasp of basic climate science (see here) or energy (see “here).
Now, as we’ll see, he has become such a victim of Gore Derangement Syndrome that he fabricated a story about the Nobel prize-winning vice president and a leading scientist. He also gratuitously smears Tom Friedman.
Laughably, Muller launched the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study to supposedly restore credibility in the global surface temperature dataset, but he has done everything possible to destroy BEST’s credibility, along with his own. He has taken money from Charles Koch, the leading funder of climate science denial, created a massive conflict of interest with his family business, allowed hard-core climate science deniers access to BEST’s work product, and apparently even allowed them to work with the team.
In some sense this is too bad because, as Muller revealed in a public talk last week, BEST’s results to date show “We are seeing substantial global warming” and “None of the effects raised by the [skeptics] is going to have anything more than a marginal effect on the amount of global warming.”
Muller, clearly, isn’t a denier like Koch. But he does share one thing in common with Koch — Gore Derangement Syndrome — and it has driven him to a libelous fabrication, two libels, actually. Brad Johnson has the story of just how far Muller will go to smear Gore:
Unlike Koch, Muller recognizes that fossil fuel pollution is threatening civilization, Muller argues that existing climate policy is corrupt and misguided, and that many leading climate scientists are guilty of academic fraud — just as Koch argues. “With the uncertainty and the politicization of the science so far,” Charles Koch told the Weekly Standard, “to go spend trillions of dollars a year changing the whole world economy to satisfy something this uncertain, because you have some religious zealots like Al Gore going around preaching this—it doesn’t make sense.”
As with Koch, a particular target of Muller’s righteous scorn is Vice President Al Gore, whom he calls an “extremist” and “alarmist.” In a recent lecture at the University of California at Berkeley, Muller told an anecdote to support his personal attacks on Gore. 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. A lie.
After ThinkProgress 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 ThinkProgress 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 He
misphere 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).
Muller is testifying before the House science committee on climate science and policy this Thursday.
Let me add that I spoke to Gore’s office and indeed they confirm they everything Muller said in that clip was a fantasy. Indeed, they pointed out that everything else Muller says in his entire talk about Gore is false.
First, though, it bears repeating (pun intended?), that as the NYT’s Revkin blogged in 2009, “There is rising concern among polar bear biologists that the big recent summertime retreats of sea ice in the Arctic are already harming some populations of these seal-hunting predators. That was one conclusion of the Polar Bear Specialist Group, a network of bear experts who met last week in Copenhagen to review the latest data….”
If you watch Muller’s entire talk last Saturday, (which I don’t recommend without multiple head vises), it’s clear that Muller is a volcano of long-debunked denier talking points and misinformation. I promised to re-debunk him later, and that is a project that will take a number of posts. But here is what Kalee Kreider wrote me:
-With regards to the Kyoto Protocol, Dr. Muller mis-stated VP Gore’s position on the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol was based upon international precedent that was established by the Montreal Protocol (a treaty designed to reduce and ultimately eliminate the chemicals that cause ozone depletion). The Montreal Protocol was designed to allow the industrialized countries to take the first steps while phasing in (generally within a ten year time period) participation by developing countries. Former VP Gore supported the Kyoto Protocol based, as it was, on the Montreal Protocol because it had been so successful in cutting ozone-depleting chemicals and protecting human health and the environment.
-With regards to the movie:
At the time that An Inconvenient Truth was published, several independent sources sought to verify the scientific integrity of the film. I have included them below for your reference:
Associated Press story
http://www.usatoday.com/ tech/ science/ 2006-06-27-gore-science-truth_x.htm
Real Climate review
http://www.realclimate.org/ index.php/ archives/ 2007/ 10/ convenient-untruths/
To address some of the specific issues:
-Polar bears. Professor Muller mis-states what VP Gore has said about polar bears [discussed above]
There were a variety of sources for this section including the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.
“The survival of polar bears as a species is difficult to envisage under conditions of zero summer sea-ice cover,” concludes the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, by leading scientists from the eight Arctic nations, including the United States.
-Glacial retreat/Kilimanjaro. Former Vice President Gore cited the work of Professor Lonnie Thompson (National Medal of Science winner) and other on Kilimanjaro—in the movie and in other talks. Their work was published in the journal Science in 2002. The glacial retreat science is very well established by the NAS, IPCC, and other studies. As Dr. Thompson said recently, “The real message here is that these ice fields will disappear. Whether it is in 10 years or 30 years is not the issue. The fact they will disappear within a few decades, as will many glaciers throughout the tropics, is the real concern,” he said.
-Hurricane science—In An Inconvenient Truth VP Gore said:
“So the temperature increases are taking place all over the world including in the oceans. This is the natural range of variability for temperature in the oceans, you know people say, “oh it’s just natural, it goes up and down, so don’t worry about it.” This is the range that would be expected over the last 60 years. But scientists who specialize in global warming have computer models that long ago predicted this range of temperature increase. Now I’m gonna show you recently released, the actual ocean temperatures. And of course, when the oceans get warmer, that causes stronger storms.”
Former VP Gore did not address the link between climate change, hurricanes and frequency in the film.
-Professor Muller mis-states VP Gore with regards to SLR [sea level rise]. VP Gore has cited SLR estimates if the Greenland ice sheet were to collapse (without giving a time frame) or the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet. He makes clear in the movie what the animations are based upon.
“Tony Blair’s scientific advisor has said that because of what’s happening in Greenland right now, the maps of the world will have to be redrawn. If Greenland broke up and melted, or if half of Greenland and half of West Antarctica broke up and melted, this is what would happen to the sea level in Florida.”
He then went on to show other sea level rise animations in the film.
-An Inconvenient Truth did not include a discussion of wildfires. It did include a short discussion of beetle infestations in the West. It was difficult from the video to determine the charts he was using. In general, the IPCC and other major research institutions have cited a link between climate change and wildfires for many years. This research is going on in the US (Westerling et al.) and many other p
arts of the world CSIRO, etc.
See “Climate change expected to sharply increase Western wildfire burn area — as much as 175% by the 2050s.” Even the National Academy of Science accepts that (click here).
Finally, Dr. Muller cites a conversation between VP Gore and the producers of An Inconvenient Truth about the content of the film that did not take place. Dr. Muller was not one of the film’s science advisers.
Anyone who knows the vice president knows that he spends a great deal of time talking to leading climate scientists and reviewing the literature. He is exceedingly careful in how he uses language in the film, despite the best efforts of others to smear him (see Unstaining Al Gore’s good name 2: He is not “guilty of inaccuracies and overstatements” and is owed a correction and apology by the New York Times and UPDATED: Gore Derangement Syndrome).
If you zoom to the end of Muller’s talk, at one hour, 20 minutes, you’ll find this doubly libelous quote:
Al Gore and Tom Friedman … don’t pay attention to the science, as the example with the polar bears illustrates.
The fabrications about Gore have been debunked, and I don’t even know what the basis of his lie about Friedman is. They both pay a great deal of attention to the science.l
The bottom line is that “the example with the polar bear” illustrates that Richard Muller doesn’t pay attention to the science and that he is a liar.