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Daily Howler: Don Easterbrook may not reed reel gudd. Ditto the Times' William Broad
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VERY BROADLY SPEAKING! Don Easterbrook may not reed reel gudd. Ditto the Times’ William Broad: // link // print // previous // next //

VERY BROADLY SPEAKING: Don Easterbrook may not reed reel gudd. Easterbook is a geology professor at Western Washington University; yesterday, he was prominently featured in William Broad’s ballyhooed New York Times piece about Al Gore and global warming. And uh-oh! At one point, we’re told that Easterbrook has “hotly disputed” something Gore says in his best-selling book, An Inconvenient Truth:
BROAD (3/13/07): In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore's claim that ''our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this'' threatened change.

Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to ''20 times greater than the warming in the past century.''
As we said, Dr. Easterbrook may not reed reel gudd. In that statement, Gore doesn’t say that our planet has never experienced such temperature shifts; instead, he speaks of “our civilization.” Many of you will see the difference in the problems encompassed by those different statements. (For Gore’s fuller text, see below.) So how about it? Has our civilization ever experienced environmental shifts like the shift which Gore is projecting? We’re told that Easterbrook offered data dating back 15,000 years—but many of those data would presumably predate our civilization (see Gore’s text). True, that medieval warm period which Broad highlights certainly could contradict Gore’s statement. But uh-oh! Gore had addressed that point long before Easterbrook gave his hot speech! Gore writes this in his book:
GORE (page 64): The correlation between temperature and CO2 concentrations over the last 1,000 years—as measured in the ice core recorded by [Lonnie] Thompson’s team—is striking.

Nonetheless, the so-called global-warming skeptics often say that global warming is really an illusion reflecting nature’s cyclical fluctuations. To support their view, they frequently refer to the Medieval Warm Period.

But, as Dr. Thompson’s thermometer shows, the vaunted Medieval Warm Period (the third little red blip from the left, below) was tiny compared to the enormous increases in temperature of the last half-century (the red peaks at the far right of the chart).
To see the chart, go buy the book. But as you can see, Gore discusses this standard objection in the pages of his well-known book (and in Davis Guggenheim’s film). Gore’s book and film came out months before Easterbrook flashed his own slide show.

But you wouldn’t know any of that from reading Broad’s lengthy report, which appeared in our most famous newspaper. Instead, Broad seems to play dumb in this passage, as he does elsewhere in his piece. He quotes Easterbrook “hotly disputing” Gore’s statement—without noting that many of Easterbrook’s data have nothing to do with Gore’s actual claim. And he fails to evaluate Gore’s pre-rebuttal to the part of the claim which is actually relevant. Indeed, he even fails to tell Times readers that Gore pre-answered this standard objection! But so it goes when our Pulitzer winners sit down for their long, detailed think jobs.

In principle, Broad’s report is extremely important. It’s important for us to know the truth about warming science; it’s important to know the degree to which Gore’s book and film are right (or wrong). For those reasons, Broad could have performed a valuable service with his lengthy report in the Times. But his work is hapless, spotty, inept—a problem which we will explore in the next several days.

Are there serious flaws in Gore’s presentation? If so, what might those problem be? For our money, Broad hasn’t been very helpful—except, in a fully predictable way, to those who enjoy spinning Gore. Last night, for example, a professor who may not reed reel gudd got his fifteen minutes on cable, engaging in inane discussions with such scholars as Tucker and Sean. (The professor may know what he’s talking about. The inanity came from his hosts.) Last summer, the first of these lads was laughing and bragging about not having bothered to see Gore’s film (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/13/06). Last night, though, in his best inane way, he lectured us about the things crazy Gore has (supposedly) said.

Of course, anyone would have known that this clowning would occur when they put Broad’s flawed piece into print.

That professor may not reed reel gudd. But then, we’re not sure that Broad does either. For most citizens, this thought would likely be counterintuitive. But then, until we help them understand the problems of our mainstream “press corps,” they will never understand their age—this age of the press Antoinettes.

GORE’S FULLER STATEMENT: From his book, here is Gore’s fuller statement about what “our civilization” has experienced:
GORE (page 149): The average temperature worldwide is about 58 degrees F.

An increase of five degrees actually means an increase of only one or two degrees at the Equator, but more than 12 degrees at the North Pole, and a large increase on the periphery of Antarctica as well...

Our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this. Today's climate pattern has existed throughout the entire history of human civilization.

Every place—every city, every farm—is located or has been developed on the basis of the same climate patterns we have always known.
In that passage, Gore isn’t discussing changes which may have happened 15,000 years in the past. He is saying that our current civilization presumes a climate pattern which may change in this century. Eighty-five pages earlier, he has already said, correctly or otherwise, that the Medieval Warm Period doesn’t compare with the changes which may come.

Is he right about that? We don’t know. But Broad does a truly horrible job in sorting out Easterbrook’s hot dispute—and in evaluating the pre-rebuttal which Gore had already offered last year. Indeed, readers of the New York Times don’t even know that Gore has addressed this specific complaint! But in this very puzzling age, so it goes when our Pulitzer winners type their lengthy reports.

A STASI-BOY’S QUESTION: Poor Tucker! Last night, he asked Easterbook about the very point we’ve discussed. And omigod! Despite his failure to throw out the chaff, he provoked a clarification:

CARLSON (3/13/07): You make the point in the New York Times today that Gore`s contention that we’ve never seen a climate shift like this ever in history is false, and, in fact, there have been lots of changes in climates down through the millennia. Can you explain that?

EASTERBROOK: That’s very true. We have excellent data from the Greenland Ice Core, and what we do is measure isotopes that leave a climatic fingerprint, and they show conclusively that at least ten times in the last 15,000 years, we have had climate changes that are more pronounced than what we`ve seen in the last century, and in fact, about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, they were 20 times as great as what we are seeing now.
Oh! So those really big changes fall well outside the time period Gore was discussing! Somehow, Broad managed to miss that point. Maybe the glint off his Pulitzer Prizes kept him from seeing it.

IN FAIRNESS TO THE PROFESSOR: In fairness to Easterbrook, here’s an exchange with Alan Colmes about his outlook on Gore:
COLMES (3/13/07): Joining us now is an emeritus professor of geology at West Washington University, Don Easterbrook.

A lot of people are using this as a way to hit Al Gore over the head and ridicule him, because they don't think that he's on the right. So it is an inconvenient truth, because Gore continues to be ridiculed. And you're one of the people, professor, who seems to question him.

EASTERBROOK: I would question the conclusion. I certainly don't ridicule him. I have the greatest respect for Al Gore, and I commend him for his attempts to clean up the atmosphere. It needs to be done.

But I don't agree with some of the inaccuracies that are both in the film and the book. And that some of the things that he alleges are incongruent with logical facts.
More tomorrow on Broad’s attempts to get at those “logical facts.” It’s important to sort out the science of warming. How well did our great paper do it?