Next month is the thirtieth anniversary of the most entertaining and damning chapter in Al Gore’s career.
By the mid-nineteenth century, our knowledge of atmospheric chemistry was sufficiently advanced for a few sharp minds to ponder whether an increase in carbon dioxide might increase global temperature. The speculation remained entirely theoretical until 1957 when an international collaboration of top geophysicists — including the Soviets — used buoys, weather balloons and so forth to collect data. The undertaking was led by Dr Roger Revelle then based at California’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Today’s global warming debate is hyper-partisan but all agree Revelle’s standing is impeccable.
Before this research, many assumed the ocean was absorbing most of the increase in carbon dioxide caused by industrialisation. Revelle’s data, however, indicated only half was. So what was happening to the other half? Would the planet soon overheat?
The question dominated Revelle’s career and for much of that time he was inclined to think it would. Revelle shared his concern with decision-makers in DC and the press. In late 1957 a newspaper report on Revelle’s research was the first to use the term ‘global warming.’ Revelle focus however was getting more data and understanding it better.
In the 1960s Revelle was teaching at Harvard and shared with students his interest in the global warming theory. At the same time and on the same campus, Al Gore was studying political science but took one course on real science. Fatefully, that was Revelle’s. Gore put that little global warming package in his knapsack.
Two decades later in 1988, Gore ran in the Democratic presidential primary. That campaign now is largely scrubbed from the internet, but the published biographies are clear – he was pro-guns, life, school prayer, tobacco and Jesus. It was a searing experience. Gore came third but only because he took so long to drop out. The party base was cranky with Gore. African Americans accused him of racist tactics in the campaign. Gore needed a make-over. His party had moved sharply left. So would he.
A few short months after the 1988 debacle, Gore wrote a column in The Washington Post about global warming. Communism was imploding and the left needed a new cause. Global warming it was and Gore its champion.
Gore’s lack of scientific credibility was papered over with his effective pitch he was to Revelle what St Paul was to Christ – the mass communicator of a sacred message. Thanks mostly to Gore, global warming was now no longer a debate confined to academia. The evening news was reporting it as an imminent apocalyptic certainty without radical government action.
This publicity however made Revelle uncomfortable. After studying the data for decades his doubts had grown.
Five years before Gore’s hijacking of the cause, Revelle gave a published interview stating, “I estimate the total increase [in carbon dixoide] over the past hundred years has been about 21 per cent. But whether the increase will lead to a significant rise in global temperature, we can’t absolutely say. People are always saying the weather’s getting worse. Actually, the carbon dioxide increase is predicted to temper weather extremes.”
In 1988 Revelle wrote to two left-wing congressmen who were making noise about global warming. Revelle cautioned, “we should be careful not to arouse too much alarm until the rate and amount of warming becomes clearer. Most scientists familiar with the subject are not yet willing to bet that the climate this year is the result of ‘greenhouse warming.” Climate is highly variable and the causes of these variations are not at all well understood.”
Let’s be clear. Revelle in the 1980s did not reject the global warming thesis. Far from it. In 1991 President Bush bestowed on Revelle the National Medal of Science and Revelle said he received it for being the “grandfather of global warming.” But what’s also clear is there was a widening gap between Revelle’s doubt and Gore’s certainty. Revelle was clearly uncomfortable with apocalyptic forecasts and radical solutions, i.e. Gore-ism.
Revelle’s evolving position was laid bare in what would be his final testament. In April 1991 Revelle and two other eminent scientists published a paper in Cosmos entitled, What to Do About Greenhouse Warning: Look Before you Leap. They asked “would it be more prudent to assure first, through scientific research, that the problem is both real and urgent? The scientific basis for greenhouse warming includes some facts, lots of uncertainty and just plain lack of knowledge requiring more observations, better theories and more extensive calculations.” This fits with Revelle’s evolving position over the past decade.
Gore’s elevation of Revelle was the essential ingredient in turning around his political fortunes so this Cosmos paper was kryptonite. The co-authors expected a public reaction but it was greeted with silence. Revelle sadly died of a heart-attack three months later and a year after that Gore was so rehabilitated he was short-listed to be candidate Bill Clinton’s VP pick.
The press still hadn’t reported Revelle’s nuanced position but Gore must have guessed if he were on a presidential ticket it would surface. So he doubled down and published a book, Earth in the Balance and misrepresented Revelle’s position as being the same as his: the science is settled and it’s going to be bad. Days after publication Clinton named Gore his running mate and so the press were hungry for Gore content. Revelle’s final testament was soon big news and a big problem for Gore.
During the VP debate, Gore was asked, “your mentor had disagreed with some of the scientific data in your book. How do you respond to those criticisms?” Pinocchio responded, “You’re talking about Roger Revelle. His family wrote a lengthy letter saying how terribly he had been misquoted and had his remarks taken completely out of context.”
One of Revelle’s co-authors of the contentious paper was Professor Fred Singer. Since the 1940s Singer had been one of America’s most eminent environmental scientists. When the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, Singer was appointed one of its top officials. During the intensity of the presidential election, Singer was contacted by a Justin Lancaster who had been a junior assistant of Revelle’s in his final years. Singer, on the other hand, had been a peer, close colleague and friend of Revelle’s since 1957. Lancaster demanded Singer remove Revelle’s name from paper. A shocked Singer said no, as did the journal Cosmos.
Lancaster then went public with claims Revelle was not a co-author, disagreed with the content and Singer had exploited Revelle in his dotage. A senior Gore staffer said the same thing. Singer requested they retract. Foolishly they refused. In April 1993 Singer sued for libel and that gave his legal team the right to review Lancaster’s private communications etc. The public soon learnt many things – all appalling.
Surprise, surprise Gore himself had phoned Lancaster shortly after publication to grill him on Revelle’s mental state when he wrote the paper. Never did it factor into Gore’s thinking that it was good news Revelle had doubts about an apocalypse. Initially Lancaster was honest telling Gore, “Revelle was mentally sharp to the end” and “not casual about his integrity” and that Revelle had shown Lancaster a draft and said he “felt it was honest to admit the uncertainties about greenhouse warming.”
Something happened between Lancaster’s initial candid feedback to Gore and subsequent events (obviously unrelated, it would later be on the public record that Lancaster was funded by cashed-up environmental groups). Out of public view, Lancaster was soon ‘thick as thieves’ with Team Gore. Lancaster had written an academic paper claiming Revelle was not the author but the libel case revealed Gore’s staff had re-written that paper seven times! It’s not science if political staff write it.
Remember in the VP debate when Gore claimed Revelle’s family was not a co-author? The court found, “no member of Dr. Revelle’s family or his scientific colleagues expressed complaints, second thoughts, or any other negative views about the article, and no member of the family ever requested that Dr. Revelle’s name be taken off the Cosmos article.” Revelle’s daughter published a letter in the Washington Post three months after the controversy erupted. She was annoyed a columnist implied Revelle had recanted the global warming thesis. That was false and she rightly corrected the record but in doing so confirmed her dad was indeed the author — she quotes it in her opening paragraph.
During the libel case Singer produced handwritten edits to the final draft by Revelle along with testimonials from colleagues attesting to his co-authorship. The third co-author Dr Chauncey Starr testified, “The very last changes were made by Revelle … he was actively engaged, and that whatever appeared in that article, he agreed with.”
It would get worse. During the trial, Gore (now VP) phoned Ted Koppel pitching that ABC’s Nightline investigate, not Singer’s science, but who was funding him. Koppel did a story but not what Gore had in mind. Koppel told his primetime audience “Gore was resorting to political means to achieve what should ultimately be resolved on a purely scientific basis.” Ouch!
It was now a train wreck. Some speculated Clinton might need a new VP. Gore quickly cut his losses and so soon after Lancaster surrendered in the libel case. On 29 April 1994 under sworn oath Lancaster stated: “I retract as being unwarranted any and all statements, oral or written, I have made which state or imply that Professor Revelle was not a true and voluntary co-author of the Cosmos article, or which in any other way impugn or malign the conduct or motives of Professor Singer with regard to the Cosmos article (including but not limited to its drafting, editing, publication, republication, and circulation). I agree not to make any such statements in future. I apologize to Professor Singer.”
For the remainder of Gore’s vice presidency global warming was barely mentioned. As a presidential candidate in 2000 Gore spoke for an hour when accepting his party’s nomination. The speech was packed with policy but poor little global warming only got one short sentence and was merely a ‘silent threat.’ Gone was the fire and brimstone from a decade earlier.
After losing the Florida Recount, Gore laid low for a while but global warming had rescued him once and, by God, it would do so again.
In 2006 the second crusade was launched via a new book — An Inconvenient Truth — which was turned into a movie followed by an academy award, a Nobel prize, sainthood and a tonne of cash. By now Gore could get away with anything so he tripled down on the Revelle irritation.
In the movie, Gore says, “my life has been changed by Revelle’s prescient investigation, his wisdom, his dogged clarion call to pay attention to solid scientific facts.” The film claims Revelle believed the science was settled almost immediately after the data collection began in 1957. A bald-faced big lie. Gore is vague but creates the impression he and Revelle were close but (1) there are no photos of them together, (2) Revelle’s final testimony was critical of Gore’s position, and (3) Gore worked deviously to alter Revelle’s position.
Two months after publication of An Inconvenient Truth, Lancaster ‘retracted’ his 1994 apology but does admit Revelle contributed to the paper. In his ‘retraction’ Lancaster simply ignores all the damning evidence the earlier legal case brought to light. Two of the co-authors were now dead and the third was frail and in his 80s. Lancaster knew the media wouldn’t bother investigating – in 2006 they lacked the impartiality demonstrated by Koppel in 1994. Anyway if litigation recommenced Lancaster must have known there was so much climate money sloshing around someone would fund an eternal defence. Since then the internet has no mention of Lancaster – it’s as though he got what was needed on the record and ran away because so many questions have no good answers. Gore however knows if he’s ever quizzed about Revelle’s final testimony he can play the ‘2006 retraction card’ but any fair-minded person knows that Gore’s guru rejected Gore-ism.
Emeritus Professor Ian Plimer is the author of Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – The Missing Science. John Ruddick is a former candidate for the federal presidency of the Liberal Party of Australia.
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