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Anatomy of an Apocalypse, Or: Al Gore Flunks Logic (and the Polygraph)

Back when Al Gore was running for President, Mark Steyn described him as our first alien candidate. Mark wasn't expressing doubt about Gore's native country. He wasn't a birther avant la lettre. Rather, he was expressing doubt about Al Gore's manner -- weirdness incarnate -- and, ultimately, his sanity.

The presidential election of 2000 seems awfully long ago, more, somehow, than the 9 years it's actually been. A lot has happened in the world. Yet time cannot wither nor custom stale Al Gore's infinite monotony. Back in 2000 he was hectoring us about the environment. In the interim, he has just kept hectoring on.

Most people, having absorbed the climate data, have quietly stopped talking about global warming. Instead, they now warn about climate change. Why? Because it seemed every time someone would organize a conference to bemoan the dangers of global warming, the event would get snowed out. So most politicians have given up on "warming" and have embraced "change." More nebulous but somehow less embarrassing.

Not Al. A couple of days ago, John Dickerson interviewed the former vice-president on Slate. Students of mendacity and political opportunism (they are not necessarily the same thing) will want to study this document. It is a classic. It neatly balances, as does Al himself, the apocalyptic and the monotonous. Why, Dickerson asks, does the Copenhagen Climate Summit matter? You know and I know, Dear Reader, that it matters because it is a stepping stone in a plan to transfer wealth from rich countries to poor ones. But Al understands that what is wanted in response to such a question is not truth but emotion:

We face the gravest threat that civilization has ever confronted, the former vice-president begins.

It's global in nature and requires a global solution. Increased CO2 emissions anywhere, whether from China or the United States or from one of the countries that is burning its forests like Brazil or Indonesia from wherever the emissions come, they have the same effect: They trap much more heat from the sun, melt the ice, raise the sea level, cause stronger storms, floods, drought, bigger fires, generate millions of climate refugees, destabilize political systems, threaten the growing of food crops and cause a number of other catastrophic consequences which, taken together, threaten the basis for the future of human civilization on the Earth.

Gosh. Floods. And drought. And bigger fires. Millions of refugees. Political destabilization. Famine. And, just in case he's left anything out, a number of other "catastrophic consequences."

Now, what's wrong with this picture -- apart, I mean, from the tone of hysteria? Part of the problem is that Al Gore is -- how to put this? -- fibbing. The basic facts about climate, he says, are incontrovertible. "Incontrovertible" means "known for certain," "beyond dispute." But when it comes the effect of human activity on the weather, almost everything is controvertible. Addressing the growing number of skeptics, Gore presents a few questions that he assumes will dispose of the matter once and for all:

What do they think happens when we put 90 million tons up there every day? Is there some magic wand they can wave on it and presto! physics is overturned and carbon dioxide doesn't trap heat anymore? And when we see all these things happening on the Earth itself, what in the hell do they think is causing it?

All these things? Like what, Al? Like the fact that the temperature over the last decade has not cooperated with the predictions of climate hysterics like Gore? No, he leaves all that to one side. What he does here is move from a elemental physical fact -- that CO2 traps heat -- to a wild extrapolation about the climate system as a whole.