"WOW," SAYS GIEG, as Al Gore struts onto the stage of The Oprah Winfrey Show. “He looks like he’s had Botox or something.”
It’s afternoon in America, and Oprah is offering her millions of viewers a class with Dr. Gore that the producers are calling Global Warming 101. I’ve asked Gieg to watch it with me.
The show turns out to be pretty much a synopsis of An Inconvenient Truth, with Gore clicking through his hyper-produced PowerPoint program and Oprah exclaiming “Wow! Wow!” with dramatic concern. To dramatize the melting of the floating ice cap at the North Pole, Gore has inserted an animated clip of a polar bear swimming desperately to a tiny ice floe that isn’t strong enough to hold him. Global warming is drowning helpless bears. Oprah thinks it’s the coolest and saddest thing in Gore’s whole movie. Gieg starts shouting:
“We don’t know that. We don’t know that! We don’t know that polar bears haven’t drowned in every interglacial period. Nobody was watching them back then.”
It’s got to be a frustrating experience, seeing a topic you’ve spent some 50 years studying turned into an Oprah episode. “I like her,” Gieg says. “She’d beat Al Gore if she ran for president.”
Then Gore clicks again to dramatic footage of a collapsing polar ice shelf. “That’s irresponsible,” Gieg says. “What he’s doing is no less than the scare tactics used by people like Karl Rove.”
Oprah says she had no idea all these terrible things were happening until she interviewed the noted authority Leonardo DiCaprio. Gore is now into his segment on the melting of glaciers and the possibility of catastrophe if Greenland goes, or parts of Antarctica. The deadly blue water seeping over the world’s great lowland cities comes onto the screen.
“Sea level is rising,” Giegengack agrees, switching off the sound. But, he explains, it’s been rising ever since warming set in 18,000 years ago. The rate of rise has been pretty slow — only about 400 feet so far. And recently — meaning in the thousands of years — the rate has slowed even more. The Earth’s global ocean level is only going up 1.8 millimeters per year. That’s less than the thickness of one nickel. For the catastrophe of flooded cities and millions of refugees that Gore envisions, sea levels would have to rise about 20 feet.
“At the present rate of sea-level rise,” Gieg says, “it’s going to take 3,500 years to get up there. So if for some reason this warming process that melts ice is cutting loose and accelerating, sea level doesn’t know it. And sea level, we think, is the best indicator of global warming.”
By now, Al Gore is taking Oprah on an anti-global-warming shopping trip, buying compact fluorescent light bulbs and programmable thermostats.
We should all buy those things, the professor says, but he’s had just about enough of Dr. Gore. “See,” Gieg says, “the thing he doesn’t mention is that there are 2.4 billion people in India and China who have launched a campaign that will increase their energy consumption by a factor of 10. No matter what we do. If we somehow cut our CO2 emissions in half, you wouldn’t be able to measure the difference because of the role played by India and China.
“It’s over. If CO2 is the problem, we’ve already lost.”