Friday, August 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

A nice man, a lovely family, and an inconvenient truth.

Over the weekend I went to see "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's global warming documentary. I found the movie extremely well done and not boring. This is a recommended movie, and it is certainly better than most of the pap offered up on the Silver Screen.

Having just given the movie "two thumbs up," however, let me say that there are a few "inconvenient truths" that Al Gore has left out of his documentary.

At the beginning of the movie, Al Gore tells us he has been following global warming issues since he was in college. Me too, and oddly enough for the same reason.

Al Gore was a student of Roger Revelle's at Harvard. It was Revelle who designed some of the first experiments and theories underpinning the nascent science of global climate change.

It so happens that my father was head of the climatology program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and worked closely with Revelle. In fact, I think my father may have written the first New York Times editorial ever written on global warming.

When Al Gore first met Roger Revelle back in 1966, Revelle was Director of the Center for Population Studies at Harvard -- a position he held from 1964 to 1976.

Gore manages to tell us quite a bit about Roger Revelle and his own youthful conversion to environmental causes without ever mentioning Revelle's demographic concerns, or the size of the Gore nuclear family.

In fact, I would argue this is not an accident. Population growth is an "inconvenient truth" -- the one that underpins global warming, and one that is particularly inconvenient for Al Gore as he tell us his global warming jeremiad.

You see, Al Gore has four children. Think about that for a minute.

If the average woman in the world followed Al Gore's lead, the population of the world would double every 25 years -- FOREVER.

Al and Tipper Gore chose to have more children than the average woman is having today in India, China, Zimbabwe, South Africa, El Salvador, Jamaica, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam or the Philippines -- to randomly pick from a few of the less developed countries from around the globe.

Al Gore had a choice to make when it came to having a family. He could have had no children. Or one child. He could have chosen to stop at two. He could have built his family through adoption or stopped at three kids. Instead, Al and Tipper Gore chose to double the human load they put on this planet.

It's not like Al and Tipper did not have access to health care and a diverse array of family planning options. Al and Tipper had more information about, and better access to, contraception than almost anyone else on the planet.

It's not like Al and Tipper Gore did not know better. Al and Tipper were married in 1970, at a time when Paul Ehrlich's book "The Population Bomb" was a national best seller, and when the speed of both world and U.S. population growth were core messages of the first Earth Day.

And yet Al Gore ignored it all. Al and Tipper had their first child in 1973, their second in 1977, their third in 1979, their fourth in 1982.

Let's put this story in numerical context. When Al Gore was listening to Roger Revelle at Harvard in 1966, the population of the world was 3 billion. Today it is over 6.2 billion people, and it will be over 12 billion by 2033 if the world follows the Gore model for family planning.

Gore's discussion of global warming shies away from causation. It is an odd but true fact that this very smart man has made an entire movie about global warming and greenhouse gases without once saying where those gases come from.

There's a reason for that. The inconvenient truth is that the world is NOT producing more greenhouse gases per person than it did in 1830 when the world had 1 billion people. Nor is it producing more greenhouses gases per capita than it did in 1930 when the world had 2 billion people.

The inconvenient truth is that the world is producing about the same or less greenhouses gases per person today that it did 50 or 100 years ago. People forget that horses produced serious amounts of greenhouse gases (methane) and so too did homes heated with wood and coal.

Table 1, page 19 from "Per Capita Carbon Dioxide Emissions Convergence or Divergence?" by Joseph E. Aldy, 2005 published by Resources for the Future (PDF)

The simple fact is that while the atmospheric level of CO2 has increased 30 percent since 1860, world population has more than quadrupled since then. Per capita CO2 emissions in the industrialized world are actually in decline, and have been for quite some time. When we look at all CO2 production, we find that global population growth and CO2 emissions track almost perfectly.

The problem is not that we are driving cars or cooling our beer in refrigerators -- it's that there are too many people. Too many people necessarily results in too many cars, too many refrigerators, and too many coal-fired electrical plants.

There are too damn many of us!

Population growth, energy use and CO2 emissions track perfectly. The causal agent here is human population growth -- an "inconvenient truth" largely glossed over in Al Gore's otherwise excellent movie. Figure 2 is from "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide as a proxy for growth of the human population? ," 1995, University of Washington

Al Gore is willing to talk about rebuilding power plants,
building nuclear reactors, knocking down or retro-fitting every building on the planet. He is willing to discuss what's wrong with Ford and Chevy, but he is not willing to talk too long or too loudly about population growth for fear his audience might look over his shoulder to see how many people are sitting in his own family room.

Like most people, Al Gore is more comfortable talking about CO2 emissions than he is about IUD's. He would rather talk about the need for a new type of internal combustion engine than about the need for internal self-restraint, birth control pills, and vasectomies. He would rather count carbon molecules than count human noses.

In this sense, Gore (like most politicians) is part of the problem.

A politician is always willing to invest a few billion dollars to subsidize energy research at the local university, or pump a few billion dollars into a program to subsidize new car designs by General Motors. But talk about cutting back on immigration (which is driving nearly 100 percent of U.S. population growth), or pumping a billion dollars a year into Third World contraception programs and .... well, there are a thousand and one excuses to do little or nothing. To be fair, those excuses come from both sides of the political aisle. While people may be the source of greenhouse gas emissions, they are also the fuel of politicians, political parties and corporate sponsors.

And so, in the end, we have a movie about global warming that does not really talk about what causes global warming. How ironic is that?

Al Gore's global warming movie concludes by telling us to turn down the thermostat and to send more letters to Congress. It tells us to ride bicycles and use public transportation. It tells us to use more energy-efficient light bulbs and bring more people to the Al Gore movie.

But it does not tell us to have fewer children.

It does not remind us that an open-border immigration policy in this country has global resource consequences in the form of more greenhouse gases, more energy use, and more pollution.

Al Gore's slide show does not suggest contraception, immigration law enforcement, and communitarian self-restraint, nor does it point out that the science of reproduction is widely understood and that improved access to contraception is extremely popular across all cultures and religions. (Did you know that Catholic countries have the lowest fertility rates in the world? The abortion is legal in Italy? That Iran has below-replacement fertility? Did you know that the U.S. has the fastest population growth rate in the developed world?)

The end result is that Al Gore's movie on global warming offers us little more than hot-air solutions.

The inconvenient truth is that immigration-fueled population growth in the United States is negating every single energy conservation effort we are making in this nation today, and that population growth across the globe is negating every single energy conservation effort being made in the world today.

That's a message you won't hear at the local Multiplex. It's a message that's still a little too "inconvenient."


Meryl said...

There were a few good articles on Slate about this not too long ago (here: and here:

The author basically refutes all the arguments against it (i.e. population control as a pro-environment measure) but then concludes that it's too politically unpopular to touch. Too bad though, it certainly does make sense.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Over population is THE problem we face today. It is at the root of every other important issue facing mankind.

Shame on Al - and Tipper!

Anonymous said...

Not really anonymous, Pat, it's Kelly from Wakulla after a long enforced absence. I had to break down and BUY a computer to email you. The sys admi at work does not let anything go out past the county system. Worse, it does not inform you your email has been blocked for at least a week. Good on you for adopting both your kids. You seem justfiably proud of them. Hope the have a chance to appreciate what you have done for all of us.

Christopher said...

Some math points worth considering, although I could be wrong.

The Gores didn't just double the human load they put on the planet, they tripled it. 2 people became 6. He and Tipper have to die before the load is just doubled, and by then, of course, the kids have they do now.

And is the number of children really the figure you should be harping on the most (it does deserve harping)? Isn't the average age of child bearing the more significant variable in the exponential growth rate of the population?

Tipper and Al might be on course to double the population every 25 years (it's actually closer to 30 years given that she only had her first kid at 25), but that's not nearly as scary as doubling the population every 15 or 16 years.

Total Fertility Rates are a nice mental concept, but they can't account for breeding age since they don't consider that it's not enough to simply replace yourself and no more (TFR~=2), you also have to die when you do.

The Gores and their TFR of 4 are certainly up there in terms of resource demand. But their three generation family dinner isn't nearly as scary as another family with a TFR less than 4 that has 4 or 5 generations at the table because they bred younger.

If we have 3 generations of Gores spanning the 60+ years from Al and Tipper's birth to the birth of their grandkids, there are 2+4+16 = 22 people at the table.

For that matter, even simply reproducing yourself isn't that great when death rates are low and getting lower. A family that simply reproduces itself every 15 years (instead of 30) would have 4 generations at the same table 2+2+2+2 = 8. Not 22 by any stretch of the imagination, but they are demanding 4 times the resources even at a stable population.

This doesn't go against your argument in any way, it's just another element of the inconvenient truth that isn't explored by Gore or the establishment who give out stupid political awards. Ignoring population growth isn't going to lead to any more peace in the world, it's certain to lead to more war. Scarcity breeds aggression and nothing breeds scarcity like not dying and multiplying your population.

PBurns said...


It takes a few years to get a degree in demographics (I have one), but suffice it to say that it's a doubling, not a tripling, of the total lifetime population load, as people's parents die, just as their parents before them died. The percapita environmental load might or might not actually increase, due to improvements in resource extraction (i.e. we now use both forest and farm land more efficiently than we did 50 or 100 years ago), and resource consumption.

The problem is not properly thought of as how many people might be at a particular table for a particular meal, but how many people will EVER sit at the table eating any meal. That question is answered with only four numbers: births, deaths, immigration, and emigration. There is no other way people can show up at the table.

The average age people have children does not, in and of itself, have an impact on population growth (i.e family size), though it is true that late marriage was one way fertility was reduced prior to the advent of modern forms of birth control (Ireland in the late 19th to mid 20th century had the latest age of first marriage for this reason), and that early marriage in countries with very low access to birth control tends to result in higher average family size. That said, having children is what makes for population growth, not marriage in and of itself.

Total Fertility Rates are a synthetic cohort approximation of a real cohort value achieved by adding up all the age-adjusted fertiltiy rates and multiplying them by five (five is an abitrary number which is used because the resulting index number seems to "look right" to the lay public). Replacement-level fertility is 2.1 (not 2) in western countries. Age-adjusted indexes like this are the only real way to understand fetility and mortality due to differences in age structure (and to some degree culture).

For a litany of modern contraceptive options, see >> Not included are some of my old favorites no longer much used: crocodile dung (don't ask), a lemon rind used as cervical cap, and sheep intestines tied off with a ribbon (recommended by Casanova himself).


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I recently viewed an course from the Learning Company on Earth's Changing Climate. It was informative, but it refused to address the issue of population growth. Reducing our greenhouse gases will be for nothing if we keep adding more people into the equation. It will nullify any reductions. While China may not have implemented things the right way, at least they had the courage to realize that the population growth needs to stop. The only reason that it isn't talked about in prominent press is because it is not PC. This is the true inconvient truth.

scarlet_debi said...

It appears that the youngest Gore child is a boy. This confirms the old egotism that he HAD to produce that male heir. Like he HAD to produce the all important DNA that makes the little name carrier as if he still lived in the middle ages. This is senseless, selfish and stupid. Well, since you adopted your children, in my humble opinion you, and others like you, who adopt are bigger men in lots of ways.
We selfishly decided early on not to have kids because we both carry unhappy genetics like cancer, arthritis, bad eyesight etc. We decided that if we wouldn't breed a dog or horse with these problems we saw no reason to do it ourselves.
Good on ya, Patrick. I wish YOU would run for office. You would get my vote. Common Sense isn't so common any more.

Debi in Converse TX

Olde New England said...

Since you have seen "An Inconvenient Truth" I would urge you to also see "A Convenient Fiction." It shows the other side of the global warming propaganda in a more reasoned and scientific way than Gore could ever do.

I have been in environmental management since 1991, and I can tell you, based on facts, that global warming is nothing more than a political construct designed to put money in Gore's pocket. Now that he milked that line for all he can, he's given it up for Al Jazeera America radio.