Climate change facts and fallacy in “Years of Living Dangerously”

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Years of Living Dangerously: Series image shows arid but not drought-stricken area. Darkened soil shows moisture from recent rains

SALEM, Ore., April 15, 2014 — Showtime premiered James Cameron’s “Years of Living Dangerously” on Sunday. The first episode of the big-budget documentary series about climate change is available for free on YouTube.

Almost everything said about climate change mixes fact with fiction, and this series is no exception. The first episode stars Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle and Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter Thomas L. Friedman.

The list of Hollywood luminaries behind the series is long and distinguished. The opening credits list 25 executive producers and co-producers. They include Jerry Wientraub, James Cameron, Arnold Swartzwenegger, Daniel Assasi, Joel Bach, David Gelber and billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, among many others.

Episode one starts off like a scene from Top Gun with Harrison Ford flying in a fighter jet that collects greenhouse gas samples. It goes on to present three humanized climate change stories.


Harrison Ford investigates deforestation in Indonesia. Don Cheadle investigates the impact of a drought-closed meat packing plant in Plainview, Texas. Thomas L. Friedman slips into war-torn Syria to investigate whether  drought triggered its civil war.

Basic Facts

Climate change is real; the climate has been changing for billions of years. It’s not going to stop now. Global warming is also real. Human-generated CO2 is rising, and COis a greenhouse gas.

Have there been increases in the intensity and duration of drought? No. Nor have there been increases in intense tropical cyclone (hurricane) activity. Global land and sea temperatures have not risen in the last 15 years.

Those are all claims made by the IPCC in its newest AR5 report released last September.

Deforestation is a serious human-caused disaster. It contributes 20 percent of all atmospheric CO2 emissions, according to scientists interviewed in the first episode of the show. Losing giant swaths of tropical rain forest ecosystems in Indonesia and South America is threatening the extinction of vast numbers of plant and animal species.

 Fiction

IPCC Summary for Policymakers: Drought and hurricanes not yet affected by global warming
IPCC Summary for Policymakers: Drought and hurricanes not yet affected by global warming

The first episode’s two stories about drought attribute droughts to human-induced climate change. That directly contradicts the assessment of the IPCC in their new report.

The IPCC has “low confidence” that past and current droughts have resulted from human-caused global warming. Beyond that, the IPCC says climate change won’t affect drought or hurricanes until late this century. It does not support the claim that droughts last longer and are more intense today because of CO2 emissions.

Droughts have caused human hardship, triggered social unrest, and helped destroy civilizations. The demise of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations and the pueblo cultures of the southwestern United States are blamed on drought.

The Texas and Syria droughts were bad, but not extraordinary.

The “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s produced dust storms so big that dust clouds blew all the way to New York City. That drought triggered a mass westward migration of displaced tenant farmers immortalized in John Steinbeck’s epic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”.

Fifty eight percent of all existing state record high temperatures in the United States were set in the 1930s and 1910s. The highest temperature ever recorded on earth is 134°F, set on July 10, 1913 in Death Valley, California.

Climate deniers

An unfortunate series of missteps stigmatizes fundamentalist Christians as ignorant climate deniers.

Texas Tech climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, herself a Christian who converted her minister husband from climate naysayer to believer, is presented as a crusading scientist who goes around drought-stricken Texas converting the uninformed into enlightened believers.

A future segment called “The Preacher’s Daughter” in an upcoming episode will continue the negative stereotyping of Christians who oppose those who preach the gospel of climate change.

Conclusions

Cameron’s “Years of Living Dangerously” is engaging. It uses Hollywood-generated drama narrated by big name celebrities to document the human effects of extreme weather.

Harrison Ford’s segment on deforestation is eye-opening to anyone unfamiliar with what’s happening to earth’s rain forests.

Unfortunately, the other two segments on drought trade scientific accuracy for alarmist rhetoric. They humanize the effects of drought, but what they show us is no different from what’s been happened naturally throughout human history.

Cameron, contrary to IPCC findings, erroneously links both droughts to human-induced climate change.

It’s hard to decide which is worse: enlightened misinformation or ignorant misinformation.

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  • Common Sense

    Great article. IMO James Cameron has jumped the shark with this “documentary.” The fact is that the more we have studied climate change the less dire the projections released by the IPCC. Which is great news. As it turns out climate sensitivity is low as is the effect of CO2 on the climate. This last gasp attempt to cram this “crisis” down our throat will not change anyone’s mind on this subject. It is time to focus on more pressing issues that everyone can get behind like clean food, air, & water. It is a shame that this issue has hijacked the environmental movement.

    • Steve Davidson

      Agreed. The tide of science has been turning away from catastrophic AGW since 2005 or so. The theory will probably die under it’s own weight in a decade or so.

      • Common Sense

        They demanded that we study it more. We did and it turns out that it really isn’t an issue. Now they are mad that there is no calamity. Shouldn’t they be happy?

        • Steve Davidson

          Hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions, have been spent globally by federal, state and local governments to fight CO2 driven AGW global warming.

          When that much funding and reputations have been committed to a theory it is hard to change, no matter what science says..

          The simple solution to the CO2 problem is to make low emissions energy
          sources cheap and plentiful, not make fossils more expensive. Until that happens CO2 will continue to rise.

          So, as the costs accumulate governments are starting to back off from AGW. Paris next year will be the biggest disaster yet for the AGW cause.

          • Common Sense

            That’s right. They have over sold this issue and now they have lost their credibility.

  • Lo Wodor

    Like its related ideology of liberalism, the cult of man-made global-warming is fundamentally unserious.

    • Steve Davidson

      There are certain things that are real and need to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, those things get lost in the AGW alarmist hype.

      Humans are pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and it is changing its chemical composition. It likely hasn’t done much yet and probably will not this century if skeptics are right about climate sensitivity levels. But all agree that if left unchecked it eventually will have global effects that will have to be mitigated.