There is no escape from being placed under the spotlight for an individual or a party promoting a cause. It was only a matter of time before Al Gore and his advocacy on global warming would be placed under the spotlight.
This week Gore appeared in the U.S. Congress and gave testimony to the hearing called by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.
Gore testified that "a crisis threatens the survival of our civilization and the habitability of the Earth." Further, global warming "is real and human activity is the main cause."
He also insisted "there is no longer any serious debate over the basic points that make up the consensus on global warming."
Then, with a rhetorical flourish, Gore declared meeting the challenge of global warming was similar to the Allies winning the war against fascism "simultaneously in Europe and the Pacific ... this is a moral moment of similar magnitude." Gore's testimony was followed by that of Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish environmentalist who has become the thorn among supporters of the former vice-president's "moral crusade" of our time.
Lomborg's examination of Gore's advocacy of the Kyoto accord (both testimonies are available on the committee's web site) and more -- such as placing an immediate freeze on carbon emission -- provides a contrary view of how, in adopting these recommendations, "we will likely end up choosing very bad policies to solve the many problems we agree need attention."
Gore and his friends oddly insist the debate is over and consensus has been reached on the subject. The striking fact we find in exploring the subject is, however, the extent of disagreement among scientists on the question of human agency in climate change.
Gore might wrap himself in the mantle of science, but he is not a scientist. He belongs to a class of people -- politicians -- least trusted by the public.
There is no dispute about climate constantly changing. This is a given. The question politicians need to answer, if they have any clue, is one the scientist and former editor of the Journal of Biogeography, Philip Stott, recently asked in a public debate held in New York City: "What climate are you actually aiming to produce and when we get there won't it change anyway?"
Consensus, as Gore insists, is not the basis by which closure is brought to scientific discussions. Science is about the search for answers to natural phenomena and its progress is made through scrutiny and tests of falsification, and not consensus imposed by extraneous considerations.
It might be objected that public policy cannot wait for certainty among scientists on a matter that affects all of us. But it is a leap of faith and politics, not science, when policy is crafted on disputed scientific grounds for implementation disregarding costs.
There is invariably some politics to be found in science, and some science in politics. The integrity of science, however, rests on scientists (recall Galileo) who are neither intimidated by politics nor seduced by public popularity.
The good thing about Al Gore under the spotlight is that the public is beginning to notice that the debate on climate change and human activity as primary cause of global warming is unsettled.
The public, being generally wary of politicians, needs to question those who will impose a policy based on claims of science when scientists cannot predict in advance, for instance, how many hurricanes will strike in a given year -- a year that would be music to the ears of the insurance industry.