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October 12, 2009

Of polar bears and 'censorship'

When is "silencing" a journalist censorship, or simple fairness?

The blogosphere is still reverbrating about the verbal scuffle last Friday between former Vice President Al Gore and an Irish filmmaker over the status of polar bears and the global warming skeptic's subsequent stifling at the Society of Environmental Journalists' conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

I had more than a ringside seat on the incident, as it turns out.  I was the one who asked the filmmaker, Phelim McAleer, to stop hogging the microphone and sit down.  As a member of the board of director of the society, I was there to see that working journalists and society members - who'd paid to attend the five-day conference - got a chance to ask their questions.

McAleer had every right to pose his question, and to follow it up when Gore didn't answer it directly.  (To be fair, the issue raised by McAleer was hardly new - he brought up a British judge's finding in 2007 that Gore's award-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth" contained assertions about climate change that did not reflect the mainstream scientific consensus - though the judge did not dispute the film's main point that emissions from human activity are warming the planet.)  You can watch a video of the exchange between Gore and McAleer here or listen to the entire speech and Q&A here (note: big file).

McAleer, it should be pointed out, has co-produced a film that claims to expose "the true cost of global warming hysteria."  He and others have used the widely publicized incident at the society's conference to plug his film, "Not Evil Just Wrong," which is scheduled for official release in the next several days. 

That aside, he was not asked to sit down because he was putting Gore on the spot, but because there were about 10 others waiting behind him to ask questions.  The filmmaker and the former vice president had begun to repeat themselves, and time was growing short.   I posted to an unofficial SEJ blog over the weekend, summarizing the episode, which you can read here.

McAleer later complained to me that he shouldn't have been cut off because Gore hadn't answered his question.  Environmental journalists should be asking tough questions, not protecting politicians like Gore, he argued.  I agree. That's why he was able to ask his question in the first place -  SEJ insisted that Gore answer questions as a condition of his appearance, something he has only rarely done.  McAleer even got a chance to follow it up, but when it became clear their repetitive exchange was going nowhere, I decided it was time to move on.  None of the other questions posed to Gore was as pointed, but then again, there was only time for a few more after McAleer finally took his seat.

As for the substance of the mini-debate between Gore and the filmmaker, the former vice president asserted polar bears were endangered, while his questioner countered that their numbers are increasing.  McAleer may have a point, of sorts, but the weight of scientific judgment again is in Gore's favor.

Polar bears in the US are officially classified as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act - a decision made by the Bush administration, which was otherwise accused by environmentalists and scientists of foot-dragging in dealing with climate change.  The bears' protection under federal law stems from scientists' findings that sea ice is melting in the Arctic, threatening to deprive the bears of the ability to find enough food to sustain themelves. The government scientists found that unless the ice stops melting so rapidly in summer, the bears' status will deteriorate to "endangered,'' at imminent risk of disappearing.

Climate change skeptics frequently argue that polar bears have increased from an estimated 5,000 worldwide in the 1960s or '70s to somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 today.  Bear specialists discount the eariler estimate as little more than a guess, though, noting that there were no coordinated international efforts to assess the bears back then.  They generally agree the bear population may have increased some in that time, though just as likely for other reasons, such as hunting restrictions.  You can read more on that here

The status of polar bears throughout the Arctic today varies, the experts say, but the overall trend is not good. There are some 19 different "sub-populations" of bears in the US, Canada, Greenland and Russia.  Meeting earlier this year in Copenhagen, where climate treaty negotiators will gather in December, polar bear specialists found only 1 of those 19 groups was increasing in number, while three are stable and eight are decreasing.  The group reiterated a warning it had issued four years ago that unabated global warming will ultimately threaten polar bears everywhere.

Now you have the facts - from my perspective, at least - behind Friday's Warholian kerfluffle, the latest sideshow in the serious questions swirling around climate change and the policy response. Judge for yourself if it was worth letting Gore and his interrogator continue to talk past each other - or time to move on to those other questions.

(AP file photos)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 1:09 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: News


Journalist press for answers. You are not a journalist. You are an Al Gore fanboy, dedicated to his cause. Hog the mike? You sound like a child.

So you admit that the number of polar bears is increasing but in the same breath claim that they are in imminent risk of disappearing. Just what do you want? You don't want their numbers to increase?

You should be ashamed of yourself for calling yourself a journalist. You are nothing more nor less than a shill for big environment.

Hurray for McAleer. Gore is
a 14 caret phoney

It is really depressing to read respected newspapers like the Wall St. Journal take up the cudgel from McAleer and repeat the lie that the polar bear populations are growing. If you follow up for just 5 minutes at legitimate sources you have to conclude they are not mistaken, they are purposfully lying.

A clear case of simple fairness in my book. Thanks for the links, as usual, and the nuanced explanation of polar bear numbers.

Thanks for doing your job and doing it well.

Polar bears have become a touch point for several reasons - one, because it can't be conclusively determined that climate change is endangering them. Restricting hunting might actually save more of them than CO2 caps (but we don't tell our children that hunters DO go out and shoot those cute little things, do we...). Secondly, is the melting ice due to "global warming" or natural warming/cooling trends that aren't still completely understood? Melting ice may be hampering Polar bear ranges, but I'm sorry, it's far from conclusive that "global warming" is the cause (and if the "Polar bear specialists" mentioned above have any government funding ties, you can bet they will keep their propoganda in line). Gore has taken vast liberties with information (and his qualifications as a climatologist are what?), strong-armed scientists and politicians, and worked to create a scenario that scares and berates -- in the face of valid science that is calling for more open and fair debate. McAleer's frustration just shows how difficult it is to challenge the Gore agenda and how well-protected he is by environmentalists. As one of the coldest years in the past 20 years winds to a close, perhaps it's truly time to re-examine Gore's position and open a clearer, more fair, debate on climate change (NOT global warming).

Facts have never mattered to Al Gore. The Hockey Stick graph which was the center piece of his sci-fi, comedy horror flick has been debunked and it doesn't seem to even bother him. I've personally met and interviewed Phelim McAleer and found him to be very concerned about his fellow man. His new film Not Evil Just Wrong addresses two very important issues. The cost of global warming hysteria and the cost of environmentalism gone wild. He also dares to speak about the apathy environmentalists exhibit when confronted with their policies causing the death of black people.

I am an AGW skeptic, and I have no doubt at all that polar bears populations are shrinking. They are shrinking now as thay have since the last glaciation, when thier range spread all the down past the 49th parallel globally. And yes, their range continues to shrink today and will continue until the next glaciation begins. Hopefully, polar bears will still be around whne that happens.

ps. Al Gore is the devil.

The Canadian Wildlife service does a regular count of polar bears in Canada. They can not speak for Russia or Alaska or Greenland, but in Canada the polar bear population is generally increasing. They are still hunted by locals (Americans are not allowed.) and more are killed by hunting than by "natural" causes. They have survived several periods that were much warmer than now including the Medieval Warming Period and they are in no danger now. They evolved from Grizzlies, they are omnivores, they can survive quite well on land and they consider humans food.

Why don't you send Al Gore north to study them ... on foot. Then we'll see which species is endangered.

Sitting here looking at the snow in the Great White North .....

It really is very simple, Al Gore will not debate anyone on the issue of Global Warming. The reason is very clear, there are too many holes in his "truths" as witnessed in the back and forth with Phelim McAleer. Sorry Mr. Gore, and Mr. Wheeler. The world is not saying that you are Evil, just that you are Wrong.


You are a complete fraud. Are you getting kickbacks from all the money Gore is making selling carbon credits to other idiots? Complete lack of intellectual integrity. Despicable.

I am disappointed with your rush to quiet honest debate especially when the facts are there to be presented and the speaker should have a chance to refute if possible. Obviously to you and to everyone there, there were not refutable and hence, your actions. Perhaps you should set up a real debate on the facts between Mr. Gore and his opponents so that Mr. Gore will stop prosyletizing his brand of untruths.

With regard to the polar bears...they are not actually an endangered species at the moment...the reason they were put on the list was that they would BECOME endangered if the ice was to melt...and since the IPCC says the ice will melt they were put on the list. The State of Alaska opposed the listing of the Polar Bear as endangered (April 9,2007. The Dept of Fish and Game carried out a 12 month review of this and found "polar bears are abundant, stable, and unthreatened by direct human activity"
The logic behind the listing was based on the POSSIBILTY of a predicted loss of habitat...not the reality of their habitat

Not only are populations stable they are indeed finding a way to survive and carry on the genectics through cross breeding. The basis of surviving is the ability to adapt and from what I have read and seen I am shocked to see such educated people fighting over this or even debating it. Enviromentalist should be happy and amazed by what is actually occuring in the Arctic...the arrival of new species that are adapting to what mother nature and man is throwing at them. When I see animals classified as a Grolar I stand in awe of how small we really are but how big we think we should be...we can't stop the Earth and when it is our time it will take care of us and itself.

Wheeler is an environmental writer, but certainly not a journalist!

Let's look at that meeting of polar bear specialists that Wheeler mentions, shall we?

Dr Mitchell Taylor, a Canadian scientist with over 30 years of polar bear research under his belt, was dis-invited to this meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group. Taylor maintains that the polar bears have gone through many warmings & thrived, and will not be affected by any that is occurIng now, whether man-made or not.

In an email to Taylor from the chair dis-inviting him, Dr Derocher wrote, ......"for the sake of polar bear conservation, views that run counter to human-induced climate change are extremely unhelpful" and in not keeping with the politics of the moment.

Mustn't disrupt the narrative by raising any doubt....this is the sorry state of science now.

A true journalist would have dug beneath the press releases rather than regurgitate the pre-determined "facts"

Now, if there are 19 groups with 1 increasing, 3 decreasing, and 8 being stable, what happened to the other 7 groups. did they disappear, remain stable, or grow?

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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