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Rating Al Gore's tech cred

Pol who invented the Internet and scares the world about global warming wants to be taken seriously? Why not, says CNET's Charles Cooper.

In an unpredictable world, count on a predictable reaction whenever Al Gore gets quoted in these pages concerning the subject of global warming.

Imagine something along the lines of "Kiss my hard drive!"--but with a bucket of bile thrown in for good measure.

Seems that the former vice president drives a bunch of you into a tizzy just by showing up. And awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Gore simply sent a lot of folks straight over the ledge.

The depth of their anger is hard to fathom. But it's there on display each time one of our headlines carries Gore's name. Perusing the reactions left on our TalkBack forum, I came across this post from "tech_junky48" in a CNET blog a colleague posted after the Nobel Committee's decision:

"Global warming = more drought and more severe weather in some places. No, No, NO! There has not been any more severe weather in the last century then in the century before. The climate is changing, because, by definition, it is unstable. We are not causing it...More (global warming) scams --> gullible alarmist people --> exploitable people --> more pointless money drain."

Travis Ernst offered a similarly pungent critique.

"(Gore) is full of hot air and has a following of worshipers. He did NO research on his own, deserves no award other than for scaring people and causing undeserved panic."

I came across hundreds of similar dismissals of Gore as another blowhard populist out to score easy rhetorical points at the Bush administration's expense. Obviously, Gore is a career politician and former standard-bearer of his party. And I'm sure he's not naive about the political weight this issue might carry into the 2008 presidential election.

But at what point does the growing body of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature on the subject trump the snarky put-downs? The latest report to examine the causes and potential effects of climate change was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study. Check it out in your spare time. It makes for sober reading.

Speaking with last month, Lorraine Bolsinger, who runs a group inside General Electric to make environmentally conscious products, said, "People who say, 'I don't believe it' or 'I don't see it,' they kind of are outliers at this point. I think it's much more mainstream," she said. "We're past the point of debating the science."

Unfortunately, it's great sport to deride "Al Boring," the man who nurses an eternal grudge because the world forgot that he invented the Internet. Pardon my sarong, but it turns out that Gore has a legit claim to the mantle, according to both Vint Cerf and Newt Gingrich. In this month's edition of Vanity Fair, they credit his legislative spadework for creating the right preconditions.

Here's what Gore actually said in 1991: ""During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative"--politico-speak for leadership--"in creating the Internet."

But as the magazine recounts, Gore received a bum deal from an unforgivably lazy media, which retailed the bogus "I invented the Internet" claim to the point where it became parody.

That past was prologue for the unyielding criticism directed at Gore for attacking official indifference to evidence connecting man-made carbon emissions to global warming.

Some of this no doubt is related to antipathy left over from the 2000 presidential race. The election's outcome and all that followed in the subsequent years widened our left-right divide to the point where any attempt to examine this issue turns into a mosh fight.

You saw the same thing happen after An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar for best documentary of the year. The grumbling about what some saw as Gore's pseudo-science and bent for popularizing turned into a full-throated roar after a British High Court ruled that there were nine inaccuracies in his documentary.

"Ah ha--gotcha!"

Actually, there was less here than the headline suggested. Claiming that Gore's film contained "serious scientific inaccuracies, political propaganda and sentimental mush," the father of two students filed a lawsuit because he objected to the showing of the film in schools. But a British High Court judge refused to go along. In his decision, he instead said British schools should show the documentary along with guidance notes to prevent political indoctrination.

Lost in the mushroom cloud of instant outrage was the judge's more significant conclusion that Gore's film was "broadly accurate" and built a "powerful" case that human activity causes global warming.

Let's see: nine errors over the course of a 100-minute documentary. I'll leave you to make the call.