Inconvenient, Indeed

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Midway through my viewing of “An Inconvenient Truth,” this summer’s highly touted movie about global warming, I realized that I’d just paid $7 to attend a lecture – given by Al Gore! Drawn to the theater by the film’s media hype and fawning critics, I was expecting to see a high-quality documentary with cool science and nice graphics, at least as good as those on PBS Nova. After all, the film had a decent budget and a 90%, approval rating by the critics, so it ought to be pretty good, right?

Well, not so fast. I did get a little of what I expected, but not without a whole lot of Al Gore thrown in. Included were boyhood stories, a review of the 2000 Florida election recount, and video footage from his days as the “hip” senator crusading for global warming awareness. (I couldn’t help but recall the more “unhip” part of his Senate legacy as the crusading advocate for the PMRC – Parents Music Resource Center – who sought to control the contents of pop music with a ratings system even John Denver opposed. This inconvenient episode of his Senate history has been conveniently buried.)

These personal stories attempt to segue into the film’s main issues, with a political style worthy of, well – Al Gore. For example, he tells a drawn-out story of almost losing his son in an auto accident, then uses it to make the non sequitur argument, “What we take for granted might not be here for our children.”

He also tells the story of his sixth-grade science teacher who, when asked if the continents of South America. and Africa ever once fit together like “puzzle pieces,” responded, “No, they did not.” Gore can’t resist another jab at the Bush administration with this sto~ claiming that this teacher is now a science adviser to the Bush administration, while the student who astutely asked the question is now a drug-addicted bum.

The film can be visually convincing when Gore lets the pictures speak for themselves. We are shown several before and after pictures of glaciers that have shrunk over time; we see coastal glaciers in Greenland falling into the ocean and are led to agree with Gore’s hypothesis. But the film overlooks the possibility that an increase in Green- land’s intracoastal ice could be forcing the coastal glaciers out into the sea, the result of expansion, not rising temperatures.

Gore bases much of his campaign against Big Warming on the consensus of 928 articles written for scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, claiming they all share his views. But this “consensus” of scientists may not exist. MIT atmospheric science professor Richard S. Lindzen, in his July 2, 2006 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Online, cites the research of Benny Peiser, who checked the work of the source Gore used and found that only 13 of the articles “explicitly endorsed the so-called consensus view.”* Lindzen takes issue with roughly a dozen different claims Gore makes in the film and questions his credibility altogether.

When one considers the power of nature itself, it begins to seem rather hubristic to blame man for the recent fluctuations of global temperatures. Volcanoes, for example, are particularly harmful to the atmosphere, injecting into it a number of greenhouse gases, among them carbon dioxide. The explosive force of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 was equivalent to that resulting from the detonation of 27,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs – an event worse for the atmosphere, in one da~ than the manmade damage done to our atmosphere during Earth’s entire existence. In short, while greenhouse gases, and particularly carbon dioxide, do present a problem, they are not the

The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 was worse for the atmosphere in one day than the manmade damage done to our atmosphere during Earth’s entire existence.

 

only problem. The earth’s climate fluctuates, with or without man’s contribution.

It also helps to understand the role of water in regulating the earth’s temperatures. The earth’s rotation is not perfectly smooth. The axis of rotation wobbles slightly. This and other factors can disrupt the circulation of the oceans and the heat distribution of the planet. The oceans’ dynamics influence the weather, and the circulation of the ocean’s water is key to understanding how earth regulates its heat – especially important since water covers 70% of the earth’s surface.

Despite its obvious weaknesses, the film is worth seeing, if only for the amazingly beautiful views of earth taken from satellites, particularly the time-resolved pictures showing a complete rotation of the earth. It is an earth worth saving, from whatever may endanger it. But Gore’s alarmist evangelism and suspicious motives prevent the serious, nonpolitical viewer from taking his evidence seriously.

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