Saturday, June 02, 2007

# Posted 10:04 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AN INCONVENIENT DVD: I've never really doubted that global warming exists, so I wasn't going to pay $10 to have Al Gore tell me that it does. But now that An Inconvenient Truth is available on Netflix, I figured I should see what I can learn about global warming from our former Vice President.

First of all, let me say up front that I have almost no specific knowledge about global warming. I took a pretty good geology course as an undergraduate that covered climate modeling in a fair amount of detail, but that was ten years ago and I've forgotten it all. In other words, I am in no position to evaluate the scientific merit of any material presented in the film.

What I do know is simply that Gore presents every iota of information in the film as absolute truth. There is no instance in which Gore tells you about a serious scientist with a different interpretation from his own. Now, I never expected Gore to say that there are credible scientists who disagree with the fact that the earth is getting warmer. But even when it comes to questions like how much warmer the earth will get, how quickly or how it will affect coastal environments, Gore never acknowledges that there is any real disagreement with his own perspective.

The only critics Gore acknowledges are those who deny that there is any such thing as global warming. But Gore only introduces them for two reasons. First, to make fun of them. Second, to suggest that they are part of a very-well funded corporate lobbying campaign to distort the truth about global warming. Thus, the impression Gore conveys throughout the film is that either you agree with him or you've been manipulated by corporate spin doctors.

Now, I guess you could say that Gore is a politician and not a scientist, so there's nothing wrong if he focuses on hammering his opponents of choice. Yet this is not a 30-second commercial. It's a 90-minute documentary. Moreover, Gore constantly emphasizes that the purpose of his work is to educate. Again and again, we see him delivering his infamous Power Point presentation to students across the globe. The standard he sets for himself is one of rigorous scientific examination.

Another hypothesis to consider is that Gore did introduce his audiences to several credible points of view but that the producers and director of the film chose to create a simple narrative of good vs. evil and truth vs. lies. More generally, I'd be interested to know how much of a role Gore played in the creation of the film. Did he simply let the crew follow him around and make whatever kind of film they wanted, or did he play an active role in deciding what to film, how to edit and how to market it?

Regardless of was responsible for the specific content of the film, I think it would've been interesting if there had been more footage of Gore interacting with his audience rather than just delivering his presentation. Given that the purpose of the film is explicitly pedagogical, one might expect it to be more of a dialogue rather than a lecture. If memory serves, there is only instance in the film in which Gore answers a student's question. Very earnestly, a young woman in China asks what we can do about global warming. Not exactly Hardball, eh?

Speaking of which, I remember when Gore did an exclusive interview last summer on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. I remember two lines of questioning that gave Gore some trouble. First, Stephanopoulos wanted to know why the Clinton administration didn't do more about global warming if the problem is so deadly serious. In fact, even a lot of Democrats didn't agree with Gore's proposals. Naturally, Gore attributed such disagreements to the short-sightedness of others. But Stephanopoulos made his point. The politics of global warming are much more complicated than a supposed struggle of the scientifically informed against manipulative corporate lobbyists.

Stephanopoulos also pushed hard on the question of whether Gore's lectures endorse the most alarmist positions in the scientific community without letting on that the majority of scientists consider the implications of global warming to be less catastrophic. To make his point, Stephanopoulos asked Gore a very specific question about the thickness of the ice in Greenland or something like that.

Frankly, I have no idea which man was right. But I can tell you that An Incovenient Truth presents is full of apocalyptic projections of what the world will look like in 20 or 30 years if we don't stop global warming. In Manhattan, Ground Zero will be underwater. So will the most populated areas on the east coast of China. All in all, hundreds of millions of people will lose their homes and become environmental refugees. This is not something that may happen, but something Al Gore says will happen if we don't change our ways dramatically.

The good news, Gore says, is that we already have all the technology we need to prevent further global warming. All we lack is the political will to do something about it. Personally, I'm curious as to whether most scientists agree with that conclusion. Gore himself spends very little time in the film explaining what he means. Only the last 7 or 8 minutes of the film focus on how to stop global warming. In one sequence, Gore lists seven or eight policies that will help fight global warming and asserts that their cumulative effect will be decisive. Given how much detail he provides elsewhere in the film, that sequence is rather disappointing.

After watching An Inconvenient Truth, I didn't feel like I had much more hard knowledge about global warming than I did before watching the film. Given my relative ignorance about global warming, the only real choice I had was to trust Al Gore completely or to treat almost everything he said as a yet-to-be proven hypothesis. Putting it less kindly, I thought Gore was preaching to the choir. Fortunately for him, the choir decided to give him an Oscar.

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(14) opinions -- Add your opinion

Of course he was preaching to the choir--if he wanted to convince somebody, he wouldn't have been so arrogantly dismissive of the unconvinced.

Al Gore is a nothing more than a televangelist and An Inconvenient Truth is his Mass. I hope you dressed appropriately.
I took a pretty good geology course as an undergraduate that covered climate modeling in a fair amount of detail ...

A pretty good geology course covering, what, the climate modeling of rocks?
If you think the guy is a blowhard and liar, why don't you say it?

This passive-aggressive "he didn't present both sides" does not serve you well.
interesting timing. im at a NATO conference on climate change and security this week. worth nothing that the head of climate research at the epa has a fundamentally different view on the topic that the admin. also, the striving for 'balance' has arguably done more to artificially skew the climate change debate than anything else. i completely agree that the politics are tricky, but if we had started to take it seriously when we should have, both mitigating and adaptive policies would have been far more politically palpable.
Having two people who disagree each say something doesn't ensure that the overall discussion will be any less biased. Like the IPCC reports, Gore's film is based on a general scientific consensus. While there is definitely uncertainty about the magnitude of various effects and the locations of important thresholds, the overall narrative presented is a widely accepted one.

As for needing science to assess the film, it seems like it is increasingly necessary for policy-makers and citizens to have a working knowledge of climatic science. Spencer Weart's "The Discovery of Global Warming" is a good place to start.
"also, the striving for 'balance' has arguably done more to artificially skew the climate change debate than anything else."

not sure I agree with you there, Taylor. I think the hysteria of the debate has done more to distort discussion.

Skeptics are classified as corrupt, bad people, as opposed to the virtuous truth-tellers. To accept the narrative is to be a good person, to question it is to be the agent of sinister capitalist interests.

Even if the science is 100% correct, I have yet to be convinced that spending a vast sum of money on a treaty that may slow climate change only marginally is not a good return for our investment. Bjorn Lomborg's forthcoming book 'Cool It' will be tackling this.

Yours from the offices of Satan,

Dr Satan (i like the ring of that...)
I think we are actually in relative agreement here. where the balance has been artificial, is not in the debate over HOW we deal with climate change, but rather in how the science has been portrayed.

Lomborg is a great example. As a scientist, he of course agrees that it is happening, what he debates is how we should be dealing with it. A debate I readily agree we should be having.

This is a debate that is predicated, however, on admitting that it is hapenning. A fact that for too long has be misreported by giving an equal voice to the majority scientific consensus and the fringe deniers. This artificiality, has stalled the very debate that Lomborg is calling for: how should humanity deal with the large scale climate changes that are occurring.

So yes, lets finally have a debate on how/if to deal with climate change. But for heavens sake, lets no longer give deniers of the science itself an equal "balanced" seat at the table.
In case anyone is interested:

Here's a review of Gore's movie by a climate scientist, at a web site run by climate scientists.

Lomborg isn't a scientist, and doesn't claim to be.
Anon 12:10, my geology course took a very broad view of the subject. It covered the formation of the big rock we call Earth and the climate around it.

Taylor and Patrick, your posts represent the classic positions in the debate about balance in all fields of political debate: a distraction or a necessity?

Interesting how conservatives and liberals have different sets of issues on which they prefer balance as opposed to nuance. War on Terror? One side wants moral clarity, the other nuance.

Teaching evolution in public schools? One side wants to teach the debate, the other to quash it.

And now for climate change. I guess I would say that as a viewer with both limited scientific knowledge and limited trust in Al Gore, a one-sided polemic did very little for me, since my policy toward Gore will always be "trust but verify".
Gore has all the scientific reliability and authority of the divinity-school dropout he is and all the religious conviction of the failed politician he also is. At least he got from his divinity school training the knowledge that you can fool most of the people most of the time, if you pretend to absolute certainty.
Lomborg set out to provide justification for the Global Warming theories and found that the proofs were not proofs.

It is my understanding that if we take the draconian steps recommended to alleviate mankind's contribution to global warming the net effect will be to reduce our contribution by point two percent.

Lomborg's position now is that, whatever the reason for the temperature rising, global warming does not rise to the level of importance required to spend trillions of dollars to alleviate the small part we can alleviate. There are better things to do with the money.

I would suggest to you that the current global warming theory is not generaly accepted by the scientific community. It has pushed to the frontburner and scientific debate has been stifled.

Only now, too late in my opinion, when the enormous costs are becoming clearer, is alternate thought being allowed to reach the public.
Why anyone would take seriously the views on science policy of a man who received Cs and Ds in his college science classes is beyond me. Mr. Gore is a skilled manipulator and propagandist, to be sure, but a credible analyst of scientific evidence? Nah.
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