Harry’s Movie Review: An Inconvenient Truth

As the inestimable Fredregar would tell you, if you asked, it’s hard to find a more die-hard Oakeshottian conservative than H Lime. That doesn’t affect my writing of this review in an area where science trumps political belief — as it always must, for any who consider themselves children of the Enlightenment. Just last week, Scientific American reported that “if global warming continues unabated, many of the world’s climate zones may disappear by 2100 . . . [and] up to 39 percent of Earth’s continental surfice may experience totally new climates, primarily in the tropics and adjacent latitudes as warmer temperatures spread toward the poles.” One scientist ventured that Chicago may take on the climate of Memphis — but there’s no telling exactly what Memphis will look like. Hotter, for sure. The one thing that’s not in dispute: humans are doing a number on the Earth’s environment.

Above: Global warming in action — Switzerland’s Piz Bernina summit
in 1978 (left) and 2003 (right)

I have little to add to the praise that’s been widely given to the 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth. I didn’t vote for Mr. Gore, and his political beliefs infrequently find a friend in me. “His” movie, for that’s really what it is despite being directed by Davis Guggenheim, is a feature-length PowerPoint presentation. I would never have dreamed that I’d be writing a movie review, much less a favorable one, about a PowerPoint presentation, but that’s what this is.

Beneath his soothing Southern drawl and affable mannerisms (which would have garnered fantastic political capital, had he ever employed them previous to this movie), Gore knows his facts and marshalls them well. He clearly lays out the case that human CO2 emissions are directly linked to the global rise in air temperature, ocean temperature, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the spread of diseases from lowlying and marshy areas to higher and higher altitidues, the unprecedented bleaching and death of massive coral reefs (caused by CO2) over approximately the last century.

Pictures really are worth a thousand words. Once you view before and after shots of icebergs 30 years ago and today, in a dozen or more places dotting the globe, you cannot but bow to the evidence that the climate is changing, and for the worse. Probabilities are presented of the melting of Greenland’s ice cover, and of Antartica, and the catastrophic consequences for those living in lowlying land in Florida, Louisiana, India, China, Japan, and elsewhere is depicted by computer animation. Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, quotes biologist Tim Flannery to the effect that the melting of both Greenland and the West Antartic Ice Sheet would cause sea levels to rise 5 to 10 meters, displacing approximately 500,000 inhabitants. Shermer himself was transformed from skeptic into activist in 2006 after reviewing the suprisingly clear breadth of historical and scientic evidence supporting global warming.

Larsen B Collapse.jpg

The 2002 breakup of the Antartic Larsen B Ice Shelf. Until breakup in 2002, the ice shelf had been covered with 200m thick ice since the last glacial period, approximately 10,000 years ago. During the last 30 years, visible numerous dark spots were evident on the shelf in satellite photographs, but not deciphered until post-breakup as clear “pooling” of lakes of melted ice.

Gore also lays out the case with easy-to-understand charts, honed to perfect clarity after making the presentation 1000 times over 20 years. PowerPoint typically is anathema to me, as I can’t stand oversimplification. But that’s precisely what’s needed here — the facts, the simple facts, for everybody to understand. Nobody needs to know the precise and complicated science underlying global warming. Everybody needs to know that their choice in automobile, their choice of green or non-green energy from their utility company, indeed their everyday actions such as setting the thermostat — all can help forestall even prevent a cataclysm unknown years down the road, and preserve a home for our children.

As a “science” geek in my younger years before coming to the practice of law, none of this is farfetched. It’s solid science, and we have a duty to take action immediately. I drive a Toyota Prius for this precise reason — to limit my greenhouse gas emissions. I set my thermostat at 68 F in the winter (63 when not home) and 74 F in the summer (80 when not home) for this precise reason. I read young children The Lorax so they’ll know what’s at stake.

There are certainly those naysayers who will–like the Flat Earthers–continue on with unscientific belief until it hits them in the face. The Associated Press contacted 19 top climate scientists who’d either read or seen An Inconvenient Truth, and all 19–including some who were skeptics of climate change theory–asserted that Gore accurately and correctly portrayed the science and did not misrepresent either the risks or the consequences.

It is, of course, politics that causes the bifurcation of common sense and science on the one hand, and correct action on the other. That’s what has happened for too long here, and must stop — at risk of us losing a chance for future generations to inherit a livable earth. If you leave this movie with any doubts about the politicization of the science, which has killed countless attempts to address the environmental catastrophe, check out Who Killed the Electric Car?, another excellent (though unfortunately with strong partisan overtones) 2006 documentary.

Also, check out the science at Inconvenient Truth’s “activism” website, Climate Crisis

I must end with my sole criticism of the movie: the movie spends approximatley 5 minutes, for no apparent reason (apparently for the sake of “biography” or “ego”?) detailing the events of the 2000 election, Gore’s winning of the popular vote, and Gore’s concession to the current President Bush. None of this adds to the case, but it apparently is a “crowd pleaser” for Gore’s anti-administration fans, who may think they can place full blame on the failure to take quicker action on climate change on the loss of their first choice for President. Perhaps they would be right — but nonetheless, the addition is entirely gratuitous and risks alienating those that need to be on the team, namely, the Republicans. Need I add that in America that’s about half the country.

Apart from that, the movie is monumental in importance. All Americans need to see this movie. One wonders if Gore truly believes that he will be able to accomplish more to right the long inaction on climate change by not running for President, or if, instead, he thinks that setting a “national mission,” akin to Kennedy’s “shoot the moon” challenge, would be the only way to truly effect timely change in priorities.

We’ll see.

Peace.

Harry’s Rating: 10/10

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6 Comments

Filed under Culture, Environment, International, Politics, Science

6 responses to “Harry’s Movie Review: An Inconvenient Truth

  1. Betty Grey

    This is an interesting, heartfelt review of the movie. As a people we could certainly do a better job of conserving our natural resources.

    Having not seen the movie–I would only ask if you have read an interview with Dr. Fred Singer, George Mason University, founder of the Science Environmental Policy Project–a think tank on climate and environmental issues.
    Also, Richard J. Somerville, Scripps Institute of Oceanography has an interview worth reading.
    Is it wise to take such an alarmist view. Perhaps debate between
    those most knowledgable about the environment would benefit all.
    There are, after all, scientists who differ here–and not just for political reasons. B G

  2. Ms. Grey,

    Nothing alarmist about science. I hesitate to start with ad hominems, and so I won’t: I’ll start with facts. I am informed that Dr. Singer is a trained electrical engineer, which qualifications I will not dispute, but their relevance I question. Dr. Singer has repeatedly claimed that glaciers are not retreating, but advancing, and has cited “A paper published in Science in 1989” as his source. As George Monbiot of the UK “The Guardian” has demonstrated, that source simply doesn’t exist — no article in Science in 1989, whether electronic or print, supports that claim. Pray tell, what are the scientific backings — and how recent are they — to his denials of scientific fact?

    So, alarmist or not: if Singer is going to question the solidity of science evidencing Mankind’s destruction of the environment, where is Singer getting his own science? Because he’d better have something solid, given the seriousness of the stakes. Turns out, he doesn’t.

    On your note about Sommerville, I’d be extremely interested to know just what article you’re referring to. I’d direct you to Sommerville’s statement of 10 Feb 06, that Richard Lindzen’s (M.I.T. meteorologist) denial of global warming is in the “extreme minority of the scientific community,” and is akin, according to Sommervile, to proposing that HIV does not cause AIDS.

    “[Lindzen, the global warming denier,] is taken seriously because he’s capable of excellent science,” Sommerville said. “[But] most of the scientific community thinks he’s mistaken… People are given a fair hearing and then we move on.”

    So, Ms. Grey, are you proposing that HIV does not cause AIDS? I jest, of course, but with all seriousness: the time for all-consuming debate is over, and the time for action is at hand. In the immortal words of The Princess Bride: “We are men of action. Lies do not become us.” And not that you’re lying — but I have some creeping suspicions that mendacity is behind some of these global warming detractors. I suggest befriending a scientist — I have quite a few as friends — and having them dirty you up with the nitty gritty. The path leans inexorably towards a causal link between human action and environmental degradation. Don’t trust me or Singer–heaven forbid trusting a lawyer or an electrical engineer: check it out yourself.

    Lime

  3. Pingback: China passes U.S. as top greenhouse gas emitter in 2007 « Armillary Observations

  4. Pingback: Warmest Year in History: 1934 According toCorrected NASA Climate Data « Dreadnaught

  5. Re the Dreadnaught post immediately above: So yojoe, assuming arguendo that RealClimate is incorrect in its 2005 description of McIntyre as “old news” and not a climate scientist, then in the interests of full disclosure and to prevent any subsequent cognitive dissonence when readers start to read the actual science, what are enquiring minds to make of THIS piece?

    RealClimate, a group of honest to goodness climate scientists with multiple publications to their credit (for one scientist alone I count nearly 60 pieces), notes credibly that (1) McIntyre is a businessman and a former officer or director of several mining companies (pro-environment? giggle)–not a scientist (query: does that matter?); (2) McIntyre wrote the same information you’re citing here in a submission to “Nature” magazine, which submission was rejected due to negative reviews by reviewers and editors, and (3) McIntyre’s claims are simply wrong that (a) use of non-centered Principal Components Analysis is invalid, and (b) the “Hockey Stick” pattern arises only from non-centered PCA, vice McIntyre’s proposed centered PCA (it arises in both). These latter two were the comments by the mining company executive rejected by the publication “Nature.”

    If climate scientists seem to think that there is global warming occurring, and mining company executives and electrical engineers (Singer, for example), disagree . . . then shouldn’t we be changing Fed. R. Evid. 702 and 703 to allow laypeople, also, to testify as experts in fields they know nothing about?

    After all, McIntyre’s short auto-biography not only admits RealClimate’s charges of complete lack of expertise in scientific matters, but states explicitly: “My research on climate topics has not been supported by any company, but has been carried out entirely for personal interest and actually at the expense of business opportunities.” Yeah, riiiight. A dabbler. Dude is in the mining industry, source of all sorts of coal and gloppity-glop. C’mon!

    I mean, just wondering.

    Lime

  6. Something very strange happens when you talk about Global Warming: science goes out the window and “belief” and “consensus” becomes the topic of discussion.

    It’s because of that fact that I give a failing mark to Al Gore’s documentary.

    Instead of promoting intelligent discussion, he kept the debate at the level of “belief” and “consensus”.

    Of course, when you’re trying to sell the world into spending trillions of dollars to “stop Global Warming” you may thing it’s a problem to tell the scientific truth: we don’t know how much of the current warming was caused by humans. Maybe none of it, maybe some of it, or maybe it has over-ceded the next Ice Age and we got really lucky not to have boiled the planet.

    But the fact remains that we don’t know.

    so we’re asked to “believe” in the “consensus”. Never mind that any scientist that strays from the “consensus” is ostracized. Never mind that scientific inquiry is about straying from the consensus. Einstein didn’t “believe” in the consensus, neither did Copernicus or Galileo.

    So why so much scorn placed on those very researchers who would advance the field by asking the tough questions? If Global Warming is so incontrovertible, surely a few people testing that theory can’t be so threatening.

    What is going on here? That’s the movie I was hoping Al Gore would have made. Istead, he chose to shore up his support with the true “believers” of the “consensus”.

    Sad, really.

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