Monday, September 11, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth: My thoughts

Well it was an unseasonably cold September evening in Sydney as we shivered and shuffled our way up Oxford St to the cinema and I couldn’t help but think "Bring on global warming".

Just kidding.

We had booked tickets for the sneak preview but we needn’t have – there were not a lot of people there. But then again, it was cold, it was a Friday night and we were there to watch a documentary on climate change. Anyway, we were excited. We purchased our choc tops, which seemed to be melting faster than when I was a kid, and settled in to enjoy – if that’s the right word – An Inconvenient Truth.

Ninety minutes later, our reactions were mixed. I found it pretty riveting, but of course I’m very interested in climate change and - more importantly - I'm a sucker for diagrams, charts and graphs. My girlfriend, Cat, found the presentation staid and she almost nodded off a couple of times. The presentation was unusual, even for a documentary. It really is a talk by Al Gore on climate change, albeit mixed with some spectacular footage and some very convincing and illuminating visual explanations of the science. No-one else gets interviewed or really speaks in the movie. That does give it a kind of one-sided feeling, even though the facts that Gore is presenting are mostly indisputable.

Gore is engaging though and he lays out a convincing argument. He explains the link between carbon dioxide concentrations and global temperatures, shows that current carbon dioxide concentrations are unprecedented and tells us the impacts that that will have. He gives the opponents’ arguments short shrift and I sometimes think this is a problem.

For example, I watched the ABC’s At the Movies show (for those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a chatty film review show usually in the form of a discussion between the two engaging hosts, and they had this to say after watching the film:

MARGARET: David, it's done very lucidly, the graphics are great, you know, if this is fact, then it's pretty scary. But what I want to know is, you know, if there is doubt about what Gore is claiming...

DAVID: Well, some people have attacked the film.

MARGARET: Right, well, I mean surely it's possible to set up a body that doesn't have any vested interest in either outcome, you know, that just wants to know the truth and finding out what the truth is. I mean, it can't be a scientific stretch to discover whether we're losing the polar ice caps…

I actually think we owe it to our kids and our grandkids to find out the truth, and, you know, I mean a lot of money ought to be put into finding out the truth of this situation. I mean, it's very easy to get people's gander up with a documentary like this, and I think it's been very well done, but, the truth of the situation is significant, and that's what this documentary ought to do. It ought to galvanise people in power to discovering the truth.

That discussion riled me when I saw it because, of course, exactly such a body does exist – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and it has answered most of the big questions. But after seeing the movie, I can understand why Margaret said this.

I think the problem is this. The science behind climate change is not highly disputed. There’s a lot of uncertainty at the margins about exactly what’s likely to occur, what the impacts will be, etc, but the basic concept has essentially unanimous support among serious climate scientists. (If I can attempt to summarise that basic concept, it’s that we are substantially increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere above historical levels and that this will result in a rise in average global temperatures and a massive range of impacts on climate (that will vary from place to place) including higher temperatures in some places, lower temperatures in others, more rainfall in some places, lower rainfall in others and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events – droughts, floods, fires – pretty much everywhere.)

The science behind climate change is not highly disputed, so Gore doesn't present a dispute, but climate change is highly disputed in the popular media. So when Al Gore presents one version of a debate which rages in the media, the natural question is ‘Well, what’s the other side of the story?’. That question is asked, I think, because people are used to social documentaries that concentrate on conflict – where people from two very different viewpoints are interviewed and their opposing views and stories presented. Documentaries do this because they want to appear to be balanced (though they rarely are) and perhaps more so because playing up the conflict creates drama and interest.

When that format is absent from a movie, I think people naturally ask whether they’re being told the whole truth. I guess it’s also because climate change science is presented popularly as much more controversial than it truly is. I would have liked to see Gore engage some of the main opposing arguments a little more - even if they don't truly deserve airtime.

Anyway, I think this is an important and compelling film. I’d recommend you see it – and take any sceptical friends with you. It certainly gets people thinking and talking about the issues. Our Saturday night was spent talking climate change, Kyoto and politics until the early hours of Sunday morning – not the usual Saturday night fare.

By the way, Al Gore is being interviewed tonight (Monday) on Enough Rope on ABC.


Anonymous said...

I should mention that part of the reason I was starting to nod off was because I'd knocked off the better part a bottle of wine before the film.

Having said that, however, the film's presentation of such interesting and important matters was, unfortunately, a bit dry, 'lecture-like' and one-sided.

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J said...

Although I found "An Inconvenient Truth" very biased and politically self-serving, I do agree that Gore presents a compelling case in support of global warming.
As the credits started to roll, I was impressed by the list of things that could be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, simply because most of these focussed on things individuals can do as opposed to the usual arguments of "the Government should do something".

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the film review. Can't wait to see it.

And how I miss Oxford Street and Sydney. Your mini-description just brought flash backs of those cold Friday nights running down to Ariel and Berkelouw Bookstores. Damn I miss the city! Even if metropolis's like Sydney does contribute to global warming.

russ said...

It is not so much that the science is not highly disputed, but that it is disputed in a different way. Proponents and opponents have both been guilty of presenting what is essentially a complex multi-layered dependent argument as an either-or proposition. Whereas the science tends to range from reasonably undisputed elements (such as that the Earth is warming, or to what extent it is anthropogenic) to relatively disputed (such as whether extreme weather is more likely, or what the final temperature increase is likely to be).

The IPCC report is quite nuanced, for the most part, and explains what is well known or not (at least to 2001, which was quite some time ago now, and things have changed). For whatever reason the uncertainty doesn't come out in the public sphere though; new research is presented as either, "this proves our case", or "this proves global warming is a sham". It is a difficult environment to engage people in, as even the "most likely scenario based on available evidence" is largely an average of many probable outcomes. The eventual changes to the climate could still end up either many times worse, or easily manageable (or both).

Veggie Friendly said...

I was really impressed by an Inconvenient Truth. The purpose was clearly to improve awareness about global warming and to catalyse people to act. It doesn't set out to be an objective documentary - it's the story of Al Gore's 'mission' to change attitudes to global warming.

Having said that, I thought it came across as more rationale and reasonable than many other 'issues' documentaries (Mike Moore, Outfoxed, Super Size Me). Sorry to say it Cat but the graphs helped!

The main benefit of the movie is that it will reach some people who aren't all that aware of global warming, and will bring credibility to the issue. What Gore does best is to translate the science and consequences into a form that a lay person can follow. The complexity of the issue is the main reason why so many people have been confused about what to believe.

Of course, you can argue it's all about his personal reinvention, and he'd be more unassailable if he devoted more time to his critics in the movie. But then, if didn't have a political identity this would never have been made, and if there had been more time devoted to examining the global warming debate the movie would be much less powerful.

David Jeffery said...

Thanks everyone for you comments. I agree with you russ. Hopefully the new IPCC report (due out soon I think?) will be reported by the media in a more sophisticated way than the last.

Anonymous said...

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.





To read the complete article please follow either of these links :




Jasmine said...

Wasn't sure if I had the correct email address for you, so I'm replying here to your comment on my blog. :)

I definitely curl up in bed with the e-book on my iPAQ. I've never read a book on the laptop.

The other cool thing is that the iPAQ is back-lit, so I don't need to worry about a lamp and making sure it's at the right angle. Also, it doesn't matter how huge the book is (which is an issue when holding the book in bed) because an e-book doesn't add any weight to the iPAQ. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree,it should be a simple matter to find the truth,without political interference.But this is not so.There is money to be made from CO2 emissions trading/capture/reduction!

Al Gore spews with hypocrisy also.
Things that you dont really want to hear because Al Gore seems so wholehearted about it all.

[b]ublic records reveal that as Gore lectures Americans on excessive consumption, he and his wife Tipper live in two properties: a 10,000-square-foot, 20-room, eight-bathroom home in Nashville, and a 4,000-square-foot home in Arlington, Va. (He also has a third home in Carthage, Tenn.) For someone rallying the planet to pursue a path of extreme personal sacrifice, Gore requires little from himself.[/b]

[i]Al Gore's mansion uses more than twice the electricity in one month than the average household does in an entire year. From the Tennessee Center for Policy Research:[/i]

Al gores inconvenient truth,I found very convincing and wanted to go stop all CO2 emissions.
Now,look at information from other sources-

Watch 'the global warming swindle'

Im not saying that this documentary is truth either.

But looking at one major source,is a sure way to not the true way.

Now.Temperature precedes co2 emissions by ~800years.Youl see this if he had overlaid the two graphs rather than keeping them vertically seperate.


Renova said...

"I actually think we owe it to our kids and our grandkids to find out the truth, and, you know, I mean a lot of money ought to be put into finding out the truth of this situation"

for me, that just nails the truth!