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An inconvenient Truth

An inconvenient truth
1)By Roger Ebert; A Major Film Critic 30 over years into his profession. He has this to say:
"You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to."

I want to write this review so every reader will begin it and finish it. I am a liberal, but I do not intend this as a review reflecting any kind of politics. It reflects the truth as I understand it, and it represents, I believe, agreement among the world's experts.

Global warming is real.

It is caused by human activity.

Mankind and its governments must begin immediate action to halt and reverse it.

If we do nothing, in about 10 years the planet may reach a "tipping point" and begin a slide toward destruction of our civilization and most of the other species on this planet.

After that point is reached, it would be too late for any action.

These facts are stated by Al Gore in the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Forget he ever ran for office. Consider him a concerned man speaking out on the approaching crisis. "There is no controversy about these facts," he says in the film. "Out of 925 recent articles in peer-review scientific journals about global warming, there was no disagreement. Zero."

He stands on a stage before a vast screen, in front of an audience. The documentary is based on a speech he has been developing for six years, and is supported by dramatic visuals. He shows the famous photograph "Earthrise," taken from space by the first American astronauts. Then he shows a series of later space photographs, clearly indicating that glaciers and lakes are shrinking, snows are melting, shorelines are retreating.

He provides statistics: The 10 warmest years in history were in the last 14 years. Last year South America experienced its first hurricane. Japan and the Pacific are setting records for typhoons. Hurricane Katrina passed over Florida, doubled back over the Gulf, picked up strength from unusually warm Gulf waters, and went from Category 3 to Category 5. There are changes in the Gulf Stream and the jet stream. Cores of polar ice show that carbon dioxide is much, much higher than ever before in a quarter of a million years. It was once thought that such things went in cycles. Gore stands in front of a graph showing the ups and downs of carbon dioxide over the centuries. Yes, there is a cyclical pattern. Then, in recent years, the graph turns up and keeps going up, higher and higher, off the chart.

The primary man-made cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. We are taking energy stored over hundreds of millions of years in the form of coal, gas and oil, and releasing it suddenly. This causes global warming, and there is a pass-along effect. Since glaciers and snow reflect sunlight but sea water absorbs it, the more the ice melts, the more of the sun's energy is retained by the sea.

Gore says that although there is "100 percent agreement" among scientists, a database search of newspaper and magazine articles shows that 57 percent question the fact of global warming, while 43 percent support it. These figures are the result, he says, of a disinformation campaign started in the 1990s by the energy industries to "reposition global warming as a debate." It is the same strategy used for years by the defenders of tobacco. My father was a Luckys smoker who died of lung cancer in 1960, and 20 years later it was still "debatable" that there was a link between smoking and lung cancer. Now we are talking about the death of the future, starting in the lives of those now living.

"The world won't 'end' overnight in 10 years," Gore says. "But a point will have been passed, and there will be an irreversible slide into destruction."

In England, Sir James Lovelock, the scientist who proposed the Gaia hypothesis (that the planet functions like a living organism), has published a new book saying that in 100 years mankind will be reduced to "a few breeding couples at the Poles." Gore thinks "that's too pessimistic. We can turn this around just as we reversed the hole in the ozone layer. But it takes action right now, and politicians in every nation must have the courage to do what is necessary. It is not a political issue. It is a moral issue."

When I said I was going to a press screening of "An Inconvenient Truth," a friend said, "Al Gore talking about the environment! Bor...ing!" This is not a boring film. The director, Davis Guggenheim, uses words, images and Gore's concise litany of facts to build a film that is fascinating and relentless. In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Am I acting as an advocate in this review? Yes, I am. I believe that to be "impartial" and "balanced" on global warming means one must take a position like Gore's. There is no other view that can be defended. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, has said, "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I hope he takes his job seriously enough to see this film. I think he has a responsibility to do that.

What can we do? Switch to and encourage the development of alternative energy sources: Solar, wind, tidal, and, yes, nuclear. Move quickly toward hybrid and electric cars. Pour money into public transit, and subsidize the fares. Save energy in our houses. I did a funny thing when I came home after seeing "An Inconvenient Truth." I went around the house turning off the lights.

2) A review by Climate Scientists, who point out what they think are teeny-weeny mistakes..

Along with various Seattle business and community leaders, city planners and politicians, a large group of scientists from the University of Washington got a chance to preview the new film, An Inconvenient Truth, last week. The film is about Al Gore’s efforts to educate the public about global warming, with the goal of creating the political will necessary for the United States to take the lead in efforts to lower global carbon emissions. It is an inspiring film, and is decidedly non-partisan in its outlook (though there are a few subtle references to the Bush administration’s lack of leadership on this and other environmental issues).

Since Gore is rumored to be a fan of RealClimate, we thought it appropriate to give our first impressions.

Much of the footage in 
Inconvenient Truth is of Al Gore giving a slideshow on the science of global warming. Sound boring? Well, yes, a little. But it is a very good slide show, in the vein of Carl Sagan (lots of beautiful imagery, and some very slick graphics and digital animation). And it is interspersed with personal reflections from Gore that add a very nice human element. Gore in the classroom in 1968, listening to the great geochemist Roger Revelle describe the first few years of data on carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere. Gore on the family farm, talking about his father’s tobacco business, and how he shut it down when his daughter (Al Gore’s sister) got lung cancer. Gore on the campaign trail, and his disappointment at the Supreme Court decision. This isn’t the “wooden” Gore of the 2000 campgain; he is clearly in his element here, talking about something he has cared deeply about for over 30 years.

How well does the film handle the science? Admirably, I thought. It is remarkably up to date, with reference to some of the very latest research. Discussion of recent changes in Antarctica and Greenland are expertly laid out. He also does a very good job in talking about the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity. As one might expect, he uses the Katrina disaster to underscore the point that climate change may have serious impacts on society, but he doesn’t highlight the connection any more than is appropriate (see our post on this, 

There are a few scientific errors that are important in the film. At one point Gore claims that you can see the aerosol concentrations in Antarctic ice cores change “in just two years”, due to the U.S. Clean Air Act. You can’t see dust and aerosols at all in Antarctic cores — not with the naked eye — and I’m skeptical you can definitively point to the influence of the Clean Air Act. I was left wondering whether Gore got this notion, and I hope he’ll correct it in future versions of his slideshow. Another complaint is the juxtaposition of an image relating to CO2 emissions and an image illustrating invasive plant species. This is misleading; the problem of invasive species is predominantly due to land use change and importation, not to “global warming”. Still, these are rather minor errors. It is true that the effect of reduced leaded gasoline use in the U.S. does clearly show up in Greenland ice cores; and it is also certainly true that climate change could exacerbate the problem of invasive species.

Several of my colleagues complained that a more significant error is Gore’s use of the long ice core records of CO2 and temperature (from oxygen isotope measurements) in Antarctic ice cores to illustrate the correlation between the two. The complaint is that the correlation is somewhat misleading, because a number of other climate forcings besides CO2 contribute to the change in Antarctic temperature between glacial and interglacial climate. Simply extrapolating this correlation forward in time puts the temperature in 2100 A.D. somewhere upwards of 10 C warmer than present — rather at the extreme end of the vast majority of projections (as we have discussed
here). However, I don’t really agree with my colleagues’ criticism on this point. Gore is careful not to state what the temperature/CO2 scaling is. He is making a qualitative point, which is entirely accurate. The fact is that it would be difficult or impossible to explain past changes in temperature during the ice age cycles without CO2 changes (as we have discussed here). In that sense, the ice core CO2-temperature correlation remains an appropriate demonstration of the influence of CO2on climate.

For the most part, I think Gore gets the science right, just as he did in 
Earth in the Balance. The small errors don’t detract from Gore’s main point, which is that we in the United States have the technological and institutional ability to have a significant impact on the future trajectory of climate change. This is not entirely a scientific issue — indeed, Gore repeatedly makes the point that it is a moral issue — but Gore draws heavily on Pacala and Socolow’s recent work to show that the technology is there (see Science 305, p. 968 Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies).

I’ll admit that I have been a bit of a skeptic about our ability to take any substantive action, especially here in the U.S.
Gore’s aim is to change that viewpoint, and the colleagues I saw the movie with all seem to agree that he is successful.


3) By Jurgen Fauth. (dunno who he is? Me neither but he writes well!)

An Inconvenient Truth--the film's approach is rational to a fault. With a little help from Simpsons creator Matt Groening and state-of-the-art flat screen monitors, An Inconvenient Truth lays out Gore's case: we are now seeing the beginning of a climate crisis that threatens life on Earth as we know it. The on-screen evidence is difficult to dismiss--charts and graphs reveal frightening trends, and the film loses no time showing us the destruction of Hurricane Katrina along with a series of comparative photographs from disappearing glaciers around the world, footage of collapsing ice shelves, data on the record numbers of storms, floods, and other kinds of extreme weather, animations of the effects of rising sea levels, new diseases, photos of dying polar bears and disappearing coral reefs. 

"A nature hike through the Book of Revelations," Gore calls it.Gore, who estimates that he has given his global warming presentation about a thousand times all over the world, builds his argument with measured, road-tested ease. He is no scientist, but he manages to convincingly portray himself as an expert on the topic. Short segments offer brief biographical sketches that dramatize Gore's personal dedication--here he is onboard a nuclear submarine surfacing in the Antarctic, here he is reminiscing about the 2000 election and his sister's death from lung cancer. These digressions always tie back into the film's argument rather than functioning purely as puff pieces.Gore insists that global warming is not a political issue at all--it is "a moral issue."

 With evenhanded precision, he also demolishes the usual skeptic's talking points. There is no "controversy" surrounding global warming; among scientists, there is one hundred percent agreement on the threat. With a few more well-selected graphs, he shows that the choice between economical and ecological well-being is also a false dilemma. American car makers, for instance, are currently losing money because U.S. gas mileage standards are so lenient that their product can't be exported to many countries.

Still, the question remains--why would anybody in their right mind want to spend their hard-earned money on what admittedly sounds like a bummer of a slide show? Because knowledge is empowering, and An Inconvenient Truth is not a depressing film. Gore's forecast is serious, but he knows better than to leave us in despair. There is room for hope. He insists that the solutions to the problem are within reach; we are only lacking the political will to do anything about what he calls a "moral imperative." 

Indeed: anybody who takes a long-term interest in the state of the planet--say, more than next hurricane season--would do well to see An Inconvenient Truth. It would be a welcome surprise if this well-crafted and well-argued film actually started a national debate about the very real threat of global warming.

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