'An Inconvenient Truth': climate change is indeed a moral issue
By Bob Carter
posted Wednesday, 20 September 2006
Professor Bob Carter is a researcher at the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at
James Cook University. Copies of scientific papers and other media articles
by Bob Carter can be accessed through his website.
Al Gore's movie on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, has surely been
the subject of more reviews and media comment than any other film in recent
history. Not least because of the unflagging razzmatazz with which Mr Gore
has undertaken a world "author's tour" to invoke publicity.
The Australian media - with Four Corners, the Andrew Denton Show and Phillip
Adams in the vanguard - have fallen compliantly into Mr Gore's sticky
fly-trap, producing breathless hagiographies of a man and film whose message
is rooted in junk science.
Film reviews typically contain four types of information. What a film is
about: in this case, human-caused global warming. How well a film is made:
this one being a beautifully crafted, photographed and edited production.
How well the actors play their roles: the only actor here, Al Gore, scrubs
up moderately well, exhibiting no obvious hanging chads though delivering an
over-rehearsed, and somewhat self-indulgent, performance. And finally,
whether a film is fact or fiction: in this case . well hang on a moment.
Those raw scientific facts that Mr Gore chooses for use in An Inconvenient
Truth are mostly correct. Indeed, much of the material could have been drawn
from elementary university courses in meteorology, geography or geology,
though one would hope that university treatments would be presented in a
more balanced and critical way.
Overall, the film is a compelling account of various natural earth phenomena
that have the potential to impact humanity disastrously, and therefore a
graphic illustration of the fact that we live on a dynamic planet. Were the
film to be stripped of its sententious script, we might be watching an
episode in David Attenborough's recent TV series, Planet Earth.
Hence, presumably, the appeal to audiences: who often break into spontaneous
applause at the end of a showing, and thereby reveal both their gullibility
to emotional messages and their lack of scientific understanding.
For the problem with An Inconvenient Truth is that it is well-made
propaganda for the global warming cause rather than well-made climate
science. Nowhere does Mr Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena
that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on
our planet. Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th
century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.
This is not surprising, for no such evidence yet exists.
During his movie, Mr Gore asserts that climate change is now a moral rather
than a scientific issue. He is right, though not in quite the way that he
might have imagined.
The moral issue concerns the way in which much of today's environmental
"science" - including that regarding climate change, as typified by this
film - is presented to governments and the public. Mr Gore clearly believes
that his presumed morally superior ends justify any means, including
distortion of evidence, and in consequence he nails his colours firmly to
the climate alarmist mast.
In an interview with Grist Magazine, when asked about his film: do you scare
people or give them hope?
Mr Gore replied:
I think the answer to that depends on where your audience's head is. In the
United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of
unreality. And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any
discussion of solutions. Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't
think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is
appropriate to have an over-representation of factual solutions on how
dangerous it (global warming) is, as a predicate for opening up the audience
to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going
to solve this crisis.
Indeed. And the intellectual dishonesty involved in this is not restricted
to Mr Gore's film, but has become all pervasive.
For example, professional sociologists at the London-based Institute for
Policy Research urge that "the task of climate change agencies is not to
persuade by rational argument. ... Instead, we need to work in a more shrewd
and contemporary way, using subtle techniques of engagement. ... The 'facts'
need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be
And the same authors then calmly advise: "Ultimately, positive climate
behaviours need to be approached in the same way as marketeers approach acts
of buying and consuming. ... It amounts to treating climate-friendly
activity as a brand that can be sold. This is, we believe, the route to mass
Add to these astonishing, Orwellesque statements the fact that Gore and his
Australian acolyte Phillip Adams urge that the public should take global
warming seriously because "more and more corporations see a quid in the
climate" and the crack in moral integrity becomes a yawning chasm.
The moral issue with An Inconvenient Truth is that of a person of talent,
born into a privileged family, and given opportunities to rise to the
position of vice-president of the United States, who then uses his
privileged position to lead a campaign of misinformation. Conviction
politics is doubtless needed to rise to the top of the political ladder in
any country; conviction science, in contrast, is a contradiction in terms
that should be anathema to any democratic society.
Professor Hubert Lamb, doyen of 20th century climatologists, remarked in his
classic book, Climate History and the Modern World that: "The possibility of
global warming, even drastic warming with dislocation of other elements of
the climate pattern as a consequence, has to be balanced against the
possibility of cooling, even drastic cooling, as the natural climate
develops over the same period. Neither side of the balance is yet adequately
known and understood."
Precisely. Professor Lamb's wise words were accurate in 1982 and they remain
accurate today. The task of climate policy, therefore, is to ensure society's
capability to react appropriately to the full range of modern natural
weather events, and to prepare adaptive plans equally for both future
climatic warmings and the much more dangerous coolings.
Would that Mr Gore's army of supporters were able to comprehend this simple
advice. With respect to which, it is noteworthy that global temperature has
not risen since 1998, and that scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences
have recently issued a warning that the next 20 years are likely to see the
development of a Little Ice Age, similar to the one documented from Europe
during the Middle Ages.
And what about the final piece of advice that is found in most reviews -
should you go to see this film, or not? Well, yes, if you like majestic
photography of dynamic earth phenomena and understand that the changes
depicted will always be with us. And no, if you dislike sanctimonious
A detailed analysis of the inadequacy of the science behind Mr Gore's film
can be found here.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Other Articles by this Author
» Al Gore's movie meets its match in Stockholm - October 13, 2006
» Mother-earthism infects climate change debate - October 6, 2005
» Cool rationality shatters greenhouse hype - August 4, 2005
» Modern 'global warming' may turn out to be just a lot of hot air -
November 7, 2003
» The Great Barrier Reef is doing just fine: a precautionary tale - March
All articles by Bob Carter
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and
hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series
of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. H. L Mencken