By Stephen Leahy
BROOKLIN, Canada, Jun 20 (IPS)
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth”, is filling theatres across North America – and gets the science right, according to climate experts.
“I saw it last night and was impressed with the climate science presented in the film,” said David Archer, a climatologist at the University of Chicago.
“I left the theatre profoundly depressed because of the political insanity in this country that denies global warming is a concern,” Archer told IPS.
Gore’s personal passion about global warming can be traced to the early 1980s. After losing the election to George W. Bush in 2000, Gore dedicated himself to warning the public about the devastating impacts climate change will have on hundreds of millions of people.
“An Inconvenient Truth” is a 98-minute documentary comprised mainly of highlights from Gore’s high-tech slide show explaining the science documenting global climate change.
“Some truths are hard to hear, because if you really hear them – and understand that they are in fact true – then you have to change. And change can be quite inconvenient,” Gore says in the film.
Using an impressive set of graphics, he carefully illustrates changes underway such as receding glaciers, collapsing ice sheets, devastating floods and droughts. One memorable scene shows a graph of carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere going back 650,000 years that varies only a little until fifty years ago when it skyrockets. Gore mounts a motorised platform to lift him up high up the chart so he can place his finger on the current level of CO2.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, 34 industrialised nations are obligated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, which fuel global warming, by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The United States has refused to ratify the agreement because Washington argues that it would be too damaging to the U.S. economy.
But aside from a few remarks about the Bush administration’s willful blindness on the issue, Gore leaves politics out. In fact, he says his experience as vice president taught him that meeting the challenge of climate change is best and most quickly done at the town, city and state level.
And that is where action is being taken.
A new report from the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change notes that 22 U.S. states and Washington, DC have set quotas for renewable power generation in order to spur economic development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Gore’s documentary does a good job explaining the science and paints a compelling picture of the need for action,” says Katie Mandes of the Pew Centre, a non-partisan NGO that works with business leaders, policymakers and scientists.
“A very large part of the U.S. population doesn’t understand the complexity around climate change,” she told IPS.
However, after last summer’s record hurricane season, the U.S. public has become much more aware of the issue, she said. A poll conducted early this month showed that 81 percent of people in the U.S. aged 13 to 24 believe steps need to be taken right away to counter global warming.
At the same time, global warming deniers have mounted an all-out attack recently, employing clever sound bites and citing selected science to mock Gore’s concerns and muddle the data, she said.
“It’s a complex issue, it’s easy for these sceptics to confuse people,” said Mandes.
Most of the sceptics have a vested interest, often financial, in arguing against the need for action, says Archer.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), an influential right-wing advocacy group financed in part by the U.S. oil company ExxonMobil, launched a series of TV ads about the “the alleged global warming crisis”.
Scientists whose research is referenced as “proof” in those ads are crying foul over CEI’s misuse of the information. It’s “a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate”, said Curt Davis of the University of Missouri-Columbia in media reports about the misuse of his Antarctic ice-sheet findings.
CEI claims it is only trying to tell both sides of the story.
But as Gore notes in the documentary, a 2004 study published in the journal Science found that of the 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers published on climate change in the previous 10 years, not one disagreed with the view that recent climate change is due to human influences.
“There was no disagreement. Zero,” he says.
But that is not the way the issue has been played in the U.S. media. Another study of major newspaper and magazine articles revealed that 57 percent of the global warming stories said there was no scientific consensus around the issue.
“This is very frustrating for a scientist,” said Andrew Weaver of Canada’s University of Victoria and an internationally recognised expert on climate modeling.
“There is a well-organised and financed disinformation campaign over an issue where there is very strong scientific evidence,” Weaver told IPS.
The objective of this disinformation campaign to confuse the public and to delay governments from taking action, he said, adding: “I hope a lot of people will see it (Gore’s documentary).” (END/2006)