Lara Torgesen's Reviews > An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It

An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
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Feb 14, 2009

really liked it

This is a point/counterpoint essay I wrote on global warming for my energy & the environment class:

I read the Inconvenient Truth and watched the documentary when they first came out a few years ago, and I have been very concerned about climate change since then. I’ve calculated my carbon footprint and taken steps to reduce and I encourage others to do the same. At first glance, I thought that this assignment might be similar to the evolution vs. creationism/intelligent design debates. On the one side you have overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus across the scientific community, while on the other side you have merely human conjecture, speculation, and religious conviction as “evidence.” The argument that they should both be given equal weight and time in science classes in our public education system is absurd. However, when I watched the Global Warming Swindle, I was surprised at how many holes it managed to poke into my previous certainties about the causes of global warming. After doing more research on the Internet though, I think I’ve managed to patch up those holes. But I’m even more concerned now that there are other people out there who are looking for a reason to dismiss the urgency of global warming and that this film will give them an excuse to continue their complacency. Don’t get me wrong—I would love to believe that global warming doesn’t exist or at least that there is no human factor in the equation. We could just continue to guzzle fossil fuels at even faster rates and dump pollutants indiscriminately because it would really make no difference one way or the other on our environment. But the fact of the matter is what we do does make a difference because it does have an impact on our planet, our health, and even the future of our species.

The first topic of disagreement between the videos that caused me to do more research on my own was the role of the sun in the warming of our planet. The Inconvenient Truth didn’t mention the idea that the sun’s activities might be a cause for varying temperature on earth, but the Swindle video suggests that changing solar activity is much more closely correlated with the earth’s changing temperature than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. From the charts in the video, that would appear to be so, but in my later research I found out that the Swindle video had blurred out the data from 1980 on, because from that point on the two greatly diverge. The earth’s temperature continues to rise while solar activity remains relatively stable. In fact, the scientists who did that study concluded that the sun can’t be causing global warming because solar activity and the earth’s temperature have not correlated with each other for the last 30 years! The fact that the Swindle video would deliberately withhold this data because it doesn’t prove that particular theory (in fact it disproves it) is itself a fraud and a swindle. That point alone did a lot to discredit the video for me.

The second point that the two videos disagreed on was whether the recent warming trend is a natural part of the earth’s temperature fluctuations or whether human activity has had an influence on this trend. Europe was warmer in the middle ages and there was a “Little Ice Age” in the 17th and 18th centuries. This was kind of a “no duh!” point to me: I realize that the climate on our planet has varied over the hundreds of millions of years it has been around. However, the question is what is causing the current warming trend now—is it the usual natural causes of climate warming (solar activity, volcanoes, etc.) or is there something else coming into play? The research indicates that none of the usual suspects of nature climate warming are to blame for the current warming trend. But there is a situation on the earth right now that has never happened before—specifically 6 billion little earthly inhabitants who pull carbon out of the earth at increasingly faster rates and dump it into the atmosphere. The Swindle makers say it’s arrogant of us to think that tiny little insignificant people could have an effect on a huge thing like the earth’s climate. Perhaps we are tiny and insignificant individually, but collectively we are a force to be reckoned with. And I think it’s naive to think nothing we do could ever have an impact on this planet.

The third topic of disagreement was the amount of consensus among the scientific community on whether recent warming trends could be attributed to human activity. Al Gore cited Dr. Oreskes’ study of the peer-reviewed science journal articles on global warming from the previous 10 years. Of the 928 articles that were sampled, 0% were in doubt as to the cause of global warming. The Swindle video seemed to suggest that there was much more variation in the scientific community and that it is even difficult to get funding for a study unless you can somehow tie it to the global warming bandwagon. I had a hard time swallowing the idea that so many scientists in independent, peer-reviewed studies could have been duped into the same faulty conclusions. The dissenting scientists on Swindle did seem to be credible and had stated that they never got a cent from big oil or big coal for raising doubt, I found some pretty damning evidence against several of the spokespersons in Swindle on a web site that debunked the video. It turns out that nearly all of them have received payments from fairly large energy companies—especially those that are anti-environmental organizations. And many of the Swindle scientists have not been published in peer-reviewed journals in several years. It appears they are not as credible as they might seem.

The last topic of disagreement that I would like to address is the correlation of carbon dioxide measurements in the earth’s atmosphere with the temperature of the earth. In the Inconvenient Truth video, it seems quite evident that they are closely correlated. In the Swindle video, it says carbon dioxide measurements actually lag behind temperature rise measurements—that it would appear it’s the rise in temperature that causes increases in carbon dioxide, not the other way around. It’s difficult for me to understand the exact science behind it, but from what I learned it is not one way or the other. They are both true—carbon dioxide both lags and amplifies temperature. One thing I read that helped me understand was that chickens both hatch from and lay eggs—showing one does not disprove the other.

There are two other things about the Swindle video that I would like to address here: one that I strongly agreed with and one that I strongly disagreed with. It was maddening to watch as the United Nations people fly into poverty-stricken, third-world areas and tell people what kind of energy they need to use. The doctor at the one run-down village health clinic described how he could not use the light and the refrigerator at the same time with the energy from the solar panel that they had. It’s ridiculous to think that developing nations are ever going to get anywhere with energy sources that are too expensive and too difficult for developed nations to implement themselves! I firmly believe that developed nations have to take the lead in renewable energy sources and shoulder the burden of the cost for implementing them. Poor countries need to use the cheapest and most available energy sources available to them. It is their right. We will never convince other people to do what we can’t (or won’t) do for ourselves.

That being said, I also strongly take issue with the portrait of all environmentalists as fundamentalists who (since the fall of our beloved communism?!?) have needed something to yell and scream about, hence we latched onto the global warming scam. There may be a strand of environmentalism that goes to extremes and gives everyone in the movement a bad name. I consider myself to be an environmentalist, but all I want is to have clean air and water for myself, my children, and people 500 years from now. I see a connection between the health of the environment and the health of human beings. I don’t think that means we have to go back to horse and buggy or churn our own butter. I rather enjoy new technologies and the modern conveniences of life. But I think we need to enjoy the earth’s resources in a responsible and sustainable way and come up with innovative ways to reduce the strain of our ever-growing population on our environment. I’m not one to think we have to save the planet—this planet has been around a long time and will continue to be around in whatever form we leave it in. Whether we as a species continue to be around and thrive on this planet is the question that remains to be answered.
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