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An Inconvenient Truth

by Eva Amsen

When I enrolled in a science program at university, my original intent was to go into environmental science. I was going to change the world! During my first year in chemistry, I realized that environmental science is actually just taking measurements and producing “boring” graphs, so I switched to biochemistry instead. Still, I heartily support the people who do all those measurements that I didn’t want to do, which is why I made an effort to see An Inconvenient Truth (directed by Davis Guggenheim) in its opening weekend, when the box office numbers count.

A quick synopsis of the movie: Al Gore is giving a powerpoint presentation about global warming, interspersed with Al Gore telling about significant events in his personal life. This sounds unexciting, but let me assure you that this is the most interesting powerpoint presentation you will see this year. While I thought environmetal science graphs were boring, Al Gore had the opposite reaction to enviromental science graphs when he was in university: he saw the CO2 zig-zag graph when the data had just been collected for a few years, and it made such an impression on him that he has been trying ever since to convince politicians about the consequences of our CO2 production. Meanwhile, he has seen the graph steadily go up without any change… He has given his presentation over a thousand times now, all over the world, and he has really read up on the background and talked to the right people. The Washington Post says, in a review of the book that accompanies the movie: “Al Gore may have missed his calling: He would have made a fine science writer”, and they’re probably right. If I had seen Al Gore talk in my first year of university, I might have considered following the environment path after all. These graphs were interesting!

Gore addressed the misconception that “even scientists don’t agree on global warming”, by showing a comparison of peer-reviewed and popular media publications on global warming. All 900+ peer-reviewed articles acknowledged the existence of global warming, while half of the other articles did not. So scientists agree, it’s others that don’t.

From a scientific point of view, An Inconvenient Truth missed some details that would have made a difference: for example, Gore shows pictures of glaciers now and thirty years ago, to point out how much ice has melted, but he fails to mention in what season the photos were taken. Still, even with seasonal variation taken into account, the before and after pictures were remarkable. But that, and shots ice caps falling in the ocean, is about as far as he goes in terms of pure shock value pictures. Most of the rest is all data. We get a glimpse of some original published CO2 graphs, but most of his figures in the presentation are prettified versions of those graphs. I have yet to see the book, so I can’t say how well he has done his references, but he mentions personal contacts within the scientific community. What’s more, he has actually visited some problematic regions to see for himself what was going on.

It’s perhaps unfortunate, though, that he is probably preaching to the choir: the people that watch An Inconvenient Truth are the people that are already convinced that global warming is real. And his history of barely losing the 2000 election associates him very strongly with one side of the political spectrum. It also forces him to mention this event, and I can imagine his opponents would be turned off by this. Global warming shouldn’t be a political issue associated only with one side of the political spectrum, it deserves attention from both sides, and I’m not sure this movie is achieving that.

An Inconvenient Truth seems to rely strongly on alternative and independent advertising. I do recommend the movie, even if you’re not into the politics behind it. It’s a very good, and not at all boring, summary of what is happening with our climate right now, and even what has been happening for the past thousands of years.

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