Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

An Inconvenient Truth

Last night, instead of writing some blog entries for you to read today, I went to the movies and saw An Inconvenient Truth.

An Inconvenient Truth is the companion film to the book with the same name by former-Vice President Al Gore. This film chronicles Gore’s life as he discusses some of the science that substantiates one of the most important issues facing this, and future, generations, global warming. In the film, Gore also tells the story of his growing personal concerns with this phenomenon, beginning shortly after he first entered politics up through his loss of the White House after the peaceful coop d’etat in 2000.

This film has an startling but compelling beginning: it begins with a clip of Gore stating that he has failed.

“I’ve been trying to tell this story for a long time, and I feel as if I’ve failed to get the message across,” Gore admits sadly, shortly after the film opens. Perhaps he is right: Gore has spoken to more than 1000 separate audiences around the world about global warming since 1989, but little appears to have changed in that time. So perhaps this film was created to partially mitigate his perceived failure by increasing the reach of his message from several thousand people each year to millions.

The film depicts the current incarnation of Gore’s global warming presentation, which uses a variety of sophisticated multimedia technologies and even includes a clip from The Simpsons Futurama (that I linked to my blog). He also uses a few unusual special effects, including keeping pace with an animated graph depicting the planet’s rising levels of carbon dioxide gasses by riding alongside it on an electric lift. Needless to say, he ends up many many feet above the stage.

This film features both graphical and video evidence that glaciers and the polar ice caps are melting, that hurricanes and typhoons are increasing in strength and frequency, that animals and plants are becoming extinct at increasingly frequent rates, and that mosquito-borne diseases are showing up in places that were too cold for mosquitos to survive only a decade ago.

Using these data, I think that Gore makes his case very well. He explains the data clearly and the graphs and timelines make it abundantly clear to even the most ardent naysayer that global carbon dioxide levels and average global temperatures are both increasing and that consumption of fossil fuels and human population growth mirror these dramatic changes. Gore also describes several surveys of the scientific literature itself, and finds that the scientific community is unanimous in their assessment that global warming is indeed occurring.

Interestingly, there is a personal element to this film as well. Despite the fact that this movie is based on Gore’s public presentation, short clips from his past life are interspersed throughout, so the film tells the intersecting stories of Gore’s personal and political lives even as it presents the data. I was pleasantly surprised by this because it provides a glimpse into Gore’s personality along with his sardonic sense of humor and, if you are seeking insight into his personal motivations regarding global warming, this film certainly provides that, too. Overall, Gore comes across as a deeply concerned parent instead of an overbearing and meddlesome politician.

I thought the film was informative and yes, even amusing at times. Even though it lacked car chases and gratuitous sex and violence, the film did include some footage of things being blown up that will please those of you who enjoy that sort of thing. As I left the theatre, I thought my time had been well-spent, that I had actually learned something. Even though the film focused on some very weighty issues, it ended on an upbeat note by pointing out that the solutions to global warming already exist and they don’t require decades of research to impliment them. Basically, the solutions depend upon each and every one of us. We ALL must make some very simple changes to our lifestyles and collectively, these small personal changes will help reverse the bigger events that are causing global warming.


  1. #1 Clark
    May 26, 2006

    He failed because he spent all that time searching for Manbearpigs in Colorado.

  2. #2 Leszek Pawlowicz
    May 26, 2006

    You mean Futurama, not The Simpsons, don’t you?

  3. #3 Joseph j7uy5
    May 27, 2006

    I am still waiting to see the film, but plan to go. The big question is, would he consider running for President again? I’d vote for him, again, but I am sure he would encounter a nasty counter-campaign from a number of directions; he might not be willing to put himself through that. On the other hand, if there is enough public support for him, perhaps he would consider it.

  4. #4 GrrlScientist
    May 27, 2006

    Gore is remarkably closed-mouthed about the issue of possibly running for the presidency again. my impression is that he is not sure himself what he wants to do yet. on one hand, i hope he does run again, but on the other hand, i completely empathize with his unwillingness to subject himself to the nastiness that will come along with another presidential capaign.

  5. #5 Cityzen Jane
    May 27, 2006

    I wasn’t a big fan of Gore’s before seeing the film. I came out hoping he would run again – but then I thought about it a bit. I think he has found a way to be effective on an issue that matters to him most. Moving back towards party politics would force him to temper his message. We need him to stay loud, clear and focused. Clearly – as are most of us – he is at his best when he is able to be passionate and direct.

    Bet he gave Hilary a scare though!

  6. #6 Bill
    May 28, 2006

    Read Dr. Roy Spenser’s rejoiner to Gore’s film at Tech central Station:

  7. #7 Clark Goble
    May 28, 2006

    Gore says he isn’t running. The quote from the article:

    ” In recent weeks, Democratic sources tell TIME, he has been quietly telephoning some of his biggest fund raisers and telling them to feel free to sign on with other potential candidates. And he wants them to put out the word, instructing, “Tell everybody I’m not running.” Still, Gore is positioned better than just about anyone else to tap the enormous, near instant fund-raising potential of the Internet should he choose to, considering the following he has generated among bloggers and with the Net-based political organization”

    BTW – I think the TCS article is pretty misleading. I’ve not seen Gore’s film and probably won’t. I think there are easier (and perhaps better ways) of learning about climate change. But the doubters are becoming more and more a self-parody. I was pretty skeptical myself in the 90’s. But the evidence is becoming stronger and stronger everyday.

  8. #8 eric
    June 17, 2006

    There is now a site dedicated to getting people out to see An Inconvenient Truth, called Share The Truth. Incidentally, anyone like Clark Goble (previous commenter) who “probably won’t” see it might consider visiting Share The Truth, and getting a free ticket to go to the theater. The site is not for profit, just for connecting people together.

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