Two Points on "An Inconvenient Truth" (Point Two: Carbon Footprints)

Its a bit overdue, but I wanted to address the second point in regards to "An Inconvenient Truth"---whether or not carbon off-sets do any good and whether Al Gore is hypocritical for using jets (which pollute) to attend meetings, etc. This issue was first raised over at my SciBling's blog Stoat, during his review of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." During that review he said:

How would we stop global warming? Since Gore fervently believes in it, clearly we should - emulate his lifestyle! Yes thats right, fly around the world and visit all kinds of interesting places. Um. Maybe not so helpful. But I do wonder if amongst all the enthusiastic audiences he speaks to there isn't an element of this: hey this is good, maybe if I join the GW preaching and get Gores jetset lifestyle? Theres a bit near the end where Gore says "I've given this 1000 times; I keep refining it and trying to remove obstacles" (paraphrase). Given that, I wonder that there is no section on "so how do you justify your own carbon footprint"? Perhaps because there is no good answer (unless its supposed to be the bit that follows, which is where he says he needs to convince people one person, one family at a time).

(My response, under the fold....)

I left this comment on Stoat's post:


Blaming Gore for flying around the country to inform people about global warming is like disparaging someone for driving to a gushing oil field to fix it (or perhaps a better analogy would be to tell other people to fix it).

"Well look at all the gas they wasted driving there! How can he stand up and say conserve gas when he's using it himself? That hypocrite!"

Its a silly argument for the driver, and its a silly argument for Gore. Namely because a person, whether interested in change or not, cannot immediately alter the waste of society-- as that is how the world is currently set up. To hold Gore to a higher standard in his attempt to affect that change is skirting the issue OF change. Gore isn't saying not to travel, or drive, and he certainly wouldn't advocate nixing travel dates that would influence positive change in GW acceptance. The point of his campaign is 1) raise consciousness and acceptance, 2) begin to affect small changes in business models and industry.

Gore's idea to affect global climate change is to go to the minds of consumers--informing people how their small changes in where they put their money will force industry and business to stand up and pay attention. Hopefully, small changes accumulate into bigger ones and bigger ones. But in the same way that even the most dedicated of vegetarians can't avoid killing animals for their food (guess how many animals are killed in wheat fields during harvest, etc?), the point is to affect change where it IS feasible, and do the best you can.

Think about it this way: much research on viruses requires the use of live virus, or to work with tissue infected with some virus. The point of the research is obviously to quell or cure the virus, although along the way a few researchers and many many animals are infected with the virus. On the surface this suggests that this research is doing more harm than good, and actually exacerbating the problem by propagating the virus. Until of course, a solution/treatment/cure is found and the payoff is enormous. Gore may be in the short term exacerbating the problem of global warming by spewing out CO2 when he travels, but if he affects change, it will certainly be worthwhile.

Now, another commenter, also agreed with this reasoning and left an insightful post on their own blog Backseat Driving. Now to paraphrase, they note that Al Gore buys offsets to try to reduce his "carbon footprint" and that by choosing NOT to travel, Al Gore's message would reach a far, far smaller audience and perhaps go largely unnoticed. They also respond to Stoat's initial question to my comment, "Then how do you justify traveling to the South Pole?", by noting that people can speak to an issue much more aptly when they have seen the real thing. Talking about and studying climate change is one thing. But being able to experience it first hand, and to document it to illustrate to viewers, will say a thousand words for the cause of global warming.

Of course, not everyone can afford to buy carbon offsets (although Gore certainly can.) But these offsets aren't the end-all solution, no one is proposing that. It can be considered a tool in the arsenal, so to speak, or a stepping stone in the painful process of adjusting behavior to account for global warming. It isn't useful to ignore a small step just because it isn't the Holy Grail of a climate change band-aid. The bottom line should be, are you doing all you can? Gore is doing much in attempting to "be green" (which is more than I can say for 99% of people, scientists included), as well as raising awareness. He deserves our praise rather than our scorn.

Point One on "An Inconvient Truth", in defense of it being shown in a science classroom, can be found here.

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Xeno -

Yes, but in the Wonderful World of AGW denial, absolutely every argument is valid, or at least must be repeated ad nauseum. Remember, as far as they are concerned, Global Warming is just a big left-wing conspiricy to destroy the American economy..

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 22 Jan 2007 #permalink

the Wonderful World of AGW denial

I hope you're not suggesting that Stoat is an AGW denialist. That would be... misleading.

Stoat is absolutely not a GW denialist, it was just this one point on Al Gore and the movie that I took issue with.

Although Andrew is right to a degree that GW has been wrongly painted with the "liberal conspiracy" brush by certain groups.

Yeah, but, It would sooo kick ass, if Al Gore rode around in a horse and buggy, and used a sailboat for his transatlantic jaunts. I'd have said solar race car, but do you know how many petroleum products are used in the composites used to make those things? It's ghastly...ghastly I say. Then there's those batteries...aaaahhh. The potato-cell technology just isn't that effiecient yet.

Admittedly, he might have to make a few changes to his itinerary. Like, "hey China, I'm leavin' tomorrow, see ya in 3 months. Where feulin up the blimp as we speak."

Yeah. Because the rightwing is so respectful of people like Ed Begley, who work hard to minimize their environmental impact, that they pay attention to their message.
"'Living With Ed': New HGTV Show on Nightmares of Living w/an Enviro-Freak
By Debbie Schlussel
Based on USA Today's description, it sounds like the most amusing new TV show of 2007 will be "Living with Ed"--an HGTV reality show on the life of left-wing enviro-freak actor Ed Begley, Jr. and his wife, Rachelle Carson.
It looks like the show will portray how ridiculous these enviro-freaks are. And how impossible it is to live with them. And how joyless, to boot. It sounds hilarious"

But to be fair, we all know how the rightwing is dead-set against hypocrisy; they would never respect a crusader for hardcore sexual conservatism who strayed outside marriage, or a juist who decried affirmative action from a post to which he rose as a result of affirmative action, or someone who believed that children are best raised by a heterosexual married couple while his daughter raised a child with her lesbian life partner, or prowar zealots none of whose family members enlisted for the War to Save Civilization.