Grumpy review of An Inconvenient Truth

At the third or fourth chance, the convenience of having this thing screened at BAS in the (extended) lunch break was too much to miss, and I've seen it. Its a documentary (I suppose) but a partisan one (maybe they all are...). Nothing really gets any caveats, unlike all my posts (for which see Ms. Rabett's Nude Scientist Exam). It ends with a fervent exhortation to do Your Bit and visit - when I did that, the first thing it offered me was the chance to buy the DVD, so clearly this is Consumption for Climate.

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 familay at a time).

I'm sorry but I'm going to harp on about this a bit more. There is an earlier section where Gore says something like "after my sons accident I realised how fragile things were... and I dug into GW... I went to the South Pole... to the Amazon... to talk to people who could tell me". But this is all nonsense. There is no need to travel abroad for any of that, other than to have a fun jolly. You want to talk to people about GW, go to a university.

Anyway, thats the Personal Resonsibility dealt with. What about the science?

Its more or less OK, um, except the bits that aren't, and except its completely without qualifications, and consistently on the high side. Examples:

Starts with voice-over images of Katrina. Katrina section in the middle. But Katrina was unexciting as a hurricane, except for its unfortunate track (I think thats consistent with the RC party line :-).

There was some spread-of-disease stuff, which appeared to show the West Nile Virus spreading across the whole US. If it did, then its clearly not very climate sensitive. A bit later I'm sure there was a pic of a *dodo* amongst the extinct species. If so, thats a clue that general habitat destruction and general human ravenousness is more of a problem than our CO2.

Closer to home, there is stuff about the Larsen ice shelf breakup. Apparently scientists were astonished by it, because it wasn't supposed to happen even with 100y of GW. News to me.

There are a number of dubious factoids which I doubt would stand up, e.g. something about island peoples having already relocated to New Zealand. And 30% of CO2 from forest burning sounds wrong.

Pretty animations of 5m sea level rise flooding Manhattan and whatever. No mention of timescale. Its very dubious showing this stuff without saying "and this won't happen in 100 years".

The bit I liked best was the boiling frog, and not just because they rescued it. But because its a pretty good image for our society as a whole, and indeed individual people in particular (me). We get stuck in patterns and then its so much effort to re-arrange ourselves. In the film, someone comes in from outside to rescue the frog. Who will come and rescue us? The other "image" is the sister-dies-of-smoking bit. After which his father stopped growing tobacco. But as Gore points out, the surgeon generals report was 1964. So the motto one can draw from that is: people won't stop the biz-as-usual until their relatives start dying (and/or being seriously affected). Which I fear is likely to be true :-(

[Oops, I forgot: RC reviewed this too. Um. Well I say its *very* partisan, though I don't mean party-partisan, I mean in the sense of strongly pushing one side -W]


More like this

Gore has said numerous times that he offsets his own carbon footprint with carbon neutral programs, and moreover, that all carbon expenditures of the making of the documentary were offset, too.

[Thats very good. But. I'm somewhat dubious about this wipe-out-my-guilt by offsetting stuff. Must try to write it up into a post sometime. Firstly how well regulated is it? Secondly I doubt there is enough offsetting available, or possibly available, to allow all transport to be offset. And thirdly it doesn't help all the externalities of travel - the noise, the disturbance -W]

I would also like to know more about the effectiveness of carbon offsets and am somewhat skeptical. But on the positive side, even if it doesn't quite meet expectations, the fact that people are willing to pay such things creates a badly needed revenue stream for "climate regulation (ecossytem) services" even if we still have something to learn about how to make it work better. At this point, even if it only went into good research and public education about how we might even begin to change lifestyles in a meaningful way, that is a good start. It won't last unless effectiveness can be shown, or at least learning and improvement...

[If it did that, I'd be happy. But if its going into the pockets of canny business folk who have realised that there is a strong market for carbon offsetting from people who really don't mind too much exactly where their money is going as long as they get to feel guiltless about their plane trips... -W]

Blaming Gore for flying around the country to inform people about global warming is like diaparaging 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.

Sorry for the long comment.

[So... how do you justify him visiting the south pole? -W]

"Secondly I doubt there is enough offsetting available, or possibly available, to allow all transport to be offset."

I'm a bit dubious about offsetting schemes that rely on growing trees but offsetting that involves replacing fossil-fuel-based energy generation with wind energy, for example, does seem to be a genuine offset method. For example, where I live, 65% of GHG emissions are from electricity generation (terrible I know). Offsetting can be used to pay for replacing this with non-fossil-fuel-burning generation while there are still a lot of people who are not prepared to pay for this for their own electricity consumption.

So I'd say offsetting works while there are still lots of opportunities for replacing fossil-fuel-burning generation with non-fossil-fuel-burning generation.

By Chris O'Neill (not verified) on 11 Jan 2007 #permalink

There may not be enough offsetting available for everyone, but as long as only a few people do it they can offset their emissions to a fairly low cost. Assuming the offsetting is honest I really don't see anything wrong in that. Admittedly one has to beware of phony schemes that are just designed to earn money.

I fear that buying emission permits and canceling them as some people do in EU is such a pointless effort. If this becomes too popular EU will just start giving away more of those permits to the industry, which can then earn money by selling them to environmentalists.

Aren't most of the polynesians who relocate to NZ either rugby recruits or refugees from various Pacific Island coups? Perhaps fossil fuel burning allows tighter scrum packing and revolutionary fervour.

William, I just can't tell, through what seems to be all the increasing cynicism (you also seem to be going a tad CAish), what you position wrt anthro climate change (how much, why, and what we should do) and the other changes wrought by us is anymore.

On a slightly different but linked tack, is your party still your party? Or are you beggining to think like a sceptic that now we've done the first two (it's not happening, it is happening) that it's now too late and we might just as well go full speed and wreck the place but have some good old hedonistic fun in the process?

I'm, as I say, really not entirely sure what you think anymore.

By Peter Hearnden (not verified) on 11 Jan 2007 #permalink

As I've said elsewhere, offsets are a good thing to the extent that they encourage emission reductions. Are all offsets created equal? No. Some are easier to measure (e.g. fuel switching vs methane reductions from cattle), while others have more risk of leakage (literally in the case of CCS (carbon capture and storage) or burning (in the case of forests). However, both these issues can be addressed by discounting the value of the offset.

The real problem with offsets is in dealing with additionality. IOW, would the project in question have proceeded anyway (i.e. without the funds from the offset). While this might seem straightforward at first, in practice it can be very difficult. A good article with links can be found here:

The article notes that the offsets world is very much like the wild west right now with no common industry wide standard. But that is bound to change as they become more mainstream.

IMO offsets really are no different than any other market commodity. In the stock market there are plenty of companies that fudge their books, overhype, misrepresent, and outright lie. But there are plenty more that are honest, and diligent, because by and large the risk of exposure outweighs the benefit. Regulatory oversight exists to minimize abuses, not eliminate them altogether. Same thing applies to offsets, but at the end of the day ... caveat emptor.

One of the reasons that these discussions about offsets bugs me so much is that it appears to me that we're letting our fetish for efficiency prevent actual action to address the problem.

By Marlowe Johnson (not verified) on 12 Jan 2007 #permalink

Harrumph. The Lemming shows no useful knowledge of the sport, people or politics of the South Pacific. Perhaps he/she/it might care to jump off a cliff?

Here are pictures

"CARTER: My name's Chris Carter. I'm a member of parliament. I represent perhaps the largest number of Tuvalu people in the parliament because the majority of community live here in western Auckland. The government recognizes very much that Tuvalu particularly, being an atoll state, is very vulnerable to climate change and to rising sea levels. In fact, our prime minister has told the prime minister of Tuvalu that if the worst comes to the worst we will take the entire community."

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 12 Jan 2007 #permalink


From your link:

TAMAIO: I just want to migrate to migrate, no threatening reasons.

By Steve Reynolds (not verified) on 13 Jan 2007 #permalink

Being an actual New Zealander (but not one of the 6.8% who identified themselves as "Pacific peoples" in the 2006 Census) perhaps I can comment.

There are quite a few people from Pacific Islands in NZ and many of the smaller islands now have more people living in New Zealand than in the home island. (This is a deliberately vague statement and avoids the question of whether a person who was born in NZ of, say, Tuvaluan parents is really a Tuvaluan. Like the NZ Census authorities I take the view that if you think you are a Tuvaluan, then who am I to tell you otherwise?)

The reasons for this migration are various, but, I think, largely economic. I recall being rather surprised by Al Gore's talk of climate refugees in New Zealand: it's not something I'd heard of. At most, climate change is just part of the picture, and in this case not (yet) a very large part.

By Mark Hadfield (not verified) on 14 Jan 2007 #permalink