Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth

I have been looking forward to An Inconvenient Truth ever since I heard it was being made. Al Gore’s book, about it Earth in the Balanceamazon, illness had a huge impact on me when I first read it during the runup to the 2000 election, and I have always admired his tenacious advocacy for the environment whether it was politically popular or not.

It was heartening, therefore, to see this column from Richard Cohen in the Washington Post, in which Cohen correctly highlights the importance of the film:

I promise, you will be captivated, and then riveted and then scared out of your wits. Our Earth is going to hell in a handbasket.

Those of us who have been paying attention to global warming are already terrified, of course, but for most Americans climate change has never attained the sense of urgency that would allow the necessary societal changes. There are two reasons for this. First, climate change is not simple or instantaneous, so that the many small changes over time don’t seem to be alarming. Second, groups who make money in industries that cause climate change have been busy spreading disinformation so that the climate issues will seem awfully confusing, thus supposedly justifying endless spurious debates as a technique to maintain the status quo.

The film answers these two challenges with a wonderfully American solution: a movie with vivid, horrifying images:

You will see the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps melting. You will see Greenland oozing into the sea. You will see the atmosphere polluted with greenhouse gases that block heat from escaping. You will see photos from space of what the ice caps looked like once and what they look like now and, in animation, you will see how high the oceans might rise. Shanghai and Calcutta swamped. Much of Florida, too. The water takes a hunk of New York. The fuss about what to do with Ground Zero will turn to naught. It will be underwater.

We will see what kind of impact the film has, but I suspect that these images will be enough to impel people who haven’t been sure to make up their minds. Another interesting point that Cohen makes in his piece has to do with science and politics:

But it is the thought that matters — the application of intellect to an intellectual problem. Bush has been studiously anti-science, a man of applied ignorance who has undernourished his mind with the empty calories of comfy dogma. For instance, his insistence on abstinence as the preferred method of birth control would be laughable were it not so reckless. It is similar to Bush’s initial approach to global warming and his rejection of the Kyoto Protocol — ideology trumping science. It may be that Gore will do more good for his country and the world with this movie than Bush ever did by beating him in 2000.

Truly, one of Bush’s most long-lasting legacies will be the damage he has done to science and intellectual pursuits in our nation. I am happy that Gore is out there, speaking about a real problem that faces us all, and encouraging the use of ingenuity, ethics, and responsibility to solve it.

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16 Comments

  1. Posted April 18, 2006 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I loved that sentence in Cohen’s column about Bush relying on “comfy dogma” rather than, you know, actual facts. That sentence sums up the entire argument against Bush.

  2. Posted April 18, 2006 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    ‘Industry’ alone doesn’t cause climate change. Industry is merely fullfilling a demand from people – it is people that cause climate change. SUV’s, leaving the lights on, staring into the fridge looking for something that’s not there, idling cars, turning on the A/C when an open window would do. Everytime anyone uses power or gas when it’s not really necessary, they are contributing to the problem. These are the reasons for climate change. It is everyone’s responsibility, not just ‘industry.’

  3. Posted April 18, 2006 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    GreenGOP, when I read your comment I detect two arguments. First, you say that it is inaccurate to blame industry for global warming, since they are “merely fulfilling a demand from people.” Second, you implicate everyone who carelessly uses power in the worsening of global warming.

    I completely agree with your second point, that people ought to be aware of, and alter, their behavior as it relates to power consumption and our climate.

    I disagree, however, with your first point. It is, of course, true that industries fulfill demands–that is their job. This does not mean that it is ethical or necessary for them to provide the demanded goods, nor does it free them to offer whatever is demanded with no thought to the possible consequences. For example, I’m sure that someone out there would love to own an F-16, but we do not allow industry to provide it to them. An extreme example, but I use it to demonstrate that the fact of demand does not by itself justify the satisfaction of that demand.

    I also have a point that applies to both of yours. In all cases, you seem to be assuming that the consumer possesses sufficient knowledge to make a rational choice in the market. In some cases, such as your refrigerator example, this is probably true. In other cases, however, various industries have put a great deal of money and effort into producing “research” that obfuscates and confuses questions about the global climate, so that consumers remain confused, and make decisions without accurate information. In these cases, industries are willfully misleading their consumers to protect their bottom line, which is antithetical to both efficient markets and ethics in general.

  4. Harry Crumb
    Posted April 24, 2006 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Good thing for all of us dullards out here who cannot possibly know what is best for ourselves that we have the walrus, which does have sufficient knowledge, to help us make ‘rational choices.’ Typical liberal elitist bilge. I am sure that you don’t ever include yourself in the category of not possessing sufficient knowledge. Did you go to college for 10 years to gain all of that knowledge? That is not what freedom is about. You may be completely satisfied or comfortable living in a society where government and the intellectually anointed make your decisions for you, but I am not. Please do not attempt to use ethics to support your argument. Your ethics would use government with guns to force your agenda on all non-believers. No thanks. Go sell your bridge to someone else.

  5. Posted April 24, 2006 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Harry,

    I never said that I should tell people what choices to make. Rather, I said that people need accurate information to make choices. That’s why markets work so well. Insufficient, or willfully misleading, information leads to economically inefficient choices.

    If I didn’t trust the abilities of individual Americans to make choices, I’d be a communist. Which I am not. American consumers require adequate information to make rational choices.

    Thanks for reading.

  6. Harry Crumb
    Posted April 25, 2006 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Walrus,

    So where do you suggest this information should come from? Who is the clearinghouse for good information? Is it not the consumer, in a free market, who is responsible for his own information? I am quite capable of sorting through the BS info versus the good info. And let’s say that I am not – So what? As a free man, am I not also free to make mistakes and suffer the consequences? You seem to be making your decisions based on, what I would most definitely regard as, unreliable information about ‘global warming’ and its supposed causes. My point is that if you believe that there is global warming caused by man going on, then you should voluntarily cut back on your part in it. Get a bunch of those who think like you do to do the same. Don’t assume that everyone believes as you do and should be forced by the government with their guns to do the same. You may not call that communist, but it is nothing less than tyrannical.

  7. Posted April 25, 2006 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Harry,

    No one is free to inflict the consequences of their mistakes on others. Drunk driving is illegal for precisely this reason. There exist in the world true facts, such as the fact that drinking alcohol inhibits reflexes, or the fact that there is a higher concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide now than there was one hundred years ago.

    These facts, in turn, must be interpreted by the public in their decision making. The government does have a responsibility to protect citizens from the bad decisions of others, though (i.e. I think I shall kill everyone I see right now).

    In the case of global warming, the facts are exceedingly complex, and many interpretations are possible. This makes it possible for different parties with vested interests in particular outcomes to attempt to influence the public and the government by obfuscating the facts. The facts of the case, that global average temperature has been rising, that carbon dioxide concentration is increasing, and that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, are clear.

    It doesn’t matter what you believe. It matters what the facts are. That’s what I mean by accurate information. And the people to provide it are those with the most expertise or research–whoever that may be. There is no reason, though, that I should suffer for the mistaken beliefs of others.

    As a note, you seem to be hung up on the government’s guns. I do not advocate the government shooting people for making inefficient choices. I advocate better information and policy to improve the situation.

  8. Harry Crumb
    Posted April 26, 2006 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Under our current system, you do have to suffer for the bad decisions of others – you pay for drug rehab for those who cannot afford it, you pay for those who decide to build their houses in a hurricane zone, you pay for those who irresponsibly have children, you pay for those who irresponsibly spend too much money and declare bankruptcy, etc. Unfortunately, I think you have a flawed understanding when you say the government has a responsibility to protect citizens from the bad decisions of others. Our government, as stated in our founding documents, has the mandate to protect its citizens’ life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness (ownership of personal property). Our federal government has many great restrictions placed on it by the Constitution. It is very specific what the government has the authority to do. Protecting me from my neighbor’s desire to take my property – yes, the government must protect my property rights in that when anyone else’s actions infringe upon my inherent rights to life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. But when the government confiscates my money to pay for someone else’s bad decisions (desire to live in a hurricane zone), that is an immoral function of government. When you state that there is a higher concentration on atmospheric carbon dioxide than there was 100 years ago are you implying that it is the government’s responsibility to manage our national response to that? It is, as you say, the public who will decide what their response to these facts should be. It is not the government’s responsibility. Our government is so thoroughly inefficient that I don’t want them doing anything that they don’t have to do. Look at the response to Hurricane Katrina as just one example of how government cannot perform most functions as well as the private sector. So, please, do not try to assert that it should be the government and their regulations and ‘management’ of these facts who figures out a ‘solution’ to the rising global temperatures.

    You say that I am hung up on the government using guns to shoot people who make bad choices. Is that not ultimately what happens? The government enforces its mandate through the threat/use of force. Use the response to Hurricane Katrina as an example – private charity organizations were prevented from helping now, so that government response could organize and execute their ill-conceived plan in X-number of hours. Those charitable organizations would have ultimately been shot had they not complied. There are any number of additional examples in everyday life.

  9. Patrick Keating
    Posted April 29, 2006 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    My Dear Walrus,

    You cite two reasons why most people do not share Gore’s sense of panic. Let me offer a third. They remain unconvinced. And for sound reasons.

    The gobal warming prophets of doom speak as if they understand that of which they speak. Yes, the earth’s average annual tempeture has risen one degree centigrade in the last century. And yes, there has been a marked increase in the release of “greenhouse” gases into the atmosphere over that same time. But beyond these facts, everything else is conjecture. They assume, without proof, that the tempeture increase is caused by the increased carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

    Even if their assumption is correct, a one degree fluctuation in tempeture over a century might well be well within historical patterns. Meteorologists cannot accurately predict next week’s weather. Yet we are to put our faith in the projections generated by their computer models prophesying doom decades into the future.

    Despite this less than solid scientific foundation, Gore and his ilk would prescribe a drastic change to our society. Given the recent history of the prophets of doom a healthy skepticism is in order. Remember the dire predictions in the 1970s of the coming ice age? Remember the false preditions of the the “population bomb”?

    Forgive my cynicism, but it appears that “global warming” is merely the latest trope invoked by liberals to impose their economic program.

  10. Bishop
    Posted April 30, 2006 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Keating,

    so what you’re saying is that even though there may be evidence that something bad is happening, and that there are already very achievable alternatives to what might be causing something bad to happen, we should not pay attention to those alternatives because we think the radical left are jerks? I’m not saying we stop using petroleum, i’m just saying that if we put a little energy into renewable resources and try to tip the market in that direction, we will undoubtedly be doing some good, and might even be doing a lot.

  11. Patrick Keating
    Posted April 30, 2006 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Bishop,

    If you and others of the radical left (your term, not mine) wish to explore and develop “achievable alternatives” to the use of fossil fuels, I wish you success and Godspeed. You do not need any federal legislation or the passing of the Kyoto Protocals to proceed.

    What I oppose is the political agenda that drives the global warming crowd. If Gore could enact the energy policy he advocates, it would have profound adverse consequences for the economy and security of the country. That much is reasonably certain. Whether it would reduce the perceived threat from “global warming” or otherwise be beneficial to the enviornment is problematic.

  12. Harry Crumb
    Posted May 1, 2006 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Bishop,

    What Patrick states is the essence freedom. You are free to pursue, with those of a like mind, whatever environmentally friendly energy sources that you please. I am free not to. When you advocate that government mandate that I must use environmentally friendly energy sources as a response to “global warming,” you advocate tyranny. You can try to package it anyway you like, but it is nothing less than tyranny. Unfortunately, I have found that many people of this country have no problem with tyranny, especially when it is tyranny in support of something they believe in – welfare, paying money to victims of terrorist attacks, blackmail of tobacco companies, social security, etc. As stated in our founding documents, our government exists to protect our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Anything else that it does erodes our freedom and increases their power. And for those who love being free, that is a bad thing. Someday, everyone will face a time when the government and those busy-body do-gooders will fix their sights on something you hold dear, and you will then understand the power and evil of a tyrannical government.

  13. Bishop
    Posted May 3, 2006 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I suppose that in essence you’re right here, but the core belief i’m working with here is not a dogmatic insistence on pure total freedom, but plasticity in governance. The so-called tyrannical US government was set up to do a number of things, including being a safety net though i am undecided about how i feel about straight up handouts to natural disaster victims, particularly given the gross inefficiency of the current administration’s system to do so, but as you say it is there to protect our pursuit of happiness, our liberty, and our life. in this case, i maintain that the government’s job is to step in and say, hey, we admit that we have undereducated most of you, but we happen to know for a fact that ozone and other air pollution causes asthma, and smoking causes cancer, etc…, and for the protection of your life, we are going to place a selective pressure on the markets not to prevent, but to informationally and economically discourage you from doing these things. this will also have an effect on healthcare markets, reducing needs for pharmaceuticals (shed a tear), and likewise reducing required costs for and payouts from insurance companies, and thus hopefully lowering ridiculous health insurance premiums. markets are amazing in the way that they can compensate for a little regulation which in the long run can benefit us greatly. all we need is to pay attention to the science that tells us these things. and bear in mind here that i haven’t even mentioned easing global warming which i’m just going to let go as a potentially great side effect from legislation to help our very serious and growing respiratory and healthcare problems as a nation. The plasticity i’m talking about is the ability of the government to end its commitments, like in the case of when the precedents set by the Patriot Act’s violation of civil liberties begin to outweigh its usefulness in the fight against terror. we can end it. or how if our government, through awful awful governance turns out to be how many trillion dollars and counting in the hole, we can raise taxes a little on people who can afford to help the nation which helped them so much, and then when we don’t need the money anymore, we can repeal those taxes. or to take a more out there issue i’ve heard of, maybe some day we could decide that smoking pot really isn’t that bad for you (which it really isn’t), ease a huge problem in the prison system saving boatloads of money, and luxury tax the hell out of it, raising lots of money, and then we could lower other taxes. this ability to change to the better situaition for the great majority is the key to our government, protection of the people, and adapting to situations. adaptation is the key to survival of anything, be it a person, a species, or a government, and that’s what i’m saying we need here.

  14. Harry Crumb
    Posted May 9, 2006 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Bishop,

    First, the federal government does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, with impunity. It spends money on anything it deems important (and when I say important I mean whatever will help them get re-elected). The government can adapt within the current system. However, it will only adapt when they see a political benefit to do so. So the plasticity of government that you wish for is there, for better or for worse. The question then is: What are the reasons, principles, and authorities that our federal government uses to exercise this plasticity. By design, changes to the federal government can be made by amending the Constitution. But the Constitution is difficult to amend by design. It controls our Federal Government, which, also by design, has very explicit and stringent limitations placed on it by the document. The Founders did not want a federal government so plastic that it could react to the slightest blip on the radar (like high gas prices, a natural disaster, etc.). So through the amendment process, the government can legally and Constitutionally change its mandate or its authorities.
    What happens now, however, is completely different. Congress and the Executive see something they like and ‘shazaam’ money is spent on it. You cannot look at the folks in D.C. and believe that they do anything but what is politically beneficial and expedient (Yes, there a few exceptions, but not many). So, when Senator X says that the people in my state will vote me back in office if I get them money to do Y, or I will be able to get some national face time on the news if I support Z, then the Constitution be damned if it doesn’t explicitly authorize me to do it. The General Welfare Clause does not, as verified by the author of the Constitution, grant the authority to spend money on anything that anyone deems to promote the general welfare.
    A good example would be federally funded education. Never in the U.S. Constitution is the word education mentioned, yet somehow our federal government has gotten into the business of education with billions and billions of dollars. Where does it derive that authority? It cannot be from the U.S. Constitution. It is simply a case where many people think it is a good idea, so let’s do it. I ask you – if school was not paid for or mandated by the government, would your children be uneducated (you could certainly spend the money you pay in school taxes on education)? Schools, like anything ever put to the market, would be affordable, accountable, and much higher quality than if run by the government. You must agree that most everything touched or run by the government is inefficient and second-rate.
    You seem to be like most folks where you don’t want the government running your entire life, but don’t mind it running some of your life or controlling parts of other people’s lives. The problem is that when you give up that basic ‘dogmatic’ principle of freedom and limited government, you open the proverbial Pandora’s Box. You “maintain that the government’s job is to step in and say, hey, we admit that we have undereducated most of you, but we happen to know for a fact that ozone and other air pollution causes asthma, and smoking causes cancer, etc…, and for the protection of your life, we are going to place a selective pressure on the markets not to prevent, but to informationally [sic] and economically discourage you from doing these things.” I could not disagree with you more. But more importantly, the Founders would also disagree with you.

  15. Bishop
    Posted May 9, 2006 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    well, what you’ve shown me is not that the founders would disagree with me at all, but that the current group of pols disagrees with me, which we already knew, and since i like to argue, but you haven’t given examples of why you disagree with my comment about the government protecting us and providing a safety net, i’ll pick on your idea of private vs. public education.

    i personally went to a private school and received a pretty good (though not what i would in hindsight call first rate) education. my parents paid nearly 20k/year k-12 for me to go to school, and having looked into teaching after graduating from college i can tell you that wages at that school were less than ample. your idea works great in middle class, well populated areas, but the people who really need public schools are in poor urban or rural areas. lets look at a poor rural area in, at random, rural eastern tennessee. the population density just isn’t high enough to support a private school, there’s absolutely no financial incentive to start one in the backwoods with only a few people in the surrounding commuting area. this means children have to a) travel long long distances every day, b) board (expensive and separated from their parents), c) pick up and move to a different, already populated area (crowding it, and creating large unpopulated expanses), or d) just don’t go to school. given these options, my personal fear is that rather than move, a lot of people would just not send their kids to school. now in this scenario we have a lot larger portion of people who are uneducated and cannot produce in fields they might otherwise have been able to. there are a lot of jobs they cannot do, and as is the case with farming, many of these low skill, manual labor jobs are becoming automated and outsourced. where would we put this new caste of uneducated poor which we would have created? I feel it is a case of looking for your own personal long term gain vs. short. the relative equality of opportunity we have enjoyed in recent decades in this country has been a great aid for the stability of the nation. i’m no historian, but most of the problems i can think of off the top of my head are due to inequality between races, genders, castes, or what have you. that stability then brings with it a better chance for each person to earn a comfortable living which in turn creates a larger consumer base for you to market whatever it is you do to, and fewer desperate people against whom you need to protect yourself (for examples of this take a look at the middle east!). This is why i think that the clumsy and poorly run public education system is necessary for my very own personal benefit, even though I never actually used the system myself.
    Also briefly, i guess your governance belief system stems from the idea that the constitution is necessary (agreed) and sufficient (disagree) to run the country. Just because our founding document (the adaptation properties of which i entirely agree with you about) doesn’t specifically give the right to something like public education doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea. I agree that submitting to the most efficient governance lands us in Brave New World, and that a line must be drawn somewhere, but i disagree with what i take to be your insistence that we forsake any option that could help make everyone’s life better solely because of a semantic imposition on freedoms.

  16. Harry Crumb
    Posted May 10, 2006 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Bishop,

    I am not sure how you don’t see that I have shown you that the Founders would disagree with you on the unlimited power of the Federal Government? The Founders firmly believed that a limited Federal Government was essential in keeping government small and unobtrusive. The tenth amendment was written to ensure that States were given all powers not delegated specifically to the Federal Government. James Madison, who wrote the Constitution, explicitly stated that he didn’t believe that the Federal Government should be spending money on education – “If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, every thing, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress…. Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.” If that doesn’t show you that the Founders believed that the Federal Government shouldn’t be spending money on things not delegated to it – like education – then nothing will. Madison argues explicitly against your concept of “Just because our founding document . . . doesn’t specifically give the right to something like public education doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea.” We could debate the merits and demerits of public education versus market education and we certainly could both make good points. I argue that the market would create a better educated citizenry. That is a separate debate entirely.

    On the matter of the government protecting us and providing a safety net – First, protecting us from others’ intrusions upon our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness – YES. The government exists for that purpose. The government protecting us from ourselves – NO. If I want to take drugs, then it is not anyone’s business but mine, including the government. When my drug taking causes me to commit a property crime or intrude on someone else’s life, liberty, or property, then the government’s role is to step in and arrest that person. Government should have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I wear a seatbelt in my vehicle or not.

    On the safety net – I agree that the government is mandated to provide a safety net. Our current safety net does absolutely nothing to encourage non-dependence on government, however. The safety net, as envisioned by the Founders, was a life-saving device to allow someone to live in bad times. No one should be able to live comfortably who is on welfare. It should be so bare bones that it drives a person to productivity and work lest life be lived miserably. For all others, I will choose which charity I give my money to help people.

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