Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Inconvenient Reality

On Monday evening I went to see An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary on Global Warming/Climate Change. Have you heard of it? I hadn't until last week, at least not in the active or conscious part of my brain.

For those of you in Canada, you may be unaware of the movie in part because it isn't getting much press according to a commentary I read in The Toronto Star. It is definitely directed towards a U.S. audience, which makes sense considering the source. I checked, however, and it is being shown in Canada, at least in the GTA.

As a scientist, and an atmospheric scientist no less, I felt I had a responsibility to see the movie to determine whether or not I should recommend that others see it as well. (Specifically those who don't call themselves scientists) The verdict is pretty simple, though not entirely predictable. The quick answer is YES. You should go.

The longer, more involved answer:

For those of you who don’t know, which included myself until last night, Gore has been a student of global warming for about 20 years now. (Note: the more scientifically-acceptable term is actually climate change as not all locations are predicted to experience increases in temperature. According to models, some places may become significantly cooler.)

When I first learned that Gore had decided to star in a documentary about climate change, I immediately thought “that’s interesting… I guess he’s decided to do something positive with his post-political career.” I figured that his take on the subject had about a 50/50 chance of being an accurate portrayal of the current scientific understanding, and a 50/50 chance of being the rantings of a bitter ex-Presidential hopeful (no comment about Florida and hanging chads.) It turns out I was rather uninformed. Climate change has actually been a passion of his for much longer than his short stint as Vice President and Presidential hopeful, and he’s very much on top of the scientific information. It turns out that he has been touring the world giving a PowerPoint “slide show” on the subject. He estimates he's given the presentation more than a thousand times.

The documentary is essentially footage from some of the slide show presentations intercut with diary-like moments showing Gore’s personal journey to becoming a student of climate change research. The slide show portions, although delving into the scientific aspects of climate change, maintain an acceptable degree of laymen’s terminology and are very appropriate for a general audience. They are also both the most interesting and most informative aspects of the film. The little autobiographical snippits, although touching at times, are a little distracting. All told, however, they are not sufficiently annoying to negate the importance of everyone seeing the rest of the film.

As for the science, there is no doubt that Gore presents outcomes that have been modeled and are definitely plausible. There are some simplifications and generalizations, but the ideas behind them are reasonable. More importanly, it's not all doom and gloom. There ARE things that we can do about this. To start, we need to be informed. As citizens, commuters, consumers and parents, we have a responsibility to make wise choices. Our governments aren't forcing us to act responsibly, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't.

See the movie. Or if you prefer, read the book. Get informed. Your great-grandchildren will thank you for it.


meg & critch said...

I saw a preview for it. Part of me thought it looked good, and another part of me was cynical. Like perhaps Gore is trying to scare the U.S. in giving him another shot as President,or something.

I definately want to see it.

Hope you guys are rested from your Canadian Tour

Becky said...

The idea that Gore might run for office again is something that has some of my US colleagues suspicious. I don't know... it might not be a bad thing (after all, he was closer to winning than Kerry.) Of course, I'm all for Hillary leading the democrats in the next election. It's about time the U.S. had a female prez. But then, I can't vote, so my opinion is moot.