Monday, January 08, 2007

Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” Morally Questionable

Slate is a liberal online journal, and Gregg Easterbrook is a good Global Warming Believer.

Which is why even liberals ought to pay some attention when he criticizes Al Gore’s environmental jeremiad “An Inconvenient Truth.”
The picture the movie paints is always worst-case scenario. Considering the multiple times Gore has given his greenhouse slide show (he says “thousands”), it’s jarring that the movie was not scrubbed for factual precision. For instance, this 2005 joint statement by the science academies of the Western nations, including the National Academy of Sciences, warns of sea-level rise of four to 35 inches in the 21st century; this amount of possible sea-level rise is current consensus science.

Yet An Inconvenient Truth asserts that a sea-level rise of 20 feet is a realistic short-term prospect. Gore says the entire Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets could melt rapidly; the film then jumps to animation of Manhattan flooded. Well, all that ice might melt really fast, and a UFO might land in London, too. The most recent major study of ice in the geologic past found that about 130,000 years ago the seas were “several meters above modern levels” and that polar temperatures sufficient to cause a several-meter sea-level rise may eventually result from artificial global warming. The latest major study of austral land ice detected a thawing rate that would add two to three inches to sea level during this century. Such findings are among the arguments that something serious is going on with Earth’s climate. But the science-consensus forecast about sea-level rise is plenty bad enough. Why does An Inconvenient Truth use disaster-movie speculation?

The movie takes a wacky side-trip into a conspiracy theory about Philip Cooney, who was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute and then became chief of staff of George W. Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality—and then got a plush office at ExxonMobil. Gore asserts Cooney was “in charge of environmental policy in the White House,” which is nonsense. The EPA administrators, Josh Bolten, Andrew Card, James Connaughton, Mitch Daniels, John Graham, Al Hubbard, and Karl Rove, have been Bush’s go-to figures for environment policy; and Connaughton, to whom Cooney reported, is green as can be. Gore implies Cooney’s secret mission was to sabotage such efforts as the federal Climate Change Science Program. If so, Cooney better keep his day job, since that program recently declared “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.”

An Inconvenient Truth comes to the right conclusions about the seriousness of global warming; plus we ought to be grateful these days for anything earnest at the cineplex. But the film flirts with double standards. Laurie David, doyenne of Rodeo Drive environs, is one of the producers. As Eric Alterman noted in the Atlantic, David “reviles owners of SUVs as terrorist enablers, yet gives herself a pass when it comes to chartering one of the most wasteful uses of fossil-based fuels imaginable, a private jet.” For David to fly in a private jet from Los Angeles to Washington would burn about as much petroleum as driving a Hummer for a year; if she flew back in the private jet, that’s two Hummer-years. Gore’s movie takes shots at Republicans and the oil industry, but by the most amazing coincidence says nothing about the poor example set by conspicuous consumers among the Hollywood elite. Broadly, An Inconvenient Truth denounces consumerism, yet asks of its audience no specific sacrifice. “What I look for is signs we are really changing our way of life, and I don’t see it,” Gore intones with his signature sigh. As he says this, we see him at an airport checking in to board a jet, where he whips out his laptop. If “really changing our way of life” is imperative, what’s Gore doing getting on a jetliner? Jets number among the most resource-intensive objects in the world.
Thus Gore seems to combine the dullness of a hard-core policy wonk with the lack of moral and intellectual seriousness of the Hollywood glitterati.

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