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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Last Sunday night I set my alarm with the intention of braving brisk conditions for an early morning run. It poured for most of the weekend in Sydney and my few attempts at exercise were thwarted with incessant rain and gale force winds. Such was the case yet again on Monday morning! There’s no doubt we’ve had some strange weather of late. The 107.2 millimetres of rain that fell at Observatory Hill last Thursday achieved a new September record (previously set back in 1883) and parts of Sydney received more than their September average in just a few hours. Ironic perhaps that these uncharacteristic weather conditions were the impetus for an indoors Sunday afternoon lesson in global warming courtesy of Al Gore.

An Inconvenient Truth has received widespread attention since its premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Davis Guggenheim and starring former United States Vice President Al Gore, this documentary presents a powerful argument for global warming and its predicted and devastating effects for the earth and human life. Coupling scientific fact with emotive imagery, much of the information is delivered clearly and succinctly via a multimedia presentation given by Gore. The slideshow is interspersed with brief clips that recount personal events in his life and provide some insight into his motivation.

While the film has generally been well received and its message applauded, it has inevitably attracted some criticism. This stems primarily from an established division in scientific opinion. Most scientists are in agreement with Gore, claiming that global warming is real and contributing to extreme weather conditions such as droughts, floods, storms, and the melting of the polar ice caps. Contrary to this argument is a belief in the earth’s natural climate variability and inconclusive evidence for the influence of human activity on climate change. Also in contention is the film’s assertion of scientific consensus. Such are the claims of Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who states that `there is no scientific consensus on global warming’. In a recent interview with Fox News, Lindzen claimed that Gore and other global warming scientists had created `a climate of fear’ by exaggerating the facts. I agree with him to some extent on the former point, but this `climate of fear’ seems more than warranted.

Although scientific contention is inevitable, the extent of dissension is an important issue. Opponents of Gore appear to be firmly in the minority. But journalistic standards of fairness and balanced reporting can lead to biased coverage by presenting this scepticism in equal magnitude. A 2004 US study revealed that when it comes to US media coverage of global warming, balanced reporting of both sides of the story can `actually be a form of informational bias’. This is likely to be the case for any expert opposing mainstream opinion. An opinion headline on the front cover of The Australian this week titled `Why Gore is Wrong’ expressed the unpopular albeit scientifically plausible views of Climatologist William Kininmonth. He claims the debate lacks `rational analysis of some scientific facts’ and accuses Gore and others of waging a scare campaign.

Pitting a handful of prominent scientists against each other serves only as a distraction to the facts. The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and generally supported by climate scientists around the world (see links below). Geochemist Eric Steig of realclimate.org, an objective online commentary that was a recipient of the Scientific American 2005 Science and Technology Web Awards, argues that the science in the film is `remarkably up to date with reference to some of the very latest research’. Despite a few small errors he concludes that Gore, for the most part, got the science right. And he isn’t alone. The Economist, in a special report on climate change, claims that in the past five years, `the science has tended to confirm the idea that something serious is happening’. It maintains that the uncertainty surrounding climate change argues for action, not inaction.

An Inconvenient Truth is a call to action and more significantly, one over which we have some control. Unlike other global threats such as terrorism, we have the resources and ability to make an immediate difference through our everyday actions. These are presented during the credits and include simple methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions: switch to green power, plant more trees, recycle, only use the dishwasher with a full load and use the energy saving setting, support local farmers markets and try to eat organic food, buy recycled paper products, catch public transport, and walk wherever possible. These and other suggestions are outlined at www.climatecrisis.net, along with further information and links.

So take a look and learn how you can make a few simple changes for the sake of our environment. Spread the word and encourage as many people as possible to see this film. And most importantly, continue to educate yourself and others on the topic. Knowledge is the most powerful weapon in any debate. I left the cinema feeling shocked and saddened, but also empowered. I recalled a mantra stuck to my pin board at home - `the moment of power is in the present.’ It has always served me well and more poignantly now than ever. Despite research showing that a 60 per cent cut in Australia’s emissions is compatible with strong economic growth, the issue of climate change policy on the Australian economy persists. In the meantime, take charge! Implementing simple changes such as those mentioned above can only be a good thing for the environment, local communities, and indeed ourselves.

Links

  • New Scientist

  • Real Climate

  • Climate Change Science

  • IPCC

  • Australian Academy of Science

  • The Sydney Morning Herald

  • Spiegel Online
  • 6 Comments:

    • At 1:14 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Thanks for an interesting read Sara. I watched him on Enough Rope a while back and thought he did a good job. Do you know when BT will be returning to the box?

       
    • At 9:53 pm, Blogger James said…

      I still haven't checked this movie out, though I have been meaning to. I guess I'll end up getting it on DVD or something.

      I don't think that the governments take the issue of global warming seriously enough. Before I decided to take a break from being a student, I was keenly interested in alternative energy, I was hoping to do a PhD on proton exchange membranes. I did a project on it for my last year of uni. And what I found disturbed me. There seemed to be this wall, where the development for such technology progressed to that point and then people just flung their hands in the air and said "it's all too hard". The solutions to the problems were there, they were small problems but nobody seemed interested in looking into it, or even funding looking into it. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I couldn't help but think that corruption was the only reason behind what I was seeing. It's been quite a few years since I've had access to the journals that I did back then. I can only hope that progress has been made since then. Though I fear the possiblity that many of the developments have been bought out and swept under the rug by those who are set to profit from delaying alternative energy sources.

       
    • At 1:12 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      your blog is well written and informative and seems like you did some research. I like it.
      www.myspace.com/myrmidons :)

       
    • At 5:12 pm, Anonymous bruno.benaise@thomson.net said…

      A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to watch “an inconvenient truth” in a plane flying over to Shanghai in China reputed for not being so environmentally friendly. The strong economic growth throughout the last 15 years has created without any doubt some environmental issues. Back in 1988 when I traveled over to this country for the first time, it was very usual to encounter thousands of bicycles creating some amazing traffic jams; cars were not as frequent as they are nowadays.

      Today in Suzhou, even if the number of bicycles has reduced compared to 20 years ago due to the automotive industry taking over, most of the bicycles or scooters are equipped with some compact batteries, most of the buildings have got some solar heaters on the roof. Is it rather by necessity due to the cost of energy and shortages of gas or by self awareness of the environmental threat? In a country where the adverse effects of pollution are quite obvious, paradoxically some new alternative energies are already use in the daily life by masses. There are clearly some attempts to reduce the unavoidable damages from coal combustion and carbon emissions.

      Back to Australia, I decided to take this issue more seriously by trying to move a step forward, changing some habits and being more active in the energy conservation. Convinced that mitigations efforts start first of all by our self awareness, I have tried to focus on the solar renewable energy. I did a list of few ideas which could be applicable in the daily life. One of the first actions has consisted in charging my small consumer electronics devices like laptops, PDA, MP3 player, mobile phone with solar energy. Despite the recent efforts and search to find out some foldable or portable solar panels, portable batteries, appropriate cables, I was astonished that these devices can’t be found easily in the retail shops and even on the Australian websites. The offer is still quite poor for practical applications. Consequently, I decided to buy some panels and necessary accessories which can be available on European or US websites.

      Meanwhile, I discovered some new cost efficient technologies should emerge relatively soon and replace eventually the current expensive silicon photovoltaic panels. Exciting times and changes are coming. Environmental consciousness is rising and subsequently the reduction of the intensity of pollution might become one of our major concerns in the near future. Even if Gore is accused by some scientists of “waging a scare campaign”, without fear, there is no stress and no positive reaction. We clearly need this level of stress related to our environment to be awakened. The self awareness created through various media is highly needed.
      During your last show related to water recycling, you took a very funny angle and practical approach in order to educate us, take actions and encourage us to improve our environment with minor investments. Do you intend to broadcast another show about solar energy and practical applications at home? Let’s imagine that the hundreds of millions of electronic devices in our households are charged by solar energy in the near future, the automotive and building industries use this new cost effective solar technology; could this vital dream come true?

       
    • At 5:16 pm, Anonymous bruno.benaise@thomson.net said…

      A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to watch “an inconvenient truth” in a plane flying over to Shanghai in China reputed for not being so environmentally friendly. The strong economic growth throughout the last 15 years has created without any doubt some environmental issues. Back in 1988 when I traveled over to this country for the first time, it was very usual to encounter thousands of bicycles creating some amazing traffic jams; cars were not as frequent as they are nowadays.

      Today in Suzhou, even if the number of bicycles has reduced compared to 20 years ago due to the automotive industry taking over, most of the bicycles or scooters are equipped with some compact batteries, most of the buildings have got some solar heaters on the roof. Is it rather by necessity due to the cost of energy and shortages of gas or by self awareness of the environmental threat? In a country where the adverse effects of pollution are quite obvious, paradoxically some new alternative energies are already use in the daily life by masses. There are clearly some attempts to reduce the unavoidable damages from coal combustion and carbon emissions.

      Back to Australia, I decided to take this issue more seriously by trying to move a step forward, changing some habits and being more active in the energy conservation. Convinced that mitigations efforts start first of all by our self awareness, I have tried to focus on the solar renewable energy. I did a list of few ideas which could be applicable in the daily life. One of the first actions has consisted in charging my small consumer electronics devices like laptops, PDA, MP3 player, mobile phone with solar energy. Despite the recent efforts and search to find out some foldable or portable solar panels, portable batteries, appropriate cables, I was astonished that these devices can’t be found easily in the retail shops and even on the Australian websites. The offer is still quite poor for practical applications. Consequently, I decided to buy some panels and necessary accessories which can be available on European or US websites.

      Meanwhile, I discovered some new cost efficient technologies should emerge relatively soon and replace eventually the current expensive silicon photovoltaic panels. Exciting times and changes are coming. Environmental consciousness is rising and subsequently the reduction of the intensity of pollution might become one of our major concerns in the near future. Even if Gore is accused by some scientists of “waging a scare campaign”, without fear, there is no stress and no positive reaction. We clearly need this level of stress related to our environment to be awakened. The self awareness created through various media is highly needed.
      During your last show related to water recycling, you took a very funny angle and practical approach in order to educate us, take actions and encourage us to improve our environment with minor investments. Do you intend to broadcast another show about solar energy and practical applications at home? Let’s imagine that the hundreds of millions of electronic devices in our households are charged by solar energy in the near future, the automotive and building industries use this new cost effective solar technology; could this vital dream come true?

       
    • At 1:31 am, Anonymous Michael H said…

      G'day Sara,

      Completely irrelevant and off topic, but would just like to congratulate you on a job well done presenting the weather on 7 news!!! Hopefully you'll be permanently taking Nuella's position some time soon...?

      Keep up the great work mate!

       

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