|An Inconvenient Truth (2006)|
|Written by:||Al Gore|
The film's web site describes it as a movie "...which offers a passionate and inspirational look at one man's fervent crusade to halt global warming's deadly progress in its tracks by exposing the myths and misconceptions that surround it"--a voice crying in the wilderness piece. While the movie's topic may indeed approach Biblical proportions, its key figure, a man who spent 25 years in halls of power such as the congress and white house doesn't fit the image of a lone prophet.
We went to the movie expecting to find weak scientific content but were for the most part pleasantly surprised. Yes, sometimes Gore's explanations were less than rigorous, but the scientific content held up reasonably well and the delivery was engaging. His lines about a graphic from an unenlightened source showing gold (representing commerce) on one side of a balance with the entire world on the other was hilarious. We couldn't stop laughing even after he was finished and had moved on.
In William Foster Lioyd's famous parable' "the tragedy of the commons", the public welfare is subverted by unrestrained personal access to a limited resource: a pasture. Since the rewards of using the resource go to individuals while the costs are born by the public, the pasture eventually becomes over-grazed and useless. While technology is not a limited resource such as Lloyd's pasture there are parallels: costs (such as global warming) from the unrestrained use of technology for personal and even societal gains may be born by future generations, eventually voiding not just the technology but the common good. Perhaps, the effect could be called the tragedy of technology.
Lloyd tells us that the tragedy of the commons cannot be avoided by mere technological change but ultimately requires changes in human values and morality. While Gore does seem to be moralizing, he implies that the key to avoiding the tragedy of technology is to modify its use. He emphasizes that there is an economic penalty for avoiding technological change but not one for embracing it. Here his arguments seem more political than scientific. While the long term costs of inaction are extreme, the solutions are not cost free.
The proposal outlined by Gore would only take us back to 1970's levels of CO2 emissions rates. If CO2 levels are already way beyond historic highs, how is a return to 1970's CO2 emission rates going to solve the problem? Certainly, Gore's relatively painless approach is a lot better than doing nothing but the approach is too conservative. It suggest that coastal areas are already doomed to flood from rising seas.
Does this mean that solutions are not possible? No, but they will probably require big research, big spending, big ideas, and maybe big pain. The big ideas have included mirrors in space reflecting back the sunlight and massive removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by giant chemical facilities dotting the landscape like windmill farms. Perhaps massive research to produce cheaper, more efficient solar cells and windmills along with cars that can tap into their energy might be the solution, who knows.
Gore's movie might have seemed courageous had he made it at a time when it could have harmed his political ambitions. Even now it would seem gutsy if he were willing to risk rejection by admitting that solving the dilemma of CO2 emissions will entail pain. But, after years worth of ETV programs detailing every aspect of global warming including the easily observable melting of ice sheets, Gore's information seems if not overtly political then well worn. Still, his film is comprehensive and worth watching. Certainly it's an improvement over fluff pieces like The Day After Tomorrow aimed at box office take. But, unfortunately, about the only people who are going to be stirred by Gore's film are those already convinced.