Several weeks ago now I was offered a review copy of Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. After watching it on a cross-country flight in November I elected to let Gore’s expos’e sink in a bit before I pasted my thoughts more or less permanently on the web. Thanks in advance to Rachel Guthermann of Special Ops Media for being patient with me on posting the review.
It’s probably fitting to end the year with a nod to this influential movie; it’s a compelling bit of cinematography and he deserves all the credit for its success…
LET ME ADMIT right up front my disappointment that I couldn’t do a scientific analysis of the movie. I genuinely wanted to do that. But given the sheer volume of arguments that support or challenge each of Gore’s positions I was simply overwhelmed. I was frustrated by Gore’s frequent use of ”scientists tell us” or “experts agree.” Not knowing which study he got his data from for a particular segment made it pretty tough to track it down, read it, and locate other climatologists who agreed with or challenged his assertions. I also agree with Steve Hayward that sound data doesn’t always yield sound predictions. Gore connects the dots for us and leads to his conclusion without acknowledging the relative merit of the other dots out there. Why he does this I’ll explore at length below.
In lieu of a scientific analysis from me there are a couple good websites you should visit that support and refute Gore’s position on climate change.
Pro: Climatecrisis.net is the movie’s home page. Climate.org is the homepage of the Climate Institute in D.C. Realclimate.org’s blog is run by an outstanding group of climate scientists, and is the only one I’ve considered bookmarking.
Con: Junk Science.com does what they believe is a thorough debunking. Pacific Research Institute has regular articles on the film itself and recent fallout. CO2Science.org looks at the impacts of climate dynamics on plant life particularly, and purports to disconnect science from “hype.”
Other: Climate Change Institute has a number of papers on the latest in specific areas of climate science (paleoclimatology, glaciology, modeling, etc). The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is here. The Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison is here – a clearing house for all of the different predictors being used today.
Pilate said unto Jesus, “What is truth?” [John 18:38]
IT TOOK ME A WHILE to stumble upon the obvious. It was a smack-the-forehead sort of moment. I watched the movie three times and kept scanning the transcripts. What was it that I was just not getting? Then hit hit me:
The key to Al Gore is in the title of the movie.
First, there’s this whole notion of “truth” and global warming science. In science there is no truth per se. There are theories of relativity, mass-balance constants in chemistry, taxonomies in biology, theorums in mathematics, laws established in physics and assessments of risk in ecology. These are about as close to truth as scientists will get without defining them as such, in case some Nobel laureate of the future discovers a set of circumstances in which they must be re-defined. They are empirical and generally reliable – one contradicts gravity under normal circumstances at one’s own peril. They are valid if they continue to stand up to analyis. But they are not truth.
Standing under that theater marquis, you and I aren’t given that option. Human-induced climate change, we hear repeatedly and in a number of different ways, is truth. It’s not only truth, but because the data and concensus are overwhelming, it is indisputable truth. For Gore, everything is worst-case and irrefutable. There is no range of outcomes, no shortcomings to the models, and no exercising the null hypothesis.
But the movie isn’t called ”Global Warming Truth,” is it. There’s more.
By adding the adjective, Gore and director Davis Guggenheim and producer Laurie David proclaim global warming a moral truth. “Inconvenient” is a word of intentional understatement that brashly declares your comfy All-American apple cart has officially been up-ended. You are causing global warming whether you believe it or not, and you must stop it at all costs. It is the greatest moral issue of our day, perhaps of our generation, perhaps of all time. Anyone who denies this is judged to be morally depraved.
Or worse – a Republican.
Sanctify them through thy truth, Father: thy word is truth. John 17:17
I THINK GORE, then, has a hitch in his inconvenient truth argument that folks ought to consider. I’ve already noted some of problems I find with his notion of scientific truth. Let’s look at his case for moral truth for a bit.
On any other issue, including that statement from John’s gospel just above, I would expect global warming activists like Gore to see morality as not a state of truth but a value judgement. It’s not his fault, really – it’s the reality of the times in which we live. This Wiki is a great example of what I mean:
Morality refers to the concept of human ethics which pertains to matters of good and evil —also referred to as “right or wrong“, used within three contexts: individual conscience; systems of principles and judgments — sometimes called moral values —shared within a cultural, religious, secular, Humanist, or philosophical community; and codes of behavior or conduct. Personal morality defines and distinguishes among right and wrong intentions, motivations or actions, as these have been learned, engendered, or otherwise developed within each individual.
I could thus answer back to Gore in that post-modern dialogue Christians are painfully familiar with:
While he may believe global warming is immoral, my system of values, my culture, my philosophy means I just don’t see it that way. Who are you to condemn me? Who made you the arbiter of right and wrong? Maybe that philosophy works for you but I choose to keep an open mind and explore other alternatives. Don’t impose your morality on me. Maybe the scientists Gore is citing are saying oceans will rise 20 feet by the end of the century, but maybe the ones I believe say any change will be less than 10cm, and is mostly due to natural causes. Gore is immoral for causing unnecessary panic.
Perhaps Gore would say we should add “scientific” to the religious, secular, Humanist (capital H?), or philosophical communities in that Wiki. Bottom line is that as long as our definition of morality has “right and wrong” in quotation marks, neither Gore nor I nor anyone else have any basis to call human-induced global warming immoral. It’s simply a value judgement based on opinion, empirical or otherwise, collective or individual. But as I noted above, the movie doesn’t give us that option.
Once we concede that morality is, in some sense, objective, we have to ponder where this objective standard emanates from.
– - Joe Carter
Gore’s position on science truth/moral truth is interesting to a guy like me who has spent some time now at the nexus between ecology and Christianity. To be fair, many prominent evangelicals and theologians of our day also see global warming as a deeply moral issue and have plainly said as much. We’ve been keeping track of those statements here at The Evangelical Ecologist for two years now.
But the theologian condemns global warming as immoral for vastly different reasons of course, none the least of which is the acknowledgement that there is actually an independent source of truth and morality.
And He is not Al Gore.
Jesus saith unto Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
ON SOME DEEPER level I think Gore understands this is a problem. I think that’s true because throughout the film, sandwiched between unemotional lectures on carbon dioxide and glaciers and hurricanes, he makes a monumental (and frequently emotional) effort to establish moral credibility for the fight against human-induced global warming.
Remarkably, he uses exactly the same technique that the Apostle John uses in his gospel to define his moral arguments where Christ is concerned.
Bear with me for a moment.
If you’ve spent any time in the Gospels – the first four books of the New Testament – you’ve probably noticed that John’s rendering is very different from Matthew, Mark and Luke. Rather than chronicling Jesus’ ministry as the others tend to do, John cherry-picks significant events from Jesus’ life to support his argument for a moral truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the world.
For example, John uses the turning of water into wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee to substantiate claims of Christ’s deity. He transcribes Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus to offer up mankind as needing to be born again, and lift up Christ as Savior of the world. He recounts Jesus meeting the woman at the well to demonstrate Christ’s compassion and ability to meet the deepest of human needs. He records the transfiguration as his personal testimony of Christ’s divine personage with God. That John spends over half of his Gospel on the passion of Christ imparts a great deal of moral effort on Christ’s destiny to die for the sins of mankind. And so on.
In the same vein, Gore masterfully recalls the truly heartbreaking story of his sister dying from cancer caused by smoking the very cigarettes that his own father had grown on their plantation for decades. He offers his human tragedy to us in hopes that we will reward him with the moral authority gained by his mea culpa. His experience, he says, taught him the hard lesson that corporations and their scientists never acknowledge when their products are harming people.
Recounting in detail his painful political odyssey (including reliving his 2000 presidential election defeat again) leads us inexorably to the conclusion that the right thing to do will not always be politically popular, especially when powerful, immoral forces control the outcome of elections and leglislation.
When he does cite specific scientists like ice core specialist Lonnie Thompson and climatologist Roger Revelle, they are authorities on global warming not because they are distinguished scientists – which they very well may be – but because he has looked them in the eye and called them friend and mentor. You can trust what they say because I vouch for their moral integrity.
As he lifts us by the hand and wings us over disappearing glaciers the way John in Revelation was lifted by the Spirit to heaven itself, he fortells of a disasterous future. He reminds us that Winston Churchill once warned of unprecedented horror brewing in Europe. Then he laments finally:
How should I spend my time on this earth? I really dug in, trying to learn about it much more deeply. I went to Antarctica, to the South Pole, North Pole, the Amazon. I went to places where scientists could help me understand parts of the issue I didn’t really understand in depth. The possibility of losing what was most precious to me, I gained the ability that I maybe I didn’t have before, but when I felt it, I felt that we really could lose. What we take for granted might not be here for our children.
Ultimately his journey, like the Apostle’s, is one of relentless pursuit of truth and communicating that truth to mankind. But here’s what strikes me: While John’s goal is laying before all of us the moral truth of someone else – Christ given for the salvation of the world – Gore ultimately is laboring to establish his moral credentials by laying out his own life before the world.
I think that whole notion should give Christians pause, even folks like me who agree in part with Gore’s environmental concerns.
I know what you’re saying is true, but how can a man be righteous before God? If one wished to contend with Him, He could not answer Him one time out of a thousand. God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has hardened himself against Him and prospered?
– - Job
THIS SEARCH FOR morality and truth is symptomatic of the environmental movement in general and the global warming evangelists in particular. Every week I see articles in green, secular blogs and media that are full of religious metaphors. A shame, really, because the influence that a glut of carbon dioxide can have on our climate isn’t something we should dismiss.
CO2 is not immoral. This is a practical problem.
You and I are breathing it out right now as you sit at your computer, as is every other living animal – and decaying one too, for that matter. It’s what every green plant breathes in to create living tissues and sugars which are consumed again by animals or built into the fiber of forests and habitats.
We have a habit of creativity, of controlling these mechanisms to our advantage. When those mechanisms put more CO2 in the atmosphere than the fantastically complex system we call climate can handle, the system is stressed. We have both the resources and the technology to figure out at what point that stress will overwhelm natural climate cycles, and to creatively adapt our activities to reduce that stress as much as possible. And I agree whole heartedly with those who are working from that perspective.
But does making global warming into a moral or scientific truth help? Again, Gore gets credit for focusing attention on the subject. But where does his moral argument end? Only when those labeled immoral are wiped from the planet? Aren’t we making it difficult to come to a rational scientific basis for limits on CO2 by lobbying truth instead of scientific judgements?
Truth isn’t merely so because it is inconvenient. Truth is, whether it is convenient or not. And not one of us are the source of that truth, no matter what our life experiences are or our capacity to motivate the masses. Cimate change is not a moral issue because of self-proclaimed moral authority, but because we are accountable to the Creator for atmospheric stewardship, just like we are responsible for caring for water supplies and habitats.
To wrap up, here’s a little more of Job:
It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, When He overturns them in His anger; Who shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble; Who commands the sun not to shine, And sets a seal upon the stars; Who alone stretches out the heavens And tramples down the waves of the sea; Who makes the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades, And the chambers of the south; Who does great things, unfathomable, And wondrous works without number. ”Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him; Were He to move past me, I would not perceive Him. “Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him? Who could say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’
I’ve got only appreciation for Mr. Gore and others who desire to see that we are careful with this amazing world on which we all live. But rather than couching our pride in human moralism and claiming we have the truth, we should rather be walking prayerfully together, humbly seeking wisdom and Truth from the One who made it all.
The One who does great things, unfathomable.
Grace and peace to you all for the New Year.
[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]