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An Inconvenient Truth 1033

There's a movie teaser line that you may have seen recently, that goes like this: "What if you had to tell someone the most important thing in the world, but you knew they'd never believe you?" The answer is "I'd try." The teaser's actually for another movie, but that's the story that's told in the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth": it starts with a man who, after talking with scientists and senators, can't get anyone to listen to what he thinks is the most important thing in the world. It comes out on DVD today.

The scariest horror film of 2006 was a documentary.

The first thing everyone wants to know, or at least to argue about, is whether Al Gore has his facts straight. The short answer is yes, he does. There are minor errors. They don't detract from Gore's main point, on which the scientific debate has ended.

And the main point is scary, and almost too big to think about or talk about. The earth is warming, because of us. Sometime in the next hundred years, our environment is going to change in big ways. We can't predict it with much accuracy yet, but the best estimates we have are that it's going to be -- measured in lives and dollars -- really bad.

In a way this film isn't really about that story. It's about a man telling that story -- someone who, after suffering a bit of a setback, asked himself, well, what can I do now? What's important to me? How do I want to spend my time?

What's important is a question a lot of nerds may be familiar with. We like to talk about important things. But how do you respond when you try to say something serious and the cool kids laugh at you? What do you do, when you put yourself out there, try to engage people's minds, and instead they make fun of your clothes?

The good news for anyone who's had a prom invitation rejected is that people can come back from worse disasters. His presidential bid didn't go so well in 2000. Gore had given talks on global warming before; after he was forcibly retired from public service, he took a Powerbook and Keynote on the road, sharpening and expanding his slideshow talk in airports and hotels.

Half of the film is that talk, and it's an engrossing talk. There are charts and diagrams and footnoted stats (and a Futurama clip) and it's about as fun as numbers and chemicals get. Turns out Al Gore has a sly sense of humor (but not a nasty one -- the film's only two political nudges are pretty gentle). Unless you're a climate scientist you'll probably learn something too.

But the other half, interwoven with the lectures, is a man picking up the pieces and rediscovering something important in his life, a message that he has to tell. That succeeds as a film.

And Gore's lecture succeeded too. Somehow, I'm not sure how, this documentary changed the way Americans look at global warming. In early 2006, global warming was still seen as one of those things that may be true or may not. Pundits were fairly evenly divided and both positions were routinely heard. It's now late 2006 and the debate has moved from "is global warming happening?" to "it's happening, we've caused it, and what if anything should we do about it?"

Most of the warming-deniers left are the real extremists out in Rush Limbaugh territory. We're not yet all the way to a serious, scientifically-informed debate, but somehow, overnight, this film pulled most of the fence-sitters over to where the scientists were years ago.

As for actually fixing global warming, it will take a miracle. Maybe two miracles. I think in the next few decades we're going to need to start an Apollo moonshot-type miracle of technology and engineering to beat back the greenhouse effect. Nanorobots. Reflective dust in the stratosphere. Giant mirrors at the Lagrange point. Bioengineered plankton to sink carbon or change the oceans' albedo. Something. That's just a guess.

But meanwhile, though we hope someone can build us an airbag before we crash the car into the tree, that doesn't absolve us from stepping on the brakes. Right now, we need a change in attitude, in our community and our politics, to start slowing the damage we're doing every day to our grandchildren's Earth -- to buy them time, and give them more options. The only way that happens is when the governments of industrialized and developing nations decide this is a priority.

And the only way that happens is for people everywhere to stop listening to the cool kids and, once again, pay attention to the nerds.

Go buy the nerd's DVD.

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An Inconvenient Truth

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  • by tritonman ( 998572 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:24AM (#16930988)
    Manbearpig is real!
  • by wanerious ( 712877 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:33AM (#16931170) Homepage
    I'll have to paraphrase, but it is kind of remarkable that the film was made. Jon Stewart tried to imagine pitching a movie with the gripping charisma of Al Gore combined with the drama and excitement of a scientific powerpoint presentation. It's hard to imagine many execs falling over themselves to write that check.

    Of course, I'll probably rent it (along with "Who Killed the Electric Car") tonight for a uber-geek double feature.

  • by hcob$ ( 766699 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:41AM (#16931330)
    hippy double feature.
    There. You made a small spelling error.
  • by haagmm ( 859285 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:50AM (#16931472)
    the man is a former politician, but the film was a science documentary
  • by mpitcavage ( 655718 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:55AM (#16931588)
    Our information is that seven of 13 populations of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (more than half the world's estimated total) are either stable or increasing..... Of the three that appear to be declining, only one has been shown to be affected by climate change. No one can say with certainty that climate change has not affected these other populations, but it is also true that we have no information to suggest that it has." -- Dr. Mitchell Taylor, manager, wildlife research section, Department of Environment, Igloolik, Nunavut.
    You tell 'em, Mitch! That was the stupidest of the populations anyway.

    OR: The mysterious 13th tribe of polar bears have gone far away to a place called... Miami?

    MY FINAL ANSWER: You won't debunk global warming with facts that support it.
  • by bberens ( 965711 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @01:16PM (#16933748)
    ...but I have a problem when it starts distributing the mental tools for people to stick their fingers in their ears and say "na na na!" about something that matters to me.

    There, fixed it for you.
  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @01:33PM (#16934172) Homepage Journal
    Only on Slashdot can we get a slideshow about how we're all going to die and someone asks "I wonder what resolution he was using for the presentation?"
  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @02:41PM (#16935920)
    Basically.. the ocean currents which keep europe and much of the northern hemisphere warm are sensitive to salinity and temperature..

    of specific concern here is salinity. Recent observations have shown huge tracts of ice hundreds of miles across suddenly melting over a period of about a week.

    If this happens to the greenland ice sheet, it could stop the north atlantic currents and cause severe glaciation of the northern hemisphere with europe particularly hard hit.

    It would be devastating to world economics and food supplies.
  • by jkauzlar ( 596349 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @05:15PM (#16939330) Homepage

    Ten reasons there's no such thing as global warming:

    1. The research is biased. A huge majority of the people researching climate change support the theory. If it were 50/50 I might consider it.
    2. All of the equipment used to test the 'evidence' is owned by these biased scientists.
    3. As the parent said, Al Gore and the 'scientists' all make a ton of money scaring people into sacrificing for their cause. It's a war-on-terror, but on a global scale.
    4. The scientist who wants to spread reflective dust into the atmosphere is also spreading BS. If it reflects, then it would reflect light back onto Earth, probably creating a greenhouse effect times ten.
    5. The average temperature rises once every century because of El Nino
    6. The scientists neglected to mention that the salt concentration in the ocean might be rising due to a lack of carbon [wikipedia.org] in the atmosphere to break down potassium chloride and sodium nitrate. This research has been thrown out and suppressed dozens of times because it would actually increase the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere as well. You don't want that when we're trying to sell fear, do we?
    7. Show me one experiment I can verify myself with the tools in my garage.
    8. When the script for An Inconvenient Truth was written by Steven Soderberg as a science-fiction thriller, it was bought and discarded. Exactly four months later, about the time it takes a documentary to be produced and filmed, Al Gore's movie came out. Coincidence?
  • by terjeber ( 856226 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @05:31PM (#16939652)
    There is a bit of a difference between name-calling and reporting scientific fact.
  • by patiodragon ( 920102 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @09:52PM (#16943726) Homepage
    Sorry. I don't know how to start a new thread.

    What pompous ass posts that a scientific debate "has ended" concerning something where you can't even have a control in the experiment?! This CO2 scientists isn't that sure:
    http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/ab out/position/globalwarming.jsp [co2science.org]

    We don't have an extra earth to know what would have happened without certain stimuli, so it is a matter of empirical educated guesses. There is no hard science here.

    I'm all for taking the most conservative actions concerning something as important as the planet, but it is pure drivel to say you "know for sure" something you have arrived at through correlation of data. Correlation does not prove causation. You need to have a control.

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre