Saturday, 10 May 2008

An Unconvincing Truth

(or, The First Time I Saw a Democrat Afraid of Change)

I just watched An Inconvenient Truth, and I must say, I was more convinced by it than I thought I would be. Yes, more convinced. I had thought that I'd sit through it and be able to holler, "That's a load of crock!" at the TV screen for the whole movie. I, unlike your average viewer, I think, was almost convinced that global warming was neither dangerous nor man-made before I watched it (I'm assuming here that the average person who watched this movie just gobbled it up). Now, I'm not so sure.

I have stylistic issues with the movie: I don't think the movie required the long expositions on the hardships of Al Gore's life, and I think it could have used a longer section about what we can do to help (the almost unreadable print mixed with the credits were too out-of-the-way). However, this isn't as bad as the content issues.

First, I've heard data that contradicts his. For one, as I understand it, significantly more than 0% of all scientific articles discussing global warming express doubt. I heard it was north of 50%. However, I don't know whether I can trust this source. It was on-line. What I have heard is that it makes a lot of difference whether you're reading the paper of a climatologist or a meteorologist, and, on top of that, I've learned to distrust both the level of certainty people claim the scientific community operates on (the media usually makes it out to be higher than the scientists themselves claim) and the level of certainty that the scientific community claims (since I'm fairly sure bias creeps in more prominently than they care to claim). So his whole spiel on the scientific papers seemed faulty to me.

Second, he also seems to be leaving data out. I've read that all of the parts of Antarctica that he did not show in his 'documentary' are actually growing. Only that peninsula is melting. This is true of other glaciers he has not mentioned. This makes sense to me. Of course our geography is in flux! Why would we expect otherwise? Also, the stations that measure temperature are located in increasingly urbanized areas, which create microclimates which happen to be hotter than the average climate. This data, therefore, seems to be skewed.

The problem is, the contradictory evidence comes from semi-credible on-line sources that try to summarize the conflict in the scientific community (which I'm going to take for granted, notwithstanding Gore's claim to the contrary), and the "missing" evidence comes from a Michael Crichton novel, which I know I can't trust. He does have all sorts of solid research in his novels, but he also has all sorts of complete fabrications. This is part of what makes him an excellent novelist--his blending of fact and fiction is almost seamless.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), we don't have to worry about the credibility of external sources disproving what Gore's movie says because it has internal flaws as well. Gore leaves several gaps in his logic that he never fills in. The biggest I noticed, and the one I will deal with, is the carbon issue. Not once in the entire film does he actually demonstrate for me that carbon emissions have anything to do with global warming. I'd like to see that done, please and thank-you. Oh, sure, he showed that graph with the carbon and the temperature lines matching nicely, but I learned a basic logico-scientific premise back in my first year of university (and in Psychology, which apparently isn't a "real" science) and that was that correlation does not equal causation. So, by the scientific community's own standards, that data means diddly. Perhaps higher temperatures cause higher carbon dioxide levels. Perhaps they are both caused by another factor. Perhaps the causes and effects are so complex that we can never tell for sure. So this was a problem for me.

Another gap that puts Miss Teen South Carolina to shame is that saving the environment produces a better economy for the sole reason that it is "a step forward." First, I could rant for hours (and indeed have) about the ridiculousness of the Western liberal fantasy of progressive history, and this seems to come straight from that (North) American Pipe-Dream. However, I think it's easy to say that it just doesn't compute. A step forward does not mean a better forward. A step forward means nothing at all. However, he does show some data later which indicates that there might be a benefit, though I'd again caution against the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. More importantly, he points out that without an environment we cannot have an economy. This I buy.

So, needless to say, there are massive holes in this movie that rival the apparently fixed hole in the ozone layer (which I hadn't heard was fixed but, hey, Gore said it, so it must be true). Which tempts me to burst into a rant on the increasing fervour of leftist propaganda (yes, it exists, and in scary amounts), the silliness of thinking that we can't let the Earth change on us (this coming from a scientific community which is still fighting for the recognition that species and climates have changed in the past), and the preposterous arrogance that we must possess to think that we foolish, insignificant creatures could actually make this monstrous, global change. Notwithstanding this urge, I will change track entirely and say...

I agree with Gore's conclusions. Not his premises, necessarily, nor his argument. But, aye, I agree with his conclusions. See, the thing is, I think that if there is even the chance that there is a problem, and there is even the chance that we can do something about it, then we must commit everything and try until success or death to fix it. As I see it, the proposed solutions will not destroy us; instead, they could make us stronger. Sure, there will be short-term problems. but, overall, I think there will be benefits regardless of whether global warming exists. So, by all means, we ought to act as if it does.

Now, my critics will accuse me of conservatism, of swallowing industrial propaganda, and of being against the environment. Perhaps I am 'guilty' of the first at times, but I don't listen to conservative pundits, so you can be sure that I'm not swayed by any organized conservative organisation or trend. In other words, I think for myself. And, no, I have not been swallowing industrial propaganda. As you can see, I am advocating thought and consideration, and then action in spite of doubt, and these are not things that even Gore claims the industrialists are trying to make me think (when they do spread doubt, they want me to be paralysed, not to advocate action in spite of it). The thing is that I also advocate skepticism in reading anti-industrial propaganda as well. And, finally, I would call myself an environmentalist. I turn off light switches; I've run colloquiums on environmental concerns; I buy used; I recycle; I'm on board the cloth-bag phenomenon; I use public transit... I do the whole gambit. I participated in Earth Hour. And, really? This has been said before, but, Earth Hour? No. Earth Lifetime. Earth Aeon. Earth Eternity. Not Earth Hour.

And that's my rant. My conclusion: An Inconvenient Truth is an interesting piece of propaganda indeed.

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