Gore documentary has its own ‘inconvenient truth’
In the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, former US Vice President Al Gore makes a compelling case for global warming as the most important moral and political issue facing the human race today.
Critics exalt the film as “intellectually exhilarating!” and indeed its power is entirely in the graphs and statistics — and not in its anti-Republican agenda or melodramatic positioning of Gore as Planet Earth’s reluctant Saviour.
By addressing criticisms of the theory of global warming and some popular misconceptions about it, the film does a crisp job of convincing the unconverted that today’s global economic consumption by the First World and its corollary destruction by the First and Third Worlds make the scientific truths of global warming too inconvenient for world leaders, especially America’s, to acknowledge.
It is a perfect argument. However, when it comes to handing out the solution, Gore makes an oversight that is obviously just too inconvenient for him to mention.
An Inconvenient Truth is a history lesson told through the science of weather, all neatly packed into a slide show that Gore has been presenting for years around the world.
To drive home the point of his endless endeavour to spread the word, Gore most often appears en-route to the next country’s lecture hall, browsing from his laptop through telling photographs of hurricane Katrina, deadly droughts and disappearing glaciers while killing time in an airport or on an airplane. And there lies the problem.
While Truth employs the proverbial factory with spewing smokestacks as its symbol of global warming, it might have just as easily used an airplane; commercial jets are fast becoming one of the worst contributors to global warming and the destruction of the earth’s ozone layer.
Is it possible that Gore, the man who has presented a slide show encompassing nothing but the most scientific of facts “over a thousand times” is simply unaware of this critical information?
Doubtful. In fact, at the end of the movie where solutions are vaguely offered, we are tipped to use “other transport efficiencies.”
Aircraft are believed to be responsible for three per cent of human CO2 emissions. And to put the First-Third World relationship to this problem into perspective – one person flying in an airplane for one hour is responsible for the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as a typical Bangladeshi produces in one year.
And, in one year, jet aircraft generate as much carbon dioxide as the entire African continent.
Because aircraft emit carbon high in the atmosphere, the greenhouse effects are as much as four times stronger than they are on ground.
The added effects of contrails, the artificial clouds that form around the tiny aerosol particles in airplane exhaust, are still being studied. But during the days after 9-11 when air traffic stopped over the United States and the web of contrails disappeared, the skies experienced temperature difference of one degree Celsius.
Aircraft are a tiny contributor to global warming compared to road transport, which creates 10 per cent of greenhouse gases, or industry and agriculture, which create 14 per cent each.
That’s not to mention the two main causes of carbon pollution — electricity generation, which accounts for 24 per cent, and deforestation, at 18 per cent (half of this is caused by the annual destruction of rainforests in Brazil and Indonesia).
But the future growth in air travel is beyond control. It is expected to double over the next 30 years because it is cheaper than ever, thanks partly to aviation fuel which is free of tax.
Unlike the ‘polluter pays principle’ tax on car fuels, aircraft fuel is not taxed on international flights and planes are not inspected for CO2 emissions.
Also, the Kyoto international agreement on climate change does not cover greenhouse gases produced by planes.
Aircraft engine manufacturers are making more efficient engines and researching alternative fuels such as hydrogen, but it will be decades before air travel is not damaging to the environment.
The most obvious way of dealing with the problem is to not travel by plane at all.
Britain’s heir to the throne and its prime minister this month were pressured to cancel flights abroad for environmental reasons.
Prince Charles is scheduled this month to make a round trip of almost 11,270 kilometres to Philadelphia and New York on a jumbo jet with 20 of his staff to collect an award honouring his environmentalism.
Environmentalists accused him of “green hypocrisy,” saying he should be accepting the award via video link instead. The group Plane Stupid likened flying to an environmental award ceremony to taking a stretch limo to collect an Oxfam award.
Blair, for his part, isn’t bending to pressure to cancel a family trip to Florida.
And Gore continues to fly around the world with his traveling global warming show.
An Inconvenient Truth’s few detractors say Gore’s own inconvenient truth in this movie is how he dropped the ball when he was in power, despite his history as a relentless lobbyist to Congress before he was in power.
When he was in charge of environmental policy under President Bill Clinton, the US dragged its feet in the climate negotiations and CO2 emissions shot up far faster than at any time in modern history — by 15 per cent, compared to just 1.65 per cent during George W. Bush’s first term.
An Inconvenient Truth, some say, is his way of making amends.
But his dependence on air travel takes some of the loft out of his earnest campaign.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.