Convenient Spin

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on June 13, 2006

(by Mark Bergin, WorldMag.com) – To his credit, Al Gore sheds the wooden persona of the 2000 presidential campaign in his newly released documentary An Inconvenient Truth. In making the case for immediate action to stop global warming, the former vice president is articulate, concise, and even winsome, at times.

But Mr. Gore’s radical political agenda and tendency for half-truth have undergone no such makeover.

In what amounts to a filmed slideshow, interspersed with indulgent autobiographical footage and voiceovers, Mr. Gore employs stage tricks, straw men, and well-rehearsed rhetoric to contend that opposition views on climate change are rooted in callous profiteering. The dissents of such distinguished climatologists as hurricane expert Bill Gray of Colorado State University and former NASA scientist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville are provided no air time.

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Mr. Gray, who has worked in the field for 50 years, has labeled global warming “one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people.” Mr. Spencer, a contributor to the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has called the science uncertain and warned against radical action that might devastate national economies. Numerous other highly credentialed sources have offered similar criticisms of alarmist reactions to the planet’s warming trend—often at dramatic personal and professional cost.

But Inconvenient Truth insists the debate is over. Conflating the undisputed fact that the earth is warming with more controversial speculation that such warming is human-induced and will destroy civilization, Mr. Gore claims scientific consensus for his doomsday scenarios. Audience members present for his slideshow gasp with horror when computer-animation models demonstrate the effects of sea-level rise were the ice of Antarctica to disappear. Mr. Gore explains with solemn certainty that the threat of flooding in downtown Manhattan poses greater potential for calamity than the terrorist acts of Sept. 11. Few scientists would endorse such an extreme contention.

Nevertheless, nonscientific film critics have rushed to shower Inconvenient Truth with praise. Roger Ebert went so far as to declare his unabashed support for the message, writing that “to be ‘impartial’ and ‘balanced’ on global warming means one must take a position like Gore’s. There is no other view that can be defended.” Most major reviewers throughout the country have displayed similar enthusiasm, betraying the documentary’s likely place of high honor come this year’s Academy Awards.

Early box-office returns suggest the less-than-scintillating formula of Mr. Gore delivering slides has not deterred moviegoers. Inconvenient Truth made close to $2 million its first two weeks out, cracking the top 10 despite a limited release in just 77 theaters. Such favorable numbers reflect partially a concerted marketing effort to already convinced environmentalists. The film is not likely to maintain such momentum when released more broadly.

Nor does it contain any new material to assuage the concerns of even moderately educated skeptics. Mr. Gore dismisses the feared economic impacts of the Kyoto Protocol without a single mention of the struggles European countries are facing to live up to their Kyoto commitments. He chides the United States and the Bush administration for resisting international pressure to adopt Kyoto and impose radical restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions—a decision increasingly proved proper as the economic impossibility of Kyoto becomes clear around the globe.

Inconvenient Truth concludes predictably with calls to action. Despite repeated partisan jabs throughout the film, Mr. Gore claims the issue is not political but moral. The closing credits implore those who believe in prayer to pray that people will change. They offer new lifestyle choices such as recycling, hybrid vehicles, use of energy-efficient appliances, and support for renewable energy sources.

Such focus on individual responsibility is admirable, but the film’s moral imperatives quickly descend into governmental solutions. Mr. Gore promises that industry-wide federal emissions regulations will not cripple the economy, because doing the right thing will move us forward. Such vague platitudes may play on Oscar night. But the Oscars, Joes, and Brians of Middle America are bound to remain unconvinced.

Copyright 2006 WORLD Magazine, June 17, 2006. Reprinted here June 13th with permission from World Magazine. Visit the website at www.WorldMag.com.

Questions

1.  CHALLENGING VOCABULARY FROM THE ARTICLE:  How many definitions do you know?  Match the words with their definitions.

straw men              dissents              conflating
interspersed            alarmist              callous
platitudes               assuage              scintillating
consensus              rhetoric

a) _______________ speech or writing which is intended to be effective and persuasive
b) _______________ having something in several places among something else
c) _______________ strong difference of opinion on a particular subject; disagreement, especially about an official suggestion or plan or a popular belief
d) _______________ a person who intentionally shows only the bad and dangerous things in a situation, and so worries people
e) _______________ combining two or more separate things, especially pieces of text, to form a whole
f) _______________ a generally accepted opinion or decision among a group of people
g) _______________ interesting, exciting and clever
h) _______________ an argument, claim or opponent which is invented in order to defeat or create an argument
i) _______________ to make unpleasant feelings less strong
j) _______________a remark or statement that may be true but is boring and meaningless because it has been said so many times before
k) _______________ unkind or cruel; without sympathy or feeling for other people
(scroll to the bottom of the page for the answers)

 

2.  Define the global warming theory.

3.  Check out the websites listed under “Background” below for information on both sides of the debate.  Which side seems to be more logical to you?  Why?

4.  Who are Bill Gray and Roy Spencer?  What qualifications do they have to make assertions about global warming?  What has each said about global warming? 

5.  Some of the problems the reporter of this article, Mark Bergin, finds with the Al Gore’s film are listed below.  Which of these do you think are valid?  Why?
–viewpoints from experts who say global warming is not true are not mentioned in the film (para. 3-4)
–film critics have praised Mr. Gore’s film; one said “There is no other view that can be defended.” (para. 6) but they have no scientific expertise
–the film made the list of top 10 movies its first two weeks out, but moviegoers who saw the film are people who already believe Mr. Gore’s assertions about global warming – when the movie is released more broadly it will not receive such a high rating (para. 7)
–the film dismisses the economic impact of Kyoto and does not mention the struggles European countries are facting to live up to their committment
–Mr. Gore says that the issue is not political (government) but moral (individuals), but then presents many actions the government needs to take to end global warming

6.  Have you seen or will you see this movie?  Why?

 


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Background

GLOBAL WARMING:

**The theory of global warming is that the earth’s temperature is rising due to man’s use of fossile fuels (gas, oil).  It is believed that this temperature change will result in catastrophic problems in the environment.  To prevent this man-made climate change, countries need to restrict energy use (reduce use of gas and oil).
**In the Kyoto Treaty governments agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions (reduce their use of gas and oil).  They believe this will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions world-wide and will prevent global warming. 
**President Clinton supported the Kyoto Treaty.  President Bush did not.
**The U.S. and Australia are 2 countries that did not sign the Kyoto Treaty.  Great Britain did sign on. 
**British Prime Minister Tony Blair believes in the theory of global warming and was a great supporter of the Kyoto Treaty. However, in November 2005 he backed away from the Kyoto Protocol (it is assumed he recognized that many countries would not live up to their obligations under Kyoto).

**Global warming is a controversial issue.  Scientists today have two opposing views on global warming: 

  • First – the planet is warming as a result of human actions; an extreme change in the earth’s climate is going to occur, caused by greenhouse gas emitted by the world’s use of fossile fuels (coal, oil, gas).
    Check out two liberal organizations which defend this viewpoint:
    Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace.
  • Second – fossile fuels (using gas, coal and oil) don’t cause climate change; an extreme change in the earth’s climate won’t happen.  Global warming is not a scientifically proven fact.  Two conservative organizations which support this view are:
    Global Warming and Junk Science.

Resources

ANSWERS TO THE VOCABULARY (MATCHING)
a) rhetoric
b) interspersed
c) dissents
d) alarmist
e) conflating
f) consensus
g) scintillating
h) straw man
i) assuage
j) platitude
k) callous