Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth

An Interpretive Synopsis of the Film

(interspersed with transcriber’s reflections)

Dr. Moti Nissani, Instructor, ISP 2030, Wayne State University


Al Gore begins the film by telling us that he has been running around, telling the greenhouse story for a long time, but he feels he failed to get the message across.  We are then shown pictures of the earth from space, taken in 1968 and later, first from the moon.  Later, more photos were taken, showing the earth in all its magnificence.  Later beautiful images show the earth in rotation, where it appears so touchingly beautiful, then from outer space, where it appears as just a little shiny dot.  Such views exploded into our consciousness and led in part to the environmental movement.

à Transcriber’s Comment: You may ask: What is the connection between the a vision of Earth from space and the environmental movement?  Gore might argue that this view helped us realized how beautiful earth is, how fragile, how lonely, and reinforced our desire to save it. 

This, of course, is a bit of a simplification.  This vivid image crystallized environmental concerns, but did not, in all likelihood, cause them. 

Gore had two educational experiences.  The first one shows the damage that can be caused by a bad teacher.  A student in Al’s elementary school class, looking at the nice way S. America and Africa could fit, like a jigsaw puzzle, asked whether the two continents were once connected.  The teacher then ridiculed the answer.  The student ended up with emotional problems, and the teacher—as a science advisor in the Bush White House. 

àTranscriber’s Comment: Now scientists believe that the two continents were once connected.  So this story drives the point of the Mark Twain quote, that what get in into trouble is not what we know, but “what we know for  sure that just ain’t so.”  The teacher above is one example of this.  The many people who have been led to believe by corporate media, schools, White House, Congress, that Global Warming is a myth, are just another illustration of this principle—and of this bad teacher.

The Earth’s atmosphere is pathetically thin when compared to the size of the earth—almost nothing.  That is why humanity can have such a devastating impact on it.   

What is global warming (aka “greenhouse effect,” “climate change”)?  Sunlight arrives here on earth, giving us light.  Some of the light hits the ground, readily penetrating it, and then gets converted into heat radiation.  Now, the air has just a little bit of CO2 in it.  That CO2 acts a bit like the glass in a greenhouse, or a sweater: it traps the heat, thus keeping the earth warm and comfortable.  But now we’re increasing the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane (natural gas), and the earth is getting warmer. 

We go back to another educational experience Al Gore had, this one with a great teacher.  The teacher’s name was Roger Ravelle, the first scientist to measure CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere.  And even then, almost 40 years ago, Ravelle already presented evidence to Al’s college class that the levels of CO2 in the entire atmosphere were rising.  He projected all that into the future.  These projections really got the teacher, and Al, worried.

When we look at the graph, at how CO2  levels rise, we see that that they go up, overall, but also that every year they perform a mini-cycle of going up and down.  Why is that?  Well, we have a much greater landmass and hence vegetation in the Northern hemisphere than in the Southern.  So, overall, in the northern summer, much more CO2 is captured by trees and vegetation than in winter, when trees are often dormant and do not use CO2 (in a process of photosynthesis).  This can be almost viewed as if the earth “breathes” in a yearly cycle, a beautiful expression that the biosphere is alive. 

In the 1970s Al Gore got to Congress.

àTranscriber’s Comment: in case you missed it, he came from money and connections, a very rich kid.  You and I could never join Congress at that early age. 

He brought in his old teacher Ravelle to testify.  But nothing happened, and no one would listen.  Again, Gore wrote a book, became vice president of the USA, and still no one would listen. 

à Transcriber’s Comment: One problem with Gore’s book is that it lacked originality; it was, at best, good journalism.  Another problem is that it lacked the courage to provide the broad interdisciplinary attack needed to really wake up the world.  Such an attack would take on corporate America and the media, and would have, right then and there, doomed Gore’s political career.  Truth, Gore knew, was not the best policy.

Now, in the early 21st century, unlike the 1970s when Ravelle and others were speculating in the face of uncertainty, some of the predictions are actually coming true.

For instance, glaciers are melting, and this could cause all kinds of problems.  Thus, 40% of the world’s people depend on glaciers of the Himalayas whose expected melting might cause serious water shortages.  The same process of receding is seen all over, in Italy, Argentina, Kenya . . .

With ice core techniques (retrieving ice samples from deep within glaciers), we can determine both CO2 levels and global temperatures of past ages.  And, indeed, as the graph shows, the two fit closely—when CO2 levels are up, the world is warmer. 

With mountain glaciers you are limited in how far into the past you can go, but in Antarctica, owing to the great depth of some of its glaciers, you can ascertain CO2 levels and temperatures as far back as 650,000 years.  In that time, CO2 concentrations were never more than 300 ppm (parts per million, a measure of how much you have).  Now it’s much higher than 300—and rising.  Gore uses the wonderful instructional techniques of a big chart and a forklift contraption to show how frightening, how unprecedented, these figures are.  How they are—and getting worse every year—off the charts.

Our conduct is deeply unethical, but Congress does not care.  Initially, Al thought they would react, but the warnings were ignored.

Transcriber’s Comment:  It’s hard to believe Gore thought they would react.  Doesn’t he know that they each and every Congressman, each and every President, each and every judge in the land is a captive of Corporate America, of the men in the shadows?  Doesn’t he know that politicians in this country are forced to spend most of their time soliciting favors from big business?  How can they act, then, on their principles (if they have any), by now?

Al’s Flashback:  The film now provides a snapshot of a tragedy from Gore’s own life; his 6-year-old son had a very serious accident, and they almost lost him.  Everything that concerned Al Gore before became insignificant.  This turned Al’s world upside down.  He felt then that what we take for granted might not be here.  This drove Al Gore to look deep into himself, to ask:  How shall I spend my time on this earth? 

Transcriber’s Comment:  What are the artistic reasons for this flashback?  One reason, probably, is to trigger similar questions in the viewers themselves.  And certainly, one of these questions is:  What would the world be like, if we refuse to save it from global warming?  And another, stated by Gore himself:  “What we take for granted might not be there for our children.”

But let us go back to effects of the greenhouse effect that we can already see.  We talked about glaciers.  Another, related, effect, is heat waves on land.  Recent years have been the hottest on record.  Killing heat waves occurred in Europe and India, the USA. 

Still another effect: as the world’s oceans get warmer, we can expect stronger, more violent storms: hurricanes, typhoons, tornados.  Recently, a  hurricane hit Brazil, something that was considered impossible until then. 

We must decide, as a people, how to react to the warning of scientists.  Gore draws here parallels to delays and inactions taken in Europe when Hitler was rising to power.  They waited and waited, did nothing, until it was almost too late.

Transcriber’s Comment:  Here again Gore shows a limited understanding of history.  I wouldn’t quote Churchill approvingly, for he was a thoroughly bad man, by almost any standard you care to choose.   He for example LOVED (his own words) the idea of going to World War I.  He may have cynically arranged the sinking of the Lusitania.  He betrayed Greece to fascists.  He needlessly fanned the flames of the Cold War, and declared, wherever he could go, a war on the poor.  Gore needs to brush up a bit on his history, I am afraid.

We could have overcome disasters before, but that may no longer be possible.

Al’s Flashback:  The stolen elections had a devastating impact on him.  It was a hard blow.  What can you do?  Make the best of it.  Brought in to clear focus the mission he has been pursuing all these years.  He started giving this slide show again.

Transcriber’s Comment:  Most elections observers agree that Al Gore was the actual winner, that the elections had been simply stolen and hence, that if democracy means people choosing their leaders, the USA is no longer a democracy.  As well, this flashback helps us realize the magnitude of our loss, the horrors we all suffered and will suffer as a result of that one theft—which could thus perhaps qualify as one of the most tragic rigged elections in history. 

All the same, we must realize that Al Gore, perhaps, could do just a little more than Bush did for the planet.  Gore certainly would have done more to prevent the New Orleans disaster, and to help the poor Americans whose lives were shattered by Catarina.  But we should not overestimate Gore’s potential.  In reality, the President in the USA a puppet—the real controllers, the men in the shadows, would have not allowed Gore to do much.  We have seen what they did to Carter and Clinton, what they did to Lincoln and the 3 Kennedys, to Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, MLK . . . So, even with Gore at the White House, the march to oblivion would have gone on, albeit at a somewhat reduced pace!

Another worrisome manifestation of global warming involves changes in precipitation patterns.  Some places might get much more rain than they need in very short periods of time, thus causing flooding and other problems.  Insurance companies are well aware of the higher risks of floods in the world.  Some horrendous, unprecedented, flooding events have taken place, e.g., a place in  India, 37 inches in 24 hours.  Other geographic areas might suffer more frequent draughts.  For example, the once-gigantic Lake Chad in Africa has dried up in the last 40 years to a fraction of its size! 

Another effect of Global warming is that the higher temperatures suck moisture out of the soil, thus adversely affecting agriculture.

Al’s Flashback:  Used to spend part of the year as a child in the city; part in the family farm. 

Among the obvious signs that are already appearing, two can be considered “canaries in a coal mine,”—early, particularly troubling, signs.

The first canary is the arctic.  Buildings on permafrost are collapsing.  The Alaskan pipeline is suffering structural damages.  The number of days you could drive on the permafrost are way down.  Another way of gauging the situation in the Arctic is by examining the U.S. naval records of ice thickness (kept by submarines who can only surface when the ice is 3.5 or less in thickness).  The result: the ice is now 40% thinner than it was in 1970.  Within decades, in summers it may entirely vanish.  So the arctic gets warmer faster than the equator.  If the globe warms up from the current 58 global average by 5 degrees, the arctic average will go up much faster, by a striking 12˚F. You might be able to sail to the North Pole!

It so happens that ice deflects heat much more strongly than water.  So  as the area of the arctic ice cover diminishes, the process of heating accelerates.  For the first time, we see now floating corpses of drowned polar bears. 

Ocean currents distribute heat, taking hot water close to the surface to the poles and bringing back, down below, colder water to the equator, thus serving to regulate Earth’s climate. 

We suspect that when a massive ice dam blocking waters of the St. Lawrence broke, huge quantities of fresh waters reached the ocean, causing the Gulf Stream to stop, and this in turn led to an Ice Age in Europe.  The same thing cannot happen again in the same way, but, is there another gigantic source of fresh water that could potentially empty itself into the ocean?  Yes, the ice in the Arctic Ocean and Greenland.  

Flashback:  Checking in at the airport.  Looking for signs that the USA is about to change, but he doesn’t see it right now.  Environmental pronouncements (lies) of Reagan, Bush I, lying US Senators—are shown. 

We are changing the seasons.  Spring arrives earlier; fall later.  This, and other factors associated with global warming, impact wildlife.  We have seen already the plight of  the polar bears, but much more is already taking place.  Thus, bark beetles have caused massive tree deaths in Alaska.  Mosquitoes are expanding their range, going to higher altitudes, bringing with them such scourges as malaria.  Coral reefs, which play key roles in ocean ecosystems, are dying.  Fish species that depend on these reefs are at risk.  Overall, species extinctions may now be taking place at a 1000X faster rate than in the past.

Transcriber’s Comment:  Climate change is just one cause of this extinction wave.  Pollution, habitat destruction, and other factors also play a part.

The second canary in a coal mine is Antarctica, the largest mass of ice on the planet, where ice is again melting.  There too ice shelves are breaking, and faster than any scientist predicted.  As a result, some islands are being evacuated.  And again, in the north, the first canary, the melting of Greenland’s ice, will raise sea levels.  The already measured melting is striking.  If both Greenland and Antarctica melt, major coastal areas around the world might be flooded, impacting 100,000,000 or more people.  Even the World Trade Center Memorial Fund in NYC will be under water. 

The situation is serious and poses far graver threats to us than “terrorism” ever did.  Can we think of anything other than terrorism? 

When Al visits China, with its 1.3 billion of people, the audience sees that Chinese scientists are just as concerned about the climate change as their western counterparts, and that the problem is global.  China too is burning mountains of coal, using old technologies. 

When the science is solid, all human beings must ensure that the warnings are heard and responded to.  Earth is one.  Humanity is on a collision course with the Earth.  There are three factors that cause this collision.

àTranscriber’s Comment: This echoes the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”.   Next, we move to analyze some causes of our troubles, where Gore again ably synthesizes the thinking of the scholarly community over the past half-century or so.

The first cause of our ecological troubles is population pressure.  The more people we have, the more pollution, CO2, methane, cars, airplanes, refrigerators, forest destruction. We put pressure on food, water, natural resources.  More burning of forests.  Indeed population growth over Gore’s own lifetime has been nothing short of breathtaking, moving from some 2,000,000,000  when he was a child to almost 7,000,000,000 in 2007—and rising!

The second cause of humanity’s collision with its only home brings us to a point made by Presidential Contender Barry Commoner at the dawn of the environmental movement.  We have now new technologies on earth, and many of them are far more destructive than the ones employed by our ancestors.  Compare spears to H-bombs!  We cannot mindlessly continue the habits of the past.  Tractors, refrigerators, detergents are more environmentally destructive than draft horses, ice chests, soaps.  Another example:  The diminishing Aral Sea.  Technology has grown beyond human scale.  And of course, because the USA is big and addicted to these damaging technologies, it’s by far more responsible for the greenhouse threat than any other country in the world.  So it’s up to us to think about it.

A third root of our ecological troubles is our way of thinking.  We are like frogs.  Indeed, you dump a frog into a dish filled very hot water, and it will instantly jump out, incurring little damage to itself.  But, if you place the same frog in comfortably lukewarm water and then gradually heat the water to a boiling point, the frog never jumps out.  Our collective nervous system is like the frog’s.  Because the destruction is gradual, we let it happen, sitting there like frogs, not responding. 

Al’s Flashback.  Al Gore’s family used to grow tobacco on their farm.  His sister Nancy, to whom he was very attached, started smoking as a teenager, in the 1960s.  She contracted lung cancer, an awful way to die.  The idea that they were responsible for cancer and her death was painful at many levels.  Al’s dad grew tobacco all his life on that farm, but after Nancy’s death, he stopped.  It’s human nature to take time to connect the dots.  There can be a day of reckoning, when you wished you connected the dots more quickly.

Transcriber’s Comment:  Gore’s point here, probably, is this:  Wouldn’t it have been better to stop growing tobacco when the first conclusive warning signs (in the 1950s, he mistakenly says the 1960s, but the science was clear a decade earlier, and in the greenhouse case, covered up by the corporations, government, and the media—we never learn from past mistakes) were given?  Do we too wish to court incredible destruction before we act on the greenhouse planetary emergency?

We now come to 3 misconceptions about the Greenhouse Effect:

1. We are told that scientists disagree about the reality of this effect, but this is a lie.  There is ZERO disagreement among independent scientists (a study of 928 scientific articles failed to find ONE skeptic among them).  That misconception was created by a few powerful corporations, stating, in one memo, that they wanted to create a controversy in the public mind.  The problem is that oil and car companies think it’s in their interest to confuse the public.  Moreover, scientists are often forced to forge evidence and keep silent.  When they defy orders and tell the truth, they are fired, suppressed, ridiculed.  Moreover, the oil giants, through their oil and gas lobby, advertise and own the major media outlets, so CNN, or Fox, or the New York Times obligingly create the false impression that the scientists themselves are in discord.  A flashback to a Congressional hearing is given where it is shown that a scientist was forced to change his testimony. Another example, the man in charge of greenhouse policies at the White House was brought there—from the Oil and Gas Lobby.  He is not a scientist, but felt free to “edit” scientific reports. 

2.  The second misconception is that we must choose between the economy and our environment, that doing something will cost us mountains of dollars and millions of jobs.  The first answer to this is that, even if this is true, the planet should come first.  What exactly will happen to us if we lost the planet?  And there will be some economic benefits for doing the right thing too.  Doing the right thing will create wealth and jobs.

Transcriber’s Comment:  The film commits at least two grave omissions at this point, perhaps deliberate (there is just so much truth you can expect from even the best of politicians; there is also the fear for his own life--if he dares go to far, he may end up like the 3 Kennedys, Princess Di, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X . . . this list of murdered “liberals”—there is NOT ONE CORPORATE SERVANT AMONG THEM—is a very long one).  First, Gore forgets to tell us that by minimizing the Greenhouse Threat we shall significantly improve our health.  Indeed, many major health concerns are environmental, e.g., asthma, cancer.  By increasing car efficiency, for instance, we will have less pollution in our cities, and we’ll be far healthier.  In a city like Los Angeles, we might then be able to see the stars, every night, all night.  So greenhouse solutions will improve our quality of life.

The second, really inexcusable, omission is that the whole greenhouse catastrophe is totally unnecessary.  By minimizing it, we can actually save money, piles and piles of money.  How is that possible?  Well, let me give you one example:  Let’s say you could buy a car that gives you 100 mpg instead of the 25 you have now.  Such cars can be made for the same price as our current gas guzzlers.  Now, if you spend, let us say, $1,000 a year on gas, with the new car you would be spending only $250, for a saving of $750 a year.  And that is only your car.  Multiply this by all the cars in America, add to this your savings from lighting fixtures, insulation, and so on, and then we, as a nation, according to the National Academy of Sciences, could save as at least $80,000,000,000 (they have to be careful too, the real number, according to Amory Lovins, may well be over $200,000,000,000!)  So, by not fixing the greenhouse threat, the oil corporations, the car corporations, and their prostitutes in Washington, are not only destroying the planet, not only killing us, but they are stealing us blind!  The story, then, is far worse than the one Gore would have us believe!   More careful scientific reviews of this question, also accessible in cyberspace, are available by clicking here.

Al’s Flashback:  Gore has given this slide show about global warming more than 1,000 times.  All over the USA, world.  He has been doing anything he could to sharpen, improve, his lecture, to finally succeed in striking a chord.  We see him alone, checking into one airport after another.  He feels he must go on spreading the message of survival and ethics, city by city, person by person.  He has faith that soon enough minds will change, that we will cross the threshold.

Transcriber’s comment:  With this, Gore sets for all of us a model of decency and activism that is rarely seen among major political figures.  He is a rich man and is no spring chicken, and would almost certainly prefer to sit at home, enjoy his family, his farm, other diversions.  1,000 times mean almost 3 years, night after night, giving the same bloody lecture.  I care deeply about the planet, but I don’t think I would have the courage, the belief in American democracy, the tenacity, to go on doing that!  Al Gore is my candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize!

Although we Americans are the worse polluters on earth, we and Australia are the only two major countries on earth that refuse to take any actions about climate change. 

The car companies say they will go broke if they reach efficiency standards already current in China, and they say they can never achieve the much higher European standards.  We can’t sell our cars in China today, because we don’t meet China’s standards.  And this is hurting America companies.   How stupid do they think we are? 

3. The third common misconception about global warning is despair.  But this is wrong.  We know what can be done.  We can tame the greenhouse threat by creating laws that will give us more efficient (and just as good) electric motors, cars, homes, lights.  We can easily go to the 1970 levels of greenhouse gas emissions.  We have all we need to change; only thing we need is political will.  The solution is in our hands, but not the determination.

Can Americans rise to this challenge or should we give up on them?  Recall that this is where a revolutionary war for freedom was fought, where slavery was abolished, where civil rights were gained, where women acquired the voting franchise.

Transcriber’s comment:  Gore, as a politician, fails to mention the other side of the coin—reasons for despair.  It was after all America that conducted a deliberate genocide of Native Americans, America that snatched Africans, enslaved them, and refused to let them go long after the British abolished slavery.  It was America that massacred more than 500,000 Filipinos, causing already then, enough indignation to cause the formation of the Anti-imperialist league.  It is America—and Gore himself—that interprets Gorbachev’s commitment to create a better world (and what a naïve decent man poor Gorbachev was, trusting the USA to reciprocate his gestures!) as an American victory!  It is America that is now conducting a genocide of the Iraqi people, American boys who obey the commands of fascists, doing so with numbing regularity and chilling efficiency.  It was Gore himself, sitting there next to the White House for 8 years, who said nothing while Iraqi children died as a result of our actions, while the men in the shadows made it impossible for America to save the world’s people from environmental destruction, and while the American people died at the hands of the pharmaceutical-medical complex.  Gore is a decent man, and knew the consequences, and yet chose to remain silent.  No, Mr. Gore, I don’t think we can make it.  There is indeed every reason for despair.  We are an almost extinct species.   I wouldn’t give our species more than 10% of making it through the 200 years.  The earth will most likely sink and drown.  Despair, I agree, is unwise.  We must learn to accept the inevitable, to rely on whatever resources we can command to accept the coming end of the human experiment, or, at least, of “civilization” as we know it.  

At stake, Gore concludes, is our ability to live on Planet Earth.  This is a moral issue.  We must secure our future.  Future generations may well asked:  What were our parents thinking? 

There is a lot you can do, in your own personal life, to help mitigate the Greenhouse Threat: Plant trees, ride efficient cars, call your congressman—if s/he doesn’t listen, run for congress . . .  More information about solutions is available at:

Transcriber’s comment:  A somewhat watered down version of the summary of the April 7, 2007 report of the world’s climate scientists (“radical” scientists were kept out, and American, Chinese, and Saudi government “scientists” were allowed to participate and partially dictate the outcome), is available here.

And let me mention one more point that Al Gore is just too polite to raise.  Gore talks about future generations.  But some scientific scenarios raise the small specter of a runaway global warming and the end of life on Earth.  We know who the real terrorists us, and their name is not Al-Qaida!   The only hope, if there is any, is education.  Unfortunately, that is not going to happen.  Arthur C. Clarke explains: “People enjoy being brainwashed, if you set about it the right way.”  And once they acquire a conviction, no matter how idiotic and contrived, they cling to it as if their very lives were at stake: click here for more.