Scientists OK Gore’s Movie for Accuracy
By Seth Borenstein (Associated Press) - June 27, 2006
The nation’s top climate scientists are giving “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy.
The former vice president’s movie — replete with the prospect of a flooded New York City, an inundated Florida, more and nastier hurricanes, worsening droughts, retreating glaciers and disappearing ice sheets — mostly got the science right, said all 19 climate scientists who had seen the movie or read the book and answered questions from The Associated Press.
The AP contacted more than 100 top climate researchers by e-mail and phone for their opinion. Among those contacted were vocal skeptics of climate change theory. Most scientists had not seen the movie, which is in limited release, or read the book.
But those who have seen it had the same general impression: Gore conveyed the science correctly; the world is getting hotter and it is a manmade catastrophe-in-the-making caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
“Excellent,” said William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. “He got all the important material and got it right.”
Robert Corell, chairman of the worldwide Arctic Climate Impact Assessment group of scientists, read the book and saw Gore give the slideshow presentation that is woven throughout the documentary.
“I sat there and I’m amazed at how thorough and accurate,” Corell said. “After the presentation I said, `Al, I’m absolutely blown away. There’s a lot of details you could get wrong.’ … I could find no error.”
Gore, in an interview with the AP, said he wasn’t surprised “because I took a lot of care to try to make sure the science was right.”
The tiny errors scientists found weren’t a big deal, “far, far fewer and less significant than the shortcoming in speeches by the typical politician explaining an issue,” said Michael MacCracken, who used to be in charge of the nation’s global warming effects program and is now chief scientist at the Climate Institute in Washington.
One concern was about the connection between hurricanes and global warming. That is a subject of a heated debate in the science community. Gore cited five recent scientific studies to support his view.
“I thought the use of imagery from Hurricane Katrina was inappropriate and unnecessary in this regard, as there are plenty of disturbing impacts associated with global warming for which there is much greater scientific consensus,” said Brian Soden, a University of Miami professor of meteorology and oceanography.
Some scientists said Gore confused his ice sheets when he said the effect of the Clean Air Act is noticeable in the Antarctic ice core; it is the Greenland ice core. Others thought Gore oversimplified the causal-link between the key greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and rising temperatures.
While some nonscientists could be depressed by the dire disaster-laden warmer world scenario that Gore laid out, one top researcher thought it was too optimistic. Tom Wigley, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, thought the former vice president sugarcoated the problem by saying that with already-available technologies and changes in habit — such as changing light bulbs — the world could help slow or stop global warming.
While more than 1 million people have seen the movie since it opened in May, that does not include Washington’s top science decision makers. President Bush said he won’t see it. The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA haven’t seen it, and the president’s science adviser said the movie is on his to-see list.
“They are quite literally afraid to know the truth,” Gore said. “Because if you accept the truth of what the scientific community is saying, it gives you a moral imperative to start to rein in the 70 million tons of global warming pollution that human civilization is putting into the atmosphere every day.”
As far as the movie’s entertainment value, Scripps Institution geosciences professor Jeff Severinghaus summed it up: “My wife fell asleep. Of course, I was on the edge of my chair.”