Interpretive Synopsis of the Film
(interspersed with transcriber’s reflections)
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
àTranscriber’s Comment: This echoes the
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.
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
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.
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:
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