Sunday, July 2, 2006

Movie Reviews: Tom Brokaw's Global Warming: What You Need to Know and Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth

On July 16, 2006, 9-11 pm ET/PT, Discovery Channel, BBC News and NBC News present a two hour special on global warming hosted by Tom Brokaw.

On Friday, I previewed the Discovery Channel special and saw An Inconvenient Truth.  Below I review both from a teaching perspective.

The bottom line of both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth are the same -- global warming is threatening to massively change our planet with severe impacts on our lives and the rest of creation; we have the knowledge and technology to reduce those changes; the real question is whether we have the collective will to do what we need to do before it is too late.

Both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth seek to acquaint the audience with the fundamentals about global warming: the causes of global warming, the evidence that convinces scientists why this is not simply part of a natural cycle of warming and cooling, the magnitudes of impacts that we can expect,  the technical solutions that can slow global warming, the outrageously large contribution of the U.S. to the problem, and the loomingly enormous potential of China and India if they pursue our development path.

Neither program makes the mistake of trying to be "balanced" in presenting the "skeptics" point of view.  Brokaw notes the change in scientific opinion over the last two decades and the agreement of 99.9% of scientists that global warming is real.  Gore uses the results of the sample of scientific literature on climate -- where the score is roughly 978 to 0 -- every study assumed that global warming is occurring.

Global Warming is a powerful statement in three respects.  First, it is presented by a respected journalist rather than a respected, but partisan, politician.  Second, it has an absolutely amazing, all star cast of scientists to help narrate the story.  Third, it has some great footage of glacial rivers, rainforests, pacific islands doomed to disappear, and most of all, cute, little polar bear cubs who, along with the rest of their species, are destined to die within the next few decades as the polar ice disappears.

An Inconvenient Truth, on the other hand, has other wonderful qualities.  First, it gains traction from Al Gore's droll sense of humor (yes, really) as well as his deep, visible commitment to the issue.  Second, it has some incrediblely vivid footage interspersed between the Gore narrative of his life and the Gore global warming slideshow.  Third, it conveys the scientific information in more depth, addressing the questions that people have, and illustrating answers with extremely sharp graphics on how temperature tracks CO2, the 650,000 year natural cycles of both temperature and CO2 and how dramatically the present CO2 levels and temperature exceed historical levels, how hurricanes and other natural storms gain intensity from warming temperatures, how global warming can bring both droughts and floods, how El Nino works, how the ocean conveyor belt works, and how the North America glacier melt affected Europe's climate.  Fourth, it has some unforgettable visual models of the 2002 collapse of Larson B in Antarctica and what will happen to sea level in NY, Florida, Shanghai, Bangladesh, and elsewhere if either a significant portion of Greenland or Antarctica melts [in the only obvious scientific error of the movie, Gore mixed up the sea level change expected from Greenland melting with that of the Antarctic].

So, which one would I have my students see?  Both...they both have unique aspects that are worth a student's while.  I'd give An Inconvenient Truth an edge on content, but only if students can get past the fact that An Inconvenient Truth is a great commercial for why we should all wish that the Supreme Court had selected Al Gore, instead of George Bush as our President.

What I wish someone would do is blend both -- take Gore's slideshow, the great scenic footage from both, the Hansen discussion and other scientists from Brokaw and put them together...but, lacking that, see them both!

Scientists Galore in Global Warming

The Discovery Channel special presents an impressive array of international experts discussing the current realities of global warming and the future of the planet, featuring Dr. James Hansen, Chief, NASA Institute for Space Studies; Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University; and Dr. Stephen Pacala, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University.

Hansen is the world's most prominent climate modeler.  He is perhaps best known for his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s, which helped raise broad awareness of the global warming issue. Dr. Hansen was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and he received the prestigious Heinz Environment Award for his research on global warming in 2001.  The Bush Administration recently created an outcry when it attempted to rein in his public appearances. 

Oppenheimer has researched potential effects of global warming, including the impact of warming on atmospheric chemistry, ecosystems, the nitrogen cycle, ocean circulation, and the ice sheets.  Oppenheimer and other scientists organized two UN workshops that helped catalyze negotiations on the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. He co-founded the Climate Action Network and co-authored Dead Heat: The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect.
Pacala has focused on problems of global change with an emphasis on the biological regulation of greenhouse gases and climate. He is co-director of the Princeton Carbon Mitigation Initiative and directs the Princeton Environmental Institute. His writing includes research on maintenance of biodiversity, ecosystem modeling, ecological statisticsand the dynamics of vegetation and animal behavior.

Other scientists presented in the special include: Dr. Daniel Nepstad, Ecologist, Amazon researcher, Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center; Dr. Mark Serreze, Senior Research Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, National Center for Atmospheric Research;  Dr. Greg Holland, Director, Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division, NCAR; Dr. Nick Lunn, Research Scientist, Canadian Wildlife Service; Dr. Stephen Harrison, Director, Climate Change Risk Management, Glaciologist/Senior Research Associate, Oxford University Centre for the Environment; Professor Bob Spicer, Director of the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space, and Astronomical Research; Professor Peter Cox, Science Director, Climate Change, Center for Ecology and Hydrology, Execter; Dr. John Hunter, Researcher, Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, University of Tasmania; Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Marine Biologist, University of Queensland; Professor Lin Er Da, Director, Agrometeorological Institute, China Academy of Agricultural Sciences; and Hila Vavae, Senior Meteorologist, Director of Meteorolgy Office, Tuvalu Island.

The Contents of Global Warming

The Discovery Channel special aims to

"decode the buzzwords and arm viewers with an arsenal of clear definitions and visual depictions to explain the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide emissions, CFCs, and effects on weather and rising sea levels. Visceral CGI and cutting edge climate computer models will help viewers see into the future at a world significantly changed by unchecked global warming." 

The special features global warming hot spots most affected by climate change: sub-surface rivers in Patagonian glaciers, the drought-stricken Amazon river basin, and the Great Barrierl reef.  The special presents a graphical timeline of global warming throughout history, addresses the contention that current global warming is simply part of the natural warming and cooling climate cycles, and demonstrates the contribution of the average American family to global warming.  It identifies the mega-technical solutions from ocean CO2 injection to building green cities or "ecopolis."  It also address the small fixes -- what ordinary Americans can do to slow global warming.

Here's an interesting perspective on Gore from a conservative Christian perspective: God, Gore and Global Warming by Ken Connor Posted Jul 03, 2006 in Human Events It is pretty rare for a documentary to make a million dollars at the box office, so the fact that Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" has already brought in more than $10 million is impressive. Not only that, but Gore's movie will probably be one of the five best-selling documentaries of all time by the end of its run. The former Vice President clearly sees himself as a prophet, and he is warning Americans that the end is near. Is it true? Are we living in the end times—not so much because of an impending Rapture, but because of melting ice caps? At CJS, we certainly don't have the scientific expertise to assess rival global warming claims. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: the debate should be settled on the basis of merit, not personality. Some conservatives will dismiss Al Gore's arguments simply because he is Al Gore. That would be a mistake. Christians are often concerned about the lazy relativism that has become so popular in America. To compete against the post-modern mentality, we often talk about "truth-claims," and challenge others to take our truth-claims seriously. Al Gore is making a set of truth-claims, and many scientists support his theories. That does not necessarily mean Gore is right, but we should also resist the urge to let politics get in the way of an honest assessment. Our responsibility as citizens is to look at all the evidence and make the best assessment we can. After collecting and interpreting the data, what if we determine that global warming is not a threat, or that humans are not responsible for increased temperatures? Does that automatically mean that we should proceed with the environmental policies we have now? Not at all. Whether or not we face impending doom, Christians need to remember that human beings have a responsibility toward the environment. In the last few decades we certainly have not been as conscientious about taking care of our natural resources as we should be. Like it or not, Al Gore is helping to remind Christians of an important duty. The great evangelical apologist, Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book in the 1970s called Pollution and the Death of Man. In it, Schaeffer carefully analyzes the claims of the environmental movement. Basing his arguments on some profound theological truths, Schaeffer argues that Christians have an important obligation to the environment. For example, Schaeffer reminds Christians that God created the material world—including trees and chipmunks and flowers and whales—and that upon creating these things he called them good. In other words, God saw something worthwhile in these things, in and of themselves. The material world is valued in God's eyes, it ultimately belongs to Him, and therefore we should treat it with a measure of reverence. Schaeffer recognizes that the environment, along with everything else, has suffered as a result of the Fall. Pollution, disease, and even global warming, are evidence of a fallen world. However, we should keep the three-part Christian worldview in mind: Creation, Fall, Redemption. Christians are always and everywhere called to be agents of Christ's redemption. Though the earth groans, we have an opportunity to work with a resurrection mentality, for Christ has made all things new. Along the same lines, Schaeffer reminds us that mankind has a certain union with the creation, since we are actually a part of the creation. Along with sparrows and lilies, we are all the handiwork of the same God. For this reason, we ought to have some sense of solidarity with the created world. Beware, however: this point can be abused, as we've seen with the Spanish effort to confer fundamental human rights upon apes. While we enjoy exalted status as creatures made in God's image (Gen. 1:27), we also have a sobering responsibility that accompanies this status. Under the so called "dominion mandate" (Gen 1:28), God has placed His global garden in our hands, and he has given us the charge: "Take good care of the world until I return." That is a major responsibility, and Christians should be especially concerned about disappointing the Gardener who created this garden in the first place. We live in a consumer driven age, and selfishness abounds. It is easy to fall into the consumer mentality ("me, me, me, take, take, take"). Even Christians have been tempted to consume resources without considering future generations or our responsibility to God. Al Gore's prophesies may or may not be true, but they do provide us with an opportunity to stop and think about whether or not we—individually and collectively—have been faithful stewards of the environment. This is a discussion worth having, and at the very least we can thank Al Gore for inspiring it. Mr. Connor is chairman of the Center for a Just Society. He is a trial and appellate attorney, known for his successful representation of victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. He is a past president of the Family Research Council.

Some of the Materials from Global Warming

The Facts About Global Warming


  • Global warming is the gradual rise of the earth's surface temperature, thought to be caused by increased emissions of greenhouse gases (the “greenhouse effect”), specifically from human activities. -Environmental Protection Agency
  • A mere six degrees of global warming was enough to wipe out up to 95 percent of the species alive on Earth 251 million years ago., Bristol  Univ.

  • Sun provides the Earth with the heat it needs to support life, but a drop of only 1/10th of 1% of the amount of the Sun’s energy reaching the Earth can spawn an Ice Age.


· The average temperature in the U.S. in 2005 was almost one degree above the 1895-2004 mean, which will make 2005 one of the 20 warmest years on record for the country. -NOAA (based on preliminary data)

· Of the top 20 hottest years on record, 19 have occurred since 1980.

· Computer models suggest that average global surface temperatures will rise between 2.5°F and 10.4°F by the end of this century, a rate much larger and faster than any climatic changes over the past 10,000 years. -National Academy of Sciences

· Many scientists believe that temperatures are rising so fast, the Earth’s climate may reach a threshold – the tipping point – when there will be nothing we can do to ‘undo’ global warming.


· In 1980, sea ice covered nearly 1.7 billion acres of the Artic, about the size of the

United States

. In the last two decades alone, the Artic has lost an area roughly twice the size of


. If the melting continues at this rate, computer models predict that by 2060 there will be no sea ice at all during the Artic summer.

· One hundred years ago, there were more than 150 glaciers at 

Glacier National Park in Montana.  Today there are fewer than 30.

· The Patagonian glaciers at the Southern tip of South America

have lost 10% of their ice in the last seven years.

· If just the Greenland

icesheet melts into the ocean, it could raise global sea levels by 23 feet over the next few hundred years. Coastal cities, including  New York and London, would be completely flooded. Low lying countries such as Bangladesh – with much of its land mass at sea level – would be nearly wiped out.

· Every year, nearly a thousand square miles of farmland in China

turns to desert. Since the 1950s, the rate has doubled.

· In a study of the polar bear population in the Arctic town of Churchilll,

Manitoba , the number of bears has declined from about 1200 back in the 1980s to less than 950 today. This 22% decline is directly related to early break-up sea ice in the region.


· Some scientists argue that the increase in greenhouse gases has not made a measurable difference in the temperature. They say that natural processes have caused global warming. –World Book Encyclopedia

· “There is no reason to believe that this 10,000-year-old cycle of solar-induced warming and cooling will change, said Dr. Sallie Baliunas, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “I believe that we may be nearing the end of a solar warming cycle. Since the last minimum ended in 1715, there is a strong possibility that the Earth will start cooling off in the early part of the 21st Century.” National Center for Public Policy Research


· Earth’s greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that helps regulate the temperature of our planet. The sun heats the Earth and some of this heat, rather than escaping back to space, is trapped in the atmosphere by clouds and greenhouse gases, keeping the Earth at a sustainable temperature for human life.

· While many greenhouse gases occur naturally, human activities are adding gases to the natural mix at an unprecedented rate.

· More than 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest are lost every year to loggers and farmers.

· In the century between 1850 and 1950, human activities burned up 60 billion tons of carbon fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas. Today we burn the same amount every 10 years.

· The  United States pumps more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country in the world. Each of us contributes about 22 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, whereas the world average per capita is about 6 tons. - Environmental Protection Agency

· Right now the U.S.makes up only five percent of the world’s population, yet we are responsible for a staggering 25% of the carbon dioxide that’s released into the atmosphere.

· Unless we reduce emissions and develop new energy alternatives, the blanket of greenhouse gases that surrounds the planet will double in the next 50 years, and triple in the next hundred.


· Alternative energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide include the wind, sunlight, nuclear energy, and underground steam. Alternative sources of energy are more expensive to use than fossil fuels. However, increased research into their use would almost certainly reduce their cost. -World Book Encyclopedia

· Everyday steps:

o High-efficiency appliances can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 450 pounds a year.

o Recycle aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic, cardboard, and newspapers. Recycling can reduce your home's carbon dioxide emissions by 850 pounds per year.

o When running errands, combine trips so that you are not using your car for single-purpose trips.

o Carpool: Leaving your car at home just two days a week will reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by 1,590 pounds per year. - Environmental Protection Agency

o Turning the thermostat down three degrees not only saves money – it keeps one ton of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

o If every American household switched just one traditional light bulb to a long lasting energy-efficient fluorescent bulb, it would be the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road.

Global Warming Timeline

254 Million Years Ago

  • Global warming of just a couple of degrees at the end of the Permian era led to mass extinction.

55 Million Years Ago

  • A several degree warming period at the end of the Paleocene era triggered a mass extinction.

10,000 Years Ago

  • During the last ice age, the Earth was just 9-16 degrees cooler than it is today.


  • A Swedish chemist named Svante Arrhenius coined the term “greenhouse effect” when he hypothesized in an article that global temperature is related to the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.


  • Climatologist Charles Keeling was the first to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on a continuous basis, and he was the first to report that global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were rising. His documentation was graphed, and became known as the Keeling Curve.


  • At this time, the science of global warming consisted of a few determined scientists   whose predictions about the fate of our planet were either furiously debated or widely ignored.
  • The four strongest El Niños on record have all happened since 1980.


  • Temperatures in Chicago reach over 100 degrees and kill 739 people in five days


  • Larson B is the largest expanse of ice on earth, located on the eastern end of the Antarctic Peninsula.  This plate of ice has been in deep freeze for the last 12,000 years. During periods of warmth, parts of the shelf have melted away, and small icebergs have splintered from its edges. But in the summer of 2002, something unprecedented happens. A chunk the size of Rhode Island falls into the sea.

  • Northern China has been gripped with severe drought since 2002.

    China inhabits 21% of the Earth’s population, yet the country only has 7% of the world’s water.


  • More than 30,000 perish when a record-breaking heat wave grips an ill-prepared



  • January 1: Across Southern Australia, the New Year blasts its way into the record books. In the capital of

    Sydney, temperatures top 113 degrees. By the end of January, the most destructive brush fires in 20 years rage throughout the country, killing nine people.
  • <>

    August 29, 2005: Katrina is the strongest hurricane to ever hit the

    Gulf States reaching speeds of 175 miles an hour and ravaging 100 miles of coastline. In only a few hours, the tourist town of Gulfport,Mississippiis nearly leveled by the category 4 storm. Nearly 80% of the city of New Orleans floods. Thousands are killed.
  • Australia recorded the hottest year on record.
  • The Amazon rainforests recorded the driest year on record.
  • The worldwide record for number of hurricanes is smashed with 28 officially designated storms, including the most deadly to hit the U.S. in nearly 100 years.
  • The Kyoto Protocol is ratified by more than 160 nations. It sets legally binding target dates for many industrialized countries to cut their global-warming emissions. Despite the United State’s role in drafting the treaty, the current administration has yet to sign the Kyoto treaty. Also reluctant to sign is Australia, the 14th largest producer of greenhouse gases, and the world’s largest exporter of coal.


  • February: The island ofTuvalu in the South Pacific saw the highest tide they’ve ever seen at 11 feet. If the oceans continue to rise, many of these small island countries will simply vanish into the sea.
  • April 16: A sandstorm blows more than 300,000 tons of sand on the capital of Beijing
  • May: Canadian wildlife officials were astonished to find the first polar bear/ grizzly hybrid in the wild.
  • <>


    National Park in northern MT is seeing the ice melt faster than at any time in recorded history. As the ice melts, more ground is exposed. That ground absorbs more of the sun that used to be reflected by the ice. As the ground warms up, the ice melts even faster.
  • The Great Barrier Reef experiences the third bleaching event in the last eight years. Three thousand individual reefs join together to cover more than 135,000 square miles of the ocean floor. Currently, the warm temperature of the water is preventing the algae from provided the nourishment and protection the corals need. The coral is repelling the algae, resulting in a colorless, dying coral reef.
  • Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere today are higher than anything we’ve seen in the past 600,000 years. Never, since human beings first walked the Earth, have carbon dioxide levels been this high. This shows that the present day climate is very unusual.
  • 2100

  • If temperatures continue to rise at their current rate, in 2100 the Earth may hit the 4-degree mark, known as the tipping point. This is the point at which Earth’s climate will reach the threshold of no longer being able to ‘undo’ global warming. [see Tipping Point post]

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Thanks for the review. I have not seen the Gore Movie, mainly because I don't see many movies of any kind. However, I did watch Brokaw last night and fully agree with you.

I think that the message, coming from Brokaw, was threatening enough that Sen. Imhofe had his Committee on The Environment and Public Works attack Brokaw even before the program aired. I detest this use of public resources for political propoganda. But Imhofe is learning that trick of which Pombo is a master.

My comments are more fully covered at

Posted by: wes | Jul 17, 2006 12:00:42 PM

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