Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," confirms my suspicion that there are fundamentalists of the left as well as fundamentalists of the right. Both have pet beliefs that they hold sacred and will defend against any challenge. In Gore's case, global warming caused by humans is an article of faith. To question it is heresy. Ignoring it will lead to perdition. His movie isn't "An Inconvenient Hypothesis." It's gospel TRUTH.
Critic David Denby, reviewing "An Inconvenient Truth" for the New Yorker, treats the movie reverently - uncritically, in fact. It's fascinating how closely his secular interpretation of Gore's movie follows a religious, biblical script. In Denby's view, Gore has been to the mountain top and come back down with infallible truth chiseled in stone.
"Anyone in possession of a major truth that he can't get others to accept begins to feel that he's losing his mind," wrote Denby. "The skepticism he meets turns him into a soreheaded obsessive. : Al Gore has been in possession of a major truth about global warming for more than 30 years."
What qualifies Denby to make that pronouncement - or Al Gore to utter his dire prophecies, for that matter - is left unsaid. It's enough for Denby that Gore's science is "vivid and terrifying." Ironically, his portrait of Gore is the portrait of a religious fanatic - not someone "in possession" of truth so much as possessed by it. We're supposed to feel sorry for Gore. He's trying to save us and we don't appreciate it.
In the movie, Gore alternates his doomsday pronouncements with Thoreau-like moments of communion with nature and shots of himself gazing out the windows of airplanes, brooding or pecking at his laptop, as if he alone bears the fate of the planet on his shoulders. Then it's back to the lecture hall for another round of disaster graphs, images of melting glaciers and bloated bodies floating on the floodwaters of hurricanes, and Al sermonizing on the coming collision between civilization and nature.
We've got 10 years before we reach the point of no return, according to all-knowing Al. If we don't change our ways, we'll be treated to "a nature hike through the Book of Revelation." Talk about revealing. Gore's conflation of global warming with the biblical vision of Apocalypse says everything about where he's coming from. All that's missing is a mention of the Antichrist and the beast with seven heads rising up out of the sea.
Perhaps you're thinking we shouldn't make light of such matters. Gore is talking science, not metaphysical fundamentalist babble. He claims that the debate is over and there's 100 percent agreement within the scientific community. By the way, is that the way science works - the scientists get together, vote and the majority rules? At any rate, this is an extravagant misrepresentation. Some scientists disagree with Gore.
A recent article in the Canada Free Press quotes Professor Bob Carter of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University in Australia: "Gore's circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic." Many members of the "scientific consensus" Gore evokes have no expertise in climate science, and the computer models on which climatologists predict the future have been "consistently wrong in all their scenarios," according to University of Winnipeg climatology professor Tim Ball. CO2 levels were over 10 times higher 450 million years ago than they are today, according to Carleton University paleoclimatologist Professor Tim Patterson. At that time, "the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half-billion years."
Who knows what's true? Partisans on any issue pick facts to suit their prefabricated beliefs. Scientists have been known to fudge on data to uphold their theories, and most of us - Gore included - aren't qualified to judge. It seems plausible that human activities are affecting the climate and atmosphere. Certainly, cutting back on fuel consumption makes sense for all sorts of reasons. But we need to acknowledge the uncertainties and complexities of global warming as well as the costs and benefits of change.
A group of distinguished economists recently ranked malnutrition and disease as priorities to address among the problems that face us. Using our limited resources to fight global warming was dead last, because it "would cost a colossal amount and yield distant and uncertain rewards."
According to one estimate, total elimination of burning fossil fuels might change the global climate by one degree over a period of 350 years. Even if humanity ceased to exist, the planet would continue to experience extreme fluctuations of climate that would be catastrophic from our point of view. Such considerations are off Gore's map.
Gore is a moralist, not a scientist. He says that global warming is a moral rather than a political issue. The internal combustion engine is his version of Original Sin. He shows cartoon scales with gold bars balanced against the Earth, as if to reduce this complex issue to a matter of human greed. It's an expression of the kind of hubris that places human beings at the center of the universe. Gore isn't really that different from those who think that natural disasters are expressions of God's wrath.
What strikes me about people of Gore's mindset is their almost misanthropic negativity. They seem to get a positive pleasure from preaching a gospel of doom. They have little faith in human ingenuity to solve problems and adapt to changes. Gore seems more interested in winning converts than in solving problems. He presents himself as a prophet, a voice crying in the wilderness: "Repent." His movie ends like a Billy Graham evangelical summons: "Are you ready to change the way you live?"
Raise questions about global warming in the company of true believers and you'll get the same kind of response you'd get if you questioned the literal truth of the Bible in the company of Christian fundamentalists. For disciples of global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth" will be like catnip, an act of atonement for our affluence and excesses.
"Every school, college, and church group, and everyone else beyond the sway of General Motors, ExxonMobil, and the White House should see this movie," wrote Denby. That's a perfect example of the knee-jerk demonization we associate with religious extremists. I'm reminded that Sean Penn keeps an Ann Coulter doll which he disfigures with cigarettes in unmentionable places. What does that tell us? That enlightened secular liberals may resort to voodoo too. One more inconvenient truth.