The snowcaps of Mount Kilimanjaro are receding. That’s a
measurable fact. Some well-respected scientists believe it’s due to generalized
global warming, while other, equally well-respected scientists believe the cause
is deforestation around the base of the mountain that reduces available
moisture. Still others believe it is a combination of the two. One fact and
three differing opinions — contributing equally to a rich scientific discourse.
But there is no room for differing opinions in "An Inconvenient
Truth," the film about climate change, specifically global warming. Viewers are
led to believe that all reputable scientists believe that Mount Kilimanjaro’s
receding snowcaps are proof positive that global warming is destroying the world
as we know it. Scientists believing otherwise are incompetent charlatans or
sinister, money-hungry conspirators.
At their hearts, science and education are about expansiveness,
exploration and discovery. Politics, on the other hand, is about domination,
indoctrination and exclusion. The problem with "An Inconvenient Truth" is that
it hides the sensibilities of politics under a thin veneer of the sensibilities
To call "An Inconvenient Truth" a documentary is intellectually
dishonest. It’s basically a vehicle for bringing Al Gore’s slide presentation to
a wider audience. At its core, Al Gore’s presentation is a political polemic
designed to demolish any and all opposition.
Let’s agree that the Earth is warming and that there is evidence
that mankind is partly or even largely to blame. That is not the issue. The
issue is whether this particular movie is the right vehicle for studying the
problem in the classroom. What makes for good "edutainment" in theaters does not
always translate to good education.
The deliberate distortion of some of the video footage designed
to make Al Gore look spectacular and his opponents look sinister is problematic.
With years of experience covering events on Capitol Hill, I know the level of
technical quality available to those covering hearings. The footage of U.S. Sen.
James Inhofe, R-Okla., appears to have been deliberately post-processed and
compressed to give him an unsavory look. It’s inconceivable that any file
footage by professionals covering congressional hearings at that time would have
been that bad. This should be no small point to teachers committed to
truthfulness and fairness. Deliberately distorting images smacks of
indoctrination rather than education.
Equally problematic for educators should be the fact that the
same techniques and tricks one brings to demolishing political opponents were
expanded and brought to bear on scientists and researchers having come to
conclusions that might undermine Gore’s position. Is there any serious
give-and-take on the scientific merits of any of Gore’s claims? No. In fact, he
declares that all serious researchers agree with his presentation, which is
patently false. Applying political methods to science, he ascribes sinister
motives to well-respected scientists who disagree with his conclusions. This is
intellectual dishonesty at an intolerable level. It treats science and
scientists as pawns of politics and demeans the scientific process.
Global warming is a serious topic, and plenty of serious
resources addressing it are suitable for classroom use. But a political polemic
that sends the message that scientific thought must be monolithic and
subservient to politics is certainly not among them.
Tom Meeks, of Maryland, is a former elementary and middle-school science
teacher who has produced documentary and educational films for the National Park
Service and has worked for various news agencies.