Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth movie review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:02 PM GMT on June 19, 2006

Al Gore's global warming movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," aims to call attention to the dangers society faces from climate change, and suggests urgent actions that need to be taken immediately. It is based on a slide show on climate Gore has presented to audiences worldwide over 1000 times in the past 15 years, but it is not purely a documentary. Gore's movie is an advocacy piece that is part documentary, part biography, and part campaign ad. I'll discuss all three of these aspects below. In brief, Al Gore has the right idea--climate change is an urgent issue that requires immediate action, and his thoughtful movie is a welcome addition to the usual array of mindless Hollywood summer fare. However, the movie has flaws. The presentation of the science is good, but not great--I rate it B minus. The excessive details on Al Gore's life make the movie too long, and his insistence on using the movie as something of a campaign ad detracts from its message.

An Inconvenient Truth as a biography of Al Gore
The creators of the movie presumably thought that simply presenting Gore's slide show would be too dull, so they decided to give the movie some human interest by interweaving a biography of Al Gore's life. Al Gore has led an interesting life, but "interesting" and "Al Gore" are not words one can often put together. As my daughter noted in her movie review yesterday, Al Gore is boring, and the 20 minutes or so of biography presented in An Inconvenient Truth is too much for a movie that is 1 hour and 36 minutes long. For example, I didn't really need to see the road where Al Gore totaled his car when he was 14 years old, or a replay of his loss in the 2000 election. On the other hand, some details of his past were interesting and relevant, such as the fact that he took college courses in the late 1960s from Harvard's Dr. Roger Revelle. Revelle and Dr. Charles Keeling were the pioneers in measurements of atmospheric CO2, and thus Gore got a very early exposure to the now infamous "Keeling Curve" (Figure 1), showing the build-up of atmospheric CO2. This early exposure to the significant impact humans were having on the atmosphere deeply affected Gore, and in the movie he details efforts he made to call attention to the issue long before most people had heard of it, back in the 1970s and 80s. Gore's slide show appropriately displays many graphs of the Keeling Curve, as it is probably the most important and most famous finding in climate change science.

Figure 1. The Keeling Curve is a record of CO2 measurements taken at he top of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii since 1958.

The science of An Inconvenient Truth
The science presented is mostly good, and at times compelling, but there are a few errors and one major distortion of the truth. Gore does an excellent job focusing on the most important issues, and usually presents them with a minimum of hype and distortion. The only exception to this comes in his treatment of global warming and extreme weather events such as hurricanes.

Basic global warming science
Gore begins the science part of his talk with a very easy to understand presentation on the basics of how the greenhouse effect works. His speech is clear, the graphics top notch, and he spices it up with a hilarious two-minute cartoon depicting roughneck global warming gases preventing poor Mr. Sunbeam from escaping Earth's atmosphere. Gore addresses the argument of skeptics who claim that the Earth is too big for humans to affect by showing Space Shuttle photos of how thin the atmosphere really is compared to the vast bulk of our planet. "The problem we now face is that this thin layer of atmosphere is being thickened by huge quantities of carbon dioxide," he asserts, which is not correct. The build-up of CO2 has virtually no effect on the density or thickness of Earth's atmosphere. The correct thing to say would have been, "The problem we now face is that this thin layer of atmosphere is being made more opaque to the transmission of infrared radiation (heat) by huge quantities of carbon dioxide."

Gore shows an impressive series of "then and now" images documenting the widespread retreat of many glaciers over the past century. Most dramatically, he shows Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro, whose 11,000 year-old glaciers are almost gone. While not all the world's glaciers have retreated in the past century, Gore's presentation is an effective and reasonable way to show how global warming has affected the majority of the world's glaciers. Greenhouse skeptics, including Michael Crichton in his State of Fear book, are fond of bashing those who use Mt. Kilimanjaro as a poster child for demonstrating global warming. They cite scientific research showing that the glacial retreat on Mt. Kilimanjaro is due to drying of the atmosphere, not global warming. However, as discussed at great length in a post, the research which supposedly supports the skeptics' claims has been widely misquoted and misinterpreted, and much of Kilimanjaro's melting can indeed be ascribed to warming of the atmosphere since 1960.

Gore does an excellent job discussing the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica. Again, Gore's graphics are superb, and he does a nice job narrating. He shows animations of what a 20-foot rise in sea level would do to Manhattan, Florida, India, and China. A 20-foot sea level rise is what we expect if all of Greenland or all of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt. Such a 20-foot rise is not expected by 2100, and it would have been appropriate for Gore to acknowledge that the consensus of climate scientists--as published in the most recent report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)--is that sea level is likely to rise between 4 and 35 inches, with a central value of 19 inches, by 2100. He should have also mentioned that temperatures in Greenland in the 1930s were about as warm as today's temperatures, so the current melting of Greenland's glaciers does have historical precedent. Nevertheless, the risk of a catastrophic melting and break-up of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets is very real, when we consider that sea level before the most recent ice age was 15 feet higher than it is now. Gore is right to draw attention to what might happen if sea level rose 20 feet.

Drought and heat waves
An excellent discussion of the most serious climate change issue our generation is likely to face, the threat of increased drought and reduced water supplies, is presented. Gore makes reference to the extreme heat wave that affected Europe during the summer of 2004, and I was glad to see that he didn't blame the heat wave on global warming--he merely said that more events of this nature will be likely in the future.

Hurricanes and severe weather
The biggest failure in the movie's presentation of science comes in the discussion hurricanes and severe weather events. The devastation wrought by Katrina is used to very dramatic effect to warn of the dangers climate change presents. We are told that Katrina grew "stronger and stronger and stronger" as it passed over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico that were heated up by global warming. We are told that global warming is increasing the intensity of hurricanes, but not provided information on the great amount of uncertainty and vigorous scientific debate on this issue. Graphs showing recent record insurance losses from natural disasters are presented, but no mention is made of how increasing population and insistence on building in vulnerable areas are the predominant factors causing recent high insurance claims from disasters such as Katrina. Gore points to some unprecedented events in 2004 as evidence of increasing severe weather events worldwide--the record 10 typhoons in Japan, the most tornadoes ever in the U.S., and the appearance of Brazil's first hurricane ever. However, examples of this kind are meaningless. No single weather event, or unconnected series of severe weather events such as Gore presents, are indicative of climate change. In particular, the IPCC has not found any evidence that climate change has increased tornado frequency, or is likely to. Gore doesn't mention the unusually quiet tornado season of 2005, when for the first time ever, no tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma in the month of May.

Other science
Gore presents many other important aspects of climate change, including the threat of abrupt climate change leading to a shut-off of the Gulf Stream current, the increase in damaging insect infestations and tropical diseases, loss of coral reefs, loss of ice in the polar ice cap, and melting of permafrost in the Arctic. With the possible exception of his treatment of the spread of tropical diseases, all of these issues were presented with sound science.

An Inconvenient Truth as a campaign ad
Gore has repeatedly said that he has no intention of running for president again, and that this movie was created as part of his life-long passion to protect the environment. Gore undoubtedly does care very deeply about the planet, but this movie very much looks like a campaign ad. We are shown many scenes of Gore being applauded, Gore traveling the globe to present his slide show, and Gore working to uncover evidence of Republican shenanigans to alter or suppress climate change science. Gore is portrayed as a humble and tireless crusader for good, and if the movie is not intended to promote his political ambitions, it is certainly intended to benefit the Democratic Party. All this gets in the way of the movie's central message.

At the end of the movie, we are presented with the same image that Gore started the movie with, that of a beautiful river in the wilderness. Throughout the movie, Gore emphasizes how beautiful and special our planet is, and he does an effective job conveying this. He also makes a powerful case that something can and should be done to protect the planet, and it is worth hearing his message, even if the science is flawed and the messenger does get in the way of the message. Overall, the movie rates 2.5 stars--worth seeing, but you might want to wait until the DVD comes out.

At the end of the movie, Gore presents some tips on how everyone can contribute, and points people to his web site, However, I would recommend that people who want to get educated about climate change get their information from web sites not associated with a politician; perhaps the least politicized source of information is the latest scientific summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), a group of over 2000 scientists from 100 countries working under a mandate from the United Nations in the largest peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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128. Cregnebaa
4:05 PM EST on June 19, 2006
Look at how long it took to prove smoking causes lung cancer, for years there was just a correlation, if you smoked you were more likely to get lung cancer, but they couldn't prove it.
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127. sayhuh
3:09 PM CST on June 19, 2006
I was just looking at the Bahamas Low..but it looks a bit broader.

As far as TX..sure..I doubt anything comes of it..but its fun to look at in the WV. I seems to be pushing SW and eroding the dry air to the west.

It seems to be chasing the tropical moisture that was feeding it, but in the WV the tropical feed seems to be eroding as well.

But if that chase pulls it over water for awhile...
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126. StormJunkie
9:06 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Is the spin around the Bahamas also an ULL?

Or is there no spin there, only optical illusion?

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125. HAARP
8:37 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Even if global warming is a hoax, there are plenty of other benefits to eliminating the use of fossil fuels that should be justification enough for us to devote more research to it.

finally a valid point...

this I agree with... and as a hybrid car owner and geothermal heating and cooling user...I choose to help my own beliefs...

that do you "alarmists" due to help this planet?

other than blog some non factual political bs on here all day and night...

There is no scientific "FACT" that humans are causing global warming...just because you see a corrolation between rising co2 levels and the industrial revolution doesnt mean squat...

and these measurements are taken on top of a volcano nonetheless...

to prove something scientifically you must eliminate all other possibilities...something that is impossible to do...

our warming could be caused by things we have yet discovered or understand yet...but believe away if you wish


the bottom line is Al Gore did nothing in 8 years in office.

AND my choice to do the things I do to live green is for personal reasons and not to perpetuate some mythical "we are bigger than the planet" mentality...

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124. StormJunkie
8:58 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Afternoon all.

sayuh-sometimes upper level lows can transition to warm core tropical lows, but it usually takes a fair amount of time and just the right conditions. This being over land has no chance.

For those that have not seen you can find the best tropical information available on the web at

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123. thetimmer
8:57 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
not to mention that that hurricane depicted in the movie poster is of a Southern Hemisphere in nature. I don't think they meant that on purpose.
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122. rwdobson
8:54 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
those are bands...they are just bands associated with a non-tropical upper-level low. ULL's often produce nice looking bands that are separated by wedges of dry air.
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121. sayhuh
2:48 PM CST on June 19, 2006
Boy, if this were out further in the water, in looking at the loop, the bands forming over LA following the spin might be thought as a band..but of course its not in this case..since its just a rain storm.
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119. OneDay
8:45 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
If the rain in the NW GOM makes it inland, things here in Houston will get much, much worse.
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118. StormThug
3:44 PM CDT on June 19, 2006
someone please come on the tropic chat room
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117. sayhuh
2:31 PM CST on June 19, 2006
Yes, Fujita..LOL..subliminal typing, I suppose as I am hungry!

I understand your point regarding the building codes, but I would have to think that what would have been thought a well constructed house in the 70s might not have the same integrity of what is a well constructed house of today. With the same force applied to each, the damamge of the older house may look worse, thus influence the damage assessment.

[caveat - I realize that the reverse may also be true to the extent in the time of great urban sprawl, newer housing may in fact be worse than older houses in construction]

Since the Fujita scale is somewhat subjective based on structural soundness and other factors, I am not convinced that the 1% [as shown on the chart] representing violent tornados can be exacted to what should be expected in any given year. That being the case, it is odd that it has been so long since we have had one, but not ready yet to find factors that may be limiting them. I am not sure there is enough reliable data to dictate frequency and strengh that is objective enough to apply such a small [1%] percentage to.
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116. F5
8:16 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Here's a nice article which quotes a number of researchers who disagree with the CO2 = global warming theory...


And another...Link

Also, lost in one of Dr. Master's previous blog entries was a link I posted regarding SST's and their correlation to hurricanes...Interesting reading


And this one regarding surface temperature changes related to land/use changes...
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115. Gatorboy
8:32 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Why does everybody think we will destroy our atmosphere, dont we realise that Planet has been around for Billions of years, i doubt during our 100 years of having automoblies and factories that we have destroyed the atmosphere.
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114. mctypething
4:27 PM EDT on June 19, 2006
I also saw 'An Inconvenient Truth' this weekend. I feel that I have now read enough and watched enough to have an educated opinion on global warming. One of the big problems with our society is that you cannot believe anything you hear or read. 95% of the time, what is printed or broadcast on the news is influenced by money. Everything in this country revolves around how the rich can get richer. I do believe that global warming is occuring and that the burning of fossil fuels is partly responsible for this phenomenom.

Al Gore's documentary is clearly politcally motivated, Dr. Masters is definitely right on about that. Which, of course, throws most of the premises behind it into question. I think the only reason global warming is not receiving the attention it deserves is because "Big Oil" is basically running our country. Think about it, it's true.

Until we reach a point where the news is actually independent and factual, global warming will not receive the attention it deserves.

Even if global warming is a hoax, there are plenty of other benefits to eliminating the use of fossil fuels that should be justification enough for us to devote more research to it.
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113. snotly
8:19 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
I suppose if we do manage to destroy our atmosphere future beings might record it as the microscopic spike on the gentle curve from cold to warm and look upon it in mild curiosity.
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112. PeaceRiverBP
4:26 PM EDT on June 19, 2006
Re: Just a little food for thought-

If the link doesn't work, this is the web address:
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111. JugheadFL
4:26 PM EDT on June 19, 2006
its spelled Fujita
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110. PeaceRiverBP
4:21 PM EDT on June 19, 2006
Just a little food for thought:

Global Warming, the Politicization of Science, and Michael Crichton's "State of Fear"*
by David Deming (see link)


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109. JugheadFL
4:25 PM EDT on June 19, 2006
*fajita rather
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108. JugheadFL
4:24 PM EDT on June 19, 2006
is that a steak or chicken Fijita?
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106. louisianaskyline
8:22 PM GMT on June 19, 2006

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105. sayhuh
2:13 PM CST on June 19, 2006
Here is a thought to consider...since the Fajita scale uses damage analysis of primarly housing damage in the upper levels, is it possible that steadily since the 50's that building codes have improved the structural stability of newer buildings, thus not having as much damage with what may have been considered a violent tornado 30 yrs ago?
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104. TampaSteve
8:08 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
rwdobson: heh heh...we also don't want to go back to the >25% oxygen that was around during the Cretaceous period, either...wet wood burns in a 25% oxygen atmosphere...not good...
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102. rwdobson
8:05 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
in the (distant geologic) past, the earth's atosphere didn't have oxygen in it. it was a natural condition, but i don't think it's one we want to re-create now.
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101. sayhuh
1:52 PM CST on June 19, 2006

Based on your thoughts regarding the jestream as it relates to global warming/F5 tornados..have you run across any data yet that shows a slowing/weakening of the jetstream based on that theory? Additionally, what is the threshold of windspeed from the jetstream required to fuel a F5 tornado? I would agree that there might be a loose tie, but not sure I could concede yet to not seeing another one again. I think we would both agree they are rare to begin with, and they might be declining [though based on newer tech vs. older records..not convinced], I am not sure the jetstream is affecting it too much, unless proven wrong by the questions I had above.
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99. jeffB
7:51 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Gatorboy wrote:

well isnt that amazing, earths climate changes all the time regards [sic] of human interaction.

And people die all the time regardless of their actions. I'm so sick of all these alarmists wanting us to wear safety belts, put smoke detectors in our houses, have our trash collected instead of dumping it in the street, and whatnot. Think of how much money we're wasting on all these ridiculous precautions!
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98. snowboy
7:41 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Re global warming and hurricanes:

Global warming is COOLING the upper atmosphere (more of the incoming solar radiation is trapped inside the "greenhouse"), which in my view is why we're seeing increased hurricane intensities.

Global warming is increasing SSTs, which is why in my view one of the reasons we're seeing increased duration of hurricane activity.

Global warming appears to be slowing the movement of the Gulf Stream (and may cause it to stop flowing, which is a severely scary thought) - less water moved from the tropics to the Arctic via the Gulf Stream means more heat build up that needs to be transferred by other means (ie. through the atmosphere, via storms including hurricanes).
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97. TampaSteve
7:35 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
MichaelSTL wrote:

"Besides what rwdobson said, I don't think that we will see another F5 tornado again; the incidence of such violent tornadoes seems to be declining; this includes F4 tornadoes. In fact, every day that passes extends the "F5 tornado-free record" by another day. Link

I think that climate change may be the cause - warming in the polar regions reduces temperature contrasts and as a result the jetstream is weakened (the jetstream divides air with different temperatures)."

So, if that's the case, then we shouldn't build cyclonebuster's tunnels, even if they did work...
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96. Gatorboy
7:48 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
well isnt that amazing, earths climate changes all the time regards of human interaction.
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95. NAtlanticCyclone
7:44 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Look at that wave at 60 west and the one area of thunderstorms over the Bahamas. Any chance of development within these areas. I believe the area just entering the Caribbean Sea has about a 75% chance of development, as increased amount of thunderstorms has occurred and the area around the Bahamas I don't know about.
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93. snotly
7:33 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
If anyone wants to see the climate history of earth: Link
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92. rwdobson
7:41 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
StL, i had no idea it had been that long since an F5 tornado in the US...I do think we will see one again sometime tho.
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91. NAtlanticCyclone
7:37 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
So if the jet stream then weakens as the polar regions become warmer doesn't that mean the Atlantci OCean warms considerably as there is no more cool water to enter the Atlantic OCean and then the jet stream which creates wind shear would be gone, nonexistent and then a ton of hurricanes form and become more intense so we are dead either way great.
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90. Tazmanian
12:39 PM PDT on June 19, 2006
any one see this when they try to update your blog yes no may be some in

Internal Server Error
The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.
Please contact the server administrator, and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

More information about this error may be available in the server error log

sorry to be off but is any one geting this when you update your blog or try to i am this want to see if ant of you are???
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89. thelmores
7:34 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
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88. sayhuh
1:21 PM CST on June 19, 2006
I find it interesting that some in this blog will stomp their feet about folks giving their opinions on whether storms will form here or there or wherever as being overzellous, yet without the same regard will have the same type of conversation about global warming. I am not going to say what is right or wrong, as I think there is merit to both opinions and fact both extreme and moderate, and left to the unique individual to relate to which ever facet they can identify with. If you are coming to blogs for absolute fact all the time, I may argue this may not be the right forum for that. I enjoy this blog for all opinions and facts, and hope others are not stifled based on a few other's own personal expectations. This thought is not geared to any one individual, but if you take offense to this, I apologize in advance..but if the shoe fits....
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86. jeffB
7:34 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
NAtlanticCyclone wrote:

I always thought that the upper atmosphere was cooler and if it got warmer then it would become more unstable because warm air is unstable with humidity and dew points rising.

"Warm air is unstable" because it tends to rise through cooler air (convection). If the air "at the top" is warm, the air beneath is less able to rise, and that makes things more stable.
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84. NAtlanticCyclone
7:34 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
The if all that fresh water was dumped into the ocean from natural causes which was possibly caused by humans then wouldn't "The Day After Tomorrow" come true if the North Atlantic current shifted and then cause a massive flood of all coastal areas and then the major storm hits.
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83. Tazmanian
12:34 PM PDT on June 19, 2006
Internal Server Error
The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.
Please contact the server administrator, and inform them of the time the error occurred, and anything you might have done that may have caused the error.

More information about this error may be available in the server error log

sorry to be off but is any one geting this when you update your blog or try to i am this want to see if ant of you are???
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82. rwdobson
7:33 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
if the upper atmosphere is warm, then the atmosphere as a whole is stable. warm air on top is a stable condition. unstable conditions are created when the air on top is cool and the air below is warm, trying to rise.
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80. thelmores
7:32 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
if something causes all the land ice to melt, i believe we have MUCH BIGGER problems going on than global warming!

see cause and effect..........
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79. NAtlanticCyclone
7:31 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
Anyways what if an asteroid hit the tropics warmed the waters, created a 100ft+ tsunami wave and then the killer HYPERCANE (hurricane with winds over 500mph), or an undersea volcanic eruption occurred, what would humanity here in the United States do to get to safety. You just can't always run from Mother Nature and then the 20 mile high eyewall blocking out the sunlight from reaching the earth's surface and then kills all life forms even if the HYPERCANE doesn't even hit us.
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78. thelmores
7:29 PM GMT on June 19, 2006
"hey, the methane comes out of the cow's mouth, as a belch, not out the other end as a fart! really."

i stand corrected! :)

i'm much better at eating cattle, than discussing it! ;)
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