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Calling All Science Teachers

Filed under: — group @ 15 January 2007

“An Inconvenient Truth,” the Davis Guggenheim documentary on global warming starring Al Gore’s presentation on the subject, provides an accurate, engaging, accessible, thought-provoking and (at times) even humorous introduction to one of the most important scientific issues of our time ( see our review of the movie). In some countries, viewing “An Inconvenient Truth” has actually become a required part of the science curriculum, and with good justification, we think. Given that the DVD is currently selling for $19.99 through, you’d think that the National Science Teachers’ Association ( NSTA) would jump at the chance to quickly get 50,000 free copies quickly into the hands of their members. Yet, when Laurie David, one of the producers of the film, made this offer to NSTA last November, it was summarily turned down on the grounds that the NSTA has a 2001 policy against “product endorsement” (as if Laurie David were trying to shop some new deodorant to high school science teachers). What in the world is going on here?

Before continuing with the history of NSTA’s bizarre decision, let us provide you with the most important information: Up to 50,000 US science teachers can receive a free copy of the DVD by filling out a simple request form here . The deadline for requesting your copy is January 18, so if you want a copy, take a few minutes to put in your request right away.

Laurie David described her correspondence with the NSTA in a Washington Post Op-Ed, where she notes that an email sent to her by NSTA invoked not only the product endorsement issue, but also a fear that distributing the film would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.” David goes on to point out that one of these supporters is in fact ExxonMobil (whose efforts to spread confusion about climate change are described in a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.) Is NSTA for sale? Did concern about losing ExxonMobil funding lead to NSTA’s timidity about accepting the donation of the DVDs?

The NSTA responds to David’s charges here , pointing out among other things that they offered to sell David the NSTA’s commercial mailing list and that the email to her regarding the fundraising issue was unauthorized. We ourselves find the NSTA’s defense unconvincing. While it is impossible for us to know the extent to which ExxonMobil funding has compromised NSTA’s objectivity on global warming, a perusal of the NSTA web site shows that their teacher resources are rather short on support for teaching about the fundamental science of global warming. This contrasts strongly with their in-depth support for the teaching of Evolution. Indeed, the NSTA’s “compromise” of providing a link on their homepage to the independent DVD giveaway strikes us as uncomfortably similar to placing a sticker on a biology textbook disclaiming Evolution as “Theory, not Fact.” Their willingness to link to the giveaway without providing it directly to their members conveys a distinct impression that the film is somehow tainted.

Doing a search on “Global Warming” on the NSTA site turns up only a paltry supply of useful educational material. It is also illuminating to go into their “recommendations” section and type in “global warming.” That will turn up this recommended book by Kenneth Green, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute whose article Clouds of Global-Warming Hysteria in the National Review endorsed Michael Crichton’s view of global warming and called supporters of climate change action “One-worlders and other socialist sorts.” Needless to say, the NSTA recommendations (as of today) did not turn up “An Inconvenient Truth” either in its DVD or book form. Nor did it turn up Revkin’s book directed at juveniles “The North Pole Was Here,” nor any of the other scientifically respectable introductions of which we are aware

Perhaps the NSTA policy has not been compromised by its funding sources, but it will have to work a lot harder to convince us. The best way it could do that would be to bring their support for teaching about global warming up to the same standards as their support for teaching about Evolution.

Meanwhile, there have been scattered reports of outright censorship of “An Inconvenient Truth” in the classroom. In a widely reported case, one Seattle school district has essentially banned the film. We have also heard from a science teacher in a populous East Coast state, who was forbidden from showing the film after some parents complained that in fact the earth was “cooling, not warming.” (We have been asked to keep this teacher’s identity confidential so as to prevent reprisals). Hopefully these are isolated instances. We are eager to hear from our readers, not only on the issue of censorship of the film, but also with regard to their experiences with teaching about human-caused climate change in the K-12 classroom (and the extent to which “An Inconvenient Truth” has proved a useful tool).

198 Responses to “Calling All Science Teachers”

  1. 51
    Matt says:

    #48, yeah but that 25% includes a lot of services which is just a dude sitting in front of a computer or something which contributes greatly to GDP but not to pollution perse, it is the other industries and cars etc that are the problem. Sometimes you get more for less and less for more, the US gets both and has the most opportunity to decrease pollution regardless

  2. 52
    Matt says:

    Can’t help but agree with Number 45. You guys have real science and real useful data not to mention some awesome links(although some of them are restricted to non affiliates such as myself), but instead you seem to rely on something which dusts over the truth because you have to rely on the opinions of everyone to be changed by media to get what you (we?) want. The truth is that far too many sites have been able too take global warming to task due to this movie. However, on balance I think the movie helped more than hindered the ‘fight’ against global warming, that is assuming we can fix it of course.

  3. 53
    Fernando Magyar says:

    Re: #47

    “Everyone knows the ocean is the only carbon sink worth it’s salt and it’s reacting big time as anyone who knows the “red tide” off florida will tell you.”

    Not quite sure what the ocean as a carbon sink has to do with this.

    It seems that phytoplankton blooms are mostly the consequence of adding large amounts of nutrients to the water, often the result of a natural upwelling, as seems to be the case of the Floridian red tides.

    Though pollution runoff probably aggravates the problem.

  4. 54
    Matt says:

    PS As a disclaimer i am a hypocrite just like Gore. He flies everywhere to do his silly slide show, well one digger at the minesite i work at consumes over 1000000 litres of diesel (yes that is 1 million) per annum. I love that machine, it fills a 150 ton truck in 1 or 2 scoops and my friend who is six feet 3 inches doesn’t have to bend over when he stands in the bucket. Just beautiful.

    Anywhoo Do you see what we are up against in the fight against global warming, that is one machine feeding approximately 80000 trees with carbon dioxide (pretty rough estimate)

  5. 55
    pete best says:

    Re #48, thats not really a fair perspective is it. On average the USA per head of capita consume some 20 tonnes per head of capita.

    France,UK,Germany only consume around 9 to 10 tonnes per head of capita and they are trying to curb their emissions further. All we are saying is that the USA should do the same as they are the most technologically advanced nation on the earth. Maybe some R&D dollars should be spent on new technology research and maybe energy efficiency. It cannot do any harm can it as Oil and Gas are scheduled to run out this century and this sort of thing can only mitigate problems on both fronts, energy security and climate change.

    Win win is it not ?

  6. 56
    Dan Hughes says:

    re: #12. If the use of a widely-used word like ‘Algore’ is a red flag relative to objectivity how does this Web site fit into that scheme of things? http:// [edited]


    I fully expect to make some easy money from this post as I’ve bet a friend that RC will not post it.

    [Response: That would seem to have been a good bet on your part, since you are probably aware that you have been flagged for ‘trolling’ at RC and most of your comments have been eliminated based on the rules clearly spelled out in our comments policy. In this case, both items #5 and #8 would be relevant. -mike]

    [Response: This might have been overly strong. I don’t believe it is the case that the poster has been flagged for ‘trolling’, but he has had a number of comments, such as this one, caught in our moderation queue because of language used. He, as anyone, is welcome to comment as long as it fits with our comments policy. Commenting on one of my RC colleague’s political leanings based on unrelated, off-site material is not fair game. That’s why this one was edited. We’ll leave it at that. -mike]

  7. 57
    Eli Rabett says:

    As this discussion shows, even for the more attentive than average person, ideas about climate change are a random collections of truths, half truths, and outright wrong stuff covered with mush. The issue, in schools and in the public arena is to teach a relatively simple, first order, picture of what has happened, is happening and will happen in a malestrom of mis-information, cheerfully spread by the Exxon elf core.

    Good luck.

  8. 58
    Eric E says:

    I don’t know how to put the correlation between temperature and CO2 convincingly enough for you stop believing misinformation about it, but it is a strong supporting measurement not a theory. The case is not that a single correlation between CO2 and explains global warming. The physics of greenhouse gases are so well established as to be essentially indisputable, and the correlation is a demonstration of that effect that, along with other measurements, helps set parameter values for the physics.

    You may be alluding to the question of how quickly and strongly greenhouse gases affect temperature; this is so-called “climate sensitivity”, and there’s plenty of posts on this site about it and research elsewhere. That is not an open-and-shut question, and is in fact why the climate science community is certain that we are contributing strongly to warming, but is not exactly sure the path warming will take or magnitude of the warming by 2100 (2C to 10C is nearly an order of magnitude!).

    Al Gore did adopt a dramatic tone in the movie – and it made the movie entertaining. He (or the director) also cast himself as a lonely crusader for the truth, which I found annoying and did not think added much to the drama of the story. Certainly he’s not a scientist, and that’s worth taking into account. But if you look at any of the claims the movie is making, they are either unanimously supported (melting of icecaps, retreat of glaciers, 2C to 10C of warming) or at least plausible (e.g. rapid melting of Greenland ice sheet – note that there have been several papers recently observing that the ice sheet is melting faster than any models would predict). That’s what the review here on RealClimate says – the facts are correct. It’s one thing to claim that the movie takes an overly dramatic tone or too much sense of doom and gloom – that’s an opinion, and you’re as entitled to yours as anyone else. But to say it’s full of lies and distortions is to claim that scientists are lying and distorting.

  9. 59
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    The “swiftboating” of Al Gore is an interesting story. There were Republicans at work, of course, but what made the smears work were the bloc of liberal reporters who simply decided that Gore was corny, stiff, and outré and who repeated the made up and distorted stories about him without checking or publicly correcting the stories once they’d been disproved. And it was fashionable among some on the left in 2000 to pretend that there were no differences betweeb the major party candidates. As the saying goes, “Thanks, Ralph”.

    Even though his climate views have been vetted and re-vetted, it’s still fashionable to put him down. Old habits die hard.

  10. 60
    Andrew Sipocz says:

    I think the global warming controversy is all about fear. Many teachers, I think, would be reluctant to show this film to their students because the idea of AGW is pretty damn scary to them. The film scared the hell out of me even though very little was new to me. The film somehow made it all real and immediate. The idea of showing it to their students, especially to those who haven’t yet amored themselves with the idea that it can’t possibly be all that bad (younger children), is probably out of the question for many teachers.

    Yet, I think either the various scientists involved in this blog underestimate the problems AGW will cause or you are a hell of a lot braver than I (or are really good at keeping any hint of panic out of your public correspondence). Paul Hirt wrote a great book about the U.S. Forest Service’s failure, while working within the relatively simple (sorry to any of my profs who may read this post) science of forest management, to maintain the health the U.S.’s national forests. The title is even better than the book itself. “A Conspiracy of Optimism”. I’m sure the assurances many of the NFS scientists told themselves are repeated among climate modelers over a beer at conference socials. But I’m not sure society will be able to put enough good ideas together to avoid some of the really bad effects of AGW (wars over water and ag lands, increased classism in many countries, etc.).

    So, in the end, if we are to accomplish avoiding the worst; the only hope is to make the hard decision and assure that our kids realize their generation has been given this one task above all others. Show’em the movie. They’ve got to reduce AGW as much as possible.

  11. 61
    Paul N says:

    I for one will not be showing this movie in a Science clasroom. While one could say I can use it as a bad example of how partisanship can influence science, I just don’t think it’s even a good example for that.

    It is frightening to see things like Eric E and his the “science is settled” statement above. I am not sure such a statement is ever valid, and it certainly isn’t in this instance. None the less I have seen people make this knid of a statement on both sides of the issue. The people who say carbon dioxide definitely is the cause of warming in the atmosphere have an awful tough time explaining the Paleo climate record; indeed they can’t do it. While the people who say carbon dioxide is an effect of warming not the cause can explain the record but don’t have a decent theoreticl explanation of why this should be so. If you want handle this issue using science, you really better be a whole lot less certain than you are now.

    Astronomers right now also seem to be attributing the climate changes on earth very differently than climate modelers, some one must be wrong here, but if history is any indication it is almost certainly… everyone.

  12. 62
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good pointer to Paul Hirt’s “A Conspiracy of Optimism” — thanks!
    It’s available online from the publisher at 10% of original price:

    Which law describes our risk — Occam’s, or Murphy’s?

  13. 63
    teacher ocean says:

    Hello, Did my previous comment not get through. Because comments about dinosaurs and babies seem to be making it through :)

  14. 64
    SecularAnimist says:

    Paul N wrote in #61: “It is frightening to see things like Eric E and his the ‘science is settled’ statement above. I am not sure such a statement is ever valid, and it certainly isn’t in this instance.”

    The science is settled. There is no scientific doubt whatsoever that human activities, principally the burning of fossil fuels, are increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane, and other so-called greenhouse gases. There is also no scientific doubt whatsoever that the anthropogenic increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is causing the Earth’s atmosphere/biosphere to warm. There is also no scientific doubt whatsoever that this anthropogenic warming of the Earth is already causing observable changes to the Earth’s climate and biosphere.

    This is not only the “consensus” of the world’s scientific community, it is the essentially unanimous agreement of the world’s scientific community.

    This is, to use Al Gore’s word, the truth.

  15. 65
    Dstopak says:

    In comment 33, you do a disservice to both evolution and AGW by comparing the quality of the evidence supporting each. Their only similarity is the false controversy which in both cases stands outside their respective sciences.

    The fact of evolution (as opposed to theories like natural selection or hypotheses concerning mechanisms) is as fundamental to biology as any physical law. There is plenty of very good quantitative biology, but it is used to understand evolution not as proof of it. The fossil record is the product of evolution and lends insight as to how it operated. The difficulties lie in the incompleteness of the record and the complexity of life, not in evolution. That life has evolved permeates all of biology and helps make it comprehensible. Although evolution stands on a foundation of 150+ years of scientific activity that we do not fully comprehend it should be no surprise.

    AGW is another kettle of fish altogether. How is human civilization changing the earth’s climate? That is a focused question that can be answered through earth science and the study of climate. In the last 10 years the data has moved consistently towards greater certainty that AGW is occurring. In that context, the deniers at least do not challenge the fact that climate changes over time.

  16. 66
    Thom P. says:

    I am an English teacher in the UK, but was trained in the United States, having just recently moved over here last summer. I have been following the threads posted here, and wanted to make a comment regarding the way climate change is presented, both in the classroom, and at home.

    In the UK, it has been my observation, that children, families, parents, educators, and the rest of the public at large, have a much larger understanding of what climate change is. The BBC has spent vast amounts of time/energy/money on the topic of climate change, produced some amazing documentaries regarding the way animals and plants are having to die or adapt to these changes, and the link below will take you to their climate change site (where, by the way, RC is mentioned as a weblink).

    Upon asking my students, year seven (age 11), what they knew about climate change, I was both amazed and impressed. What they have to look forward to in the future, with all the known and unknown effects of climate change, is part of their curriculum, and on a grander scale, is part of the culture (at least as far as I can tell). There is something to say for a government who gets on the “We’ve got to get our heads ’round this climate change issue” bandwagon, and one who has dragged it’s feet.

    Leaving politics aside, however, it has been my experience, in a rural high school in New England, where I was a teacher trainee, that students deserve, as preparation for the adult world, to know what lies ahead of them. Far too many of the students I taught in the States were not quite sure what climate change meant to them. They, of any generation, should know what lies ahead for them.

    Yes, there is politics in this video. Yes, there will probably be parents who are against showing the video. However, discussions around the evening dinner table (or in the car on the way to another team sporting event, the drive-thru, what-have-you) that focus on climate change could be just what the US, the UK, and the rest of the developed/developing world need. We’ve got to get our heads ’round this topic, put energy/time/money/peoplepower into coming up with solutions. We’ve got to prepare our students for what seems like an inevitable future. I’m doing my part, as are every teacher worth their salt. We could use a little support from the community, our leaders in government, and those in the sciences.

    Every day, I look at my students, and wonder what the future holds for them. In between grammar lessons, checking homework, and trying to get them to actually understand some Shakespeare, I find myself, as an educator, worried about what lies ahead for them.

    I say, show the video (with parental approval, if necessary), and let the discussion/debates begin! Fear of the unknown, and not being willing to accept the challenges that Climate Change will bring, really shouldn’t get in the way of educating our children. It is their right to know, and our duty to accept our responsibilities to them.

    Now..back to my never-ending stack of marking..

  17. 67
    James says:

    Re #61: “The people who say carbon dioxide definitely is the cause of warming in the atmosphere have an awful tough time explaining…”

    Your problem, I think, is with the words “the cause”, as if there were, in the entire 4 billion year history of the Earth, one and only one cause of warming. That’s simply not so: there are a many things that potentially affect the climate – everything from variations in the Earth’s orbit to continents moving around – and in prehistory quite a few of them have happened. Some (maybe all) of those have in turn changed the CO2, which through feedback has amplified the effects of the original change.

    All that’s pretty well understood, I think. The uncertainty about the details of paleoclimates seems to owe much more to the lack of preserved evidence (“fossils” in the largest sense) than to inadequacies in theory. When science doesn’t know for sure what may have changed, it’s hard to pin down definite causes.

    The case is different today. We know beyond any doubt that atmospheric CO2 has increased due to human activity, and just need to figure out exactly what the effects of this _known_ change will be.

  18. 68
    Sashka says:

    As a piece od science education, AIT is not particularly valueable. I watched it in the company of intelligent and educated (but not in science) adults. They all have troubles telling the difference between the established scientific facts, assumptions, exaggerations and errors. About a dozen times I had to stop the film and answer questions, mostly “Is this really true?!” (BTW, my answers were mostly affirmative.)

    Unfortunately, there’s often more to the story than just that. E.g. “Is it true that 6 meters sea level rise will submerge a third of Florida?” I didn’t check but I would assume it is. This would be a perfectly useless piece of information until we knew, with some precision, when we should expect such a disaster. We don’t really know but the goal (to scare the viewer) is achieved.

    So, if one is looking for a way to raise the level of awareness by mixing together the truth (which is most of the film) with everything else then that’s the way to go. Ideally I would have someone in the class to provide a critical view on the film. That would move the presentation closer to the realm of science per se.

    [Response: It would certainly be useful to have a study guide, as an aid to teachers using the film in class. For examples, we at RC basically think Gore’s use of the Pleistocene ice ages to document the effect of CO2 on climate is fair, but there’s a lot more to delve into there, given that CO2 is in some sense an amplifier of the ice age cycles, rather than the sole cause. Many things in the film provide good motivation for deeper study. –raypierre]

  19. 69
    Sashka says:

    Re: 45 (comment)

    David, with all respect, I believe there are issues.

    First of all, an issue of integrity. Al Gore probably knows more than he says but he chooses to say only what suits his purpose. I call it selective truth because the truth that was inconvenient to him he chose to omit. In my mind, the difference between selective truth and a lie is mostly in sematics.

    Second, there is a scientific issue. The scale of the chart has been mentioned in RC’s review. As I said before, I’m firmly on the side of Eric’s colleagues who thought the chart was very misleading.

    [Response:If a temperature / CO2 plot showed no correlation, then it would be damning for the global warming forecast. There are very few phenomena in nature that are as well-behaved as the ice core CO2 / temperature record. I find it very compelling evidence for a role for CO2 in climate. Every wiggle lines up nearly perfectly. I’m reminded of the Rodney King trial in L.A. He was beaten by a gang of police, and it was all captured on a horrifying videotape. The strategy for the defence (of the policemen) was to show the video to the jury over and over, and analyse it frame by frame, until the jury became sort of numb to the essential bottom line, that these police were stomping this helpless man lying on the pavement. David]

    Third, you write All the record tells us is that warming started without CO2 as a cause, but once CO2 started rising, it amplified the initial warming. Could you clarify how does the record tells us that? I thought all the recod tells us is that CO2 lags behind the temps. The conclusion about amplification we pull out of the models, not from the record. Am I wrong? If I’m right, I’ll have to say that models are not to be trusted in this case especially and refer to Wally’s paper for the reasoning.

    [Response:Models can calculate the observed (inferred from proxies) temperature change LGM to present, if they account for the lowered CO2 concentration, and the albedo of the ice sheets, with about the same climate sensitivity as is inferred from present-day climate change. If the climate sensitivity were zero, the hindcast glacial climate would not be cold enough. David]

  20. 70
    Edward Greisch says:

    The British Treasury report on the cost of global warming again: This report puts it into terms that everybody can clearly understand, namely dollars. I haven’t read much of it yet, but so far I have read that AGW will cost 5% to 20% of GDP if we do nothing, but fixing it now will cost only 1% of GDP. I haven’t read far enough to find out how they figured that yet. I recommend that we all read the report.
    The report is available at:

  21. 71
    John says:

    Hello again everyone,

    I also enjoyed Al Gore’s film, and thought it was, generally, an excellent review of the matter. The only note of caution was that there was a tendency to overdramatise, for instance, seeing New York flooded, whilst this is not impossible over a long time frame, several hundred or a thousand years, the impression that it might just be around the corner was a bit misleading. It was obvious from talking to others though how little people really understood about this issue, as much of the information contained in the film was completely new to them. Of course, I live in a country where the last 10,000 hours of peak hour broadcasting on our two major television channels (the last three years) , has had absolutely no information on global warming at all, it might as well not exist as an issue (could it be that about one third of all advertising revenue in these hours is car or oil related?)

    But whatever the flaws in the film they were vastly outweighed by the good information. It was entertaining as it needed to be to attract a large and possibly disinterested audience and Al Gore came over as a personable, intelligent, humane and liberal human being, which of course, automatically disqualifies him from being President of the USA. As a point of departure for discussion, surely this film can be seen as nothing but fair? But really, chaps, isn’t there something wrong, and sinister, in your society, that schools cannot take up an offer to have free copies of this film for school science and discussion, without seeing it as a threat? From these shores, the concerns of the NSTA appear absurd, but worse than this, illiberal and form of intellectual censorship – it reeks of political expediency. Having said that, my children are no longer at school, and what discussion or information our New Zealand children have had in their schools, I don’t know. If our TV is any indication, it might be just as bad as in the US.

    The American nation has, along with this nation and all the others in the world (you are not unique, but the problems are rather more exaggerated in the US), a lot of growing up to do, and fast. This inability of our social structures, including your schools apparently, to debate in a knowledgable way this matter with the urgency it demands, is the wonder of our age. When we, humanity, have had more means of communication, more resources and more means of understanding than ever in our entire history of civilisation to deal with the problems that beset us, yet refuse to use them, then our children, and grandchildren, will just shake their heads in utter bewilderment “Just what were they thinking?” – the answer being of course, not much.

    Don’t forget though there are other resources. David Attenborough produced an excellent BBC documentary “Are we changing the planet Earth?” and a subsequent follow-up, which I haven’t seen. This documentary certainly wasn’t shown on our TV, see above, but I saw it at a special screening in Wellington on Climate Change Day. I don’t suppose there are free DVDs, but it has been posted to the web, such as here . Perhaps this would seem a more politically acceptable resource. I can’t really see anyone accusing David Attenborough of political bias, but possibly some will try. Perhaps his being a Brit might make it seem like foreign propaganda?

  22. 72
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sashka, you write:
    > I’m firmly on the side of Eric’s colleagues who thought
    > the chart was very misleading.

    That’s not what Eric wrote, and you can check it. Your beliefs are strong but your references are missing.

    [Response:OK, I’ll come clean, there is a dicey aspect to the CO2 / temperature plot from ice cores which is that temperature is not linear in CO2, but goes as the log of the CO2 concentration (so that each doubling leads to the same temperature change). Showing both variables on linear scales sort of implies that the future will follow the same linear relationship as looks to the eye to be the case in the past. Also, the changes in climate over the ice ages were driven primarily by ice albedo, with CO2 contributing a bit less than half of the radiative forcing. Still and all, in spite of the fact that the world is complicated, I maintain that the plot is a convincing demonstration of the importance of CO2 in climate. And, I say, there is nothing in that plot, leads, lags, or whatever, to cast any doubt on the global warming forecast. I think showing it is fair and reasonable. David]

  23. 73
    Roy Turnbull says:

    For information: the following appeared in the Scotsman newspaper, 4th Dec 2006
    “EVERY schoolchild in Scotland is to be offered the chance to see former US vice-president Al Gore’s film about the dangers of global warming under a scheme by energy company ScottishPower.

    The firm, a major windfarm developer which also runs the coal-fired Longannet power station, is prepared to commit “tens of thousands of pounds” to the project and is currently in negotiations with the Scottish Executive to secure its backing.

    ScottishPower, which has also given copies of Mr Gore’s book of the same name, An Inconvenient Truth, to hundreds of its staff, plans to pay for cinema screenings for older children in primary schools and all secondary pupils. The firm is currently discussing with the Executive how pupils could be bussed to cinemas, and to cinema owners about times for screenings. …”
    I’m not sure how much progress the proposal has made.

  24. 74
    Pete says:

    I will be showing AIT as part of a unit on global biological change in my college level introductory biology course. Students will be watching the documentary in small groups outside of the large lectures that make up the principle part of the course. I will provide them with worksheets and online quizzes to help them explore the ideas in the film and to explore areas where the film might have done a better job (I am in agreement with RC’s assessment of the overall veracity of the film).

    Once all the students in this class of 250 have had a chance to see the film I will introduce the topic in lectures. Since, the students will have absorbed much of the background information (that is my hope at least) on the topic from AIT, I will be able to focus on topics of data collection, analysis, interpretation, and model building in greater detail. My hope is that this documentary makes my job of focusing on the biological consequences of global warming a lot easier.

    I would appreciate any links to materials on discusing the documentary from credible sources. Any comments from others who have attetmpted to use AIT as a teaching tool at the undergraduate level would be appreciated.

    Also, could the the folks at RC explain to me why the changes in temp caused by changes in the earth’s orbit are initially responsible for increases in CO2 concentrations. Is this due to ocean warming and the release of dissolved CO2 at higher temps? I haven’t come across a clear explanation of this that’s stuck in my mind.

    You can contact me at aristotleszoo at yahoo dot com.

    [Response: The exact mechanisms that cause CO2 to change through the glacial cycles are still not fully quantified. Vegetation on land decreases in the cold phases, and so that is a source of CO2, implying that the oceans must be a large sink. The way CO2 gets sequestered in the ocean depends both on its solubility (greater in a cooler ocean) and on the biological pumps (mainly soft organic matter falling through the thermocline). However, the solubility change is probably not sufficient on its own, and so some change in biology was also required. This is still pretty uncertain. However, David is the expert on these things, so he would be the one to ask for more details. – gavin]

    [Response:Yeah, still an unsolved problem. CO2 seemed to act as a positive feedback to climate change paced initially by orbital wobbles. The question is whether ocean or biosphere CO2 will amplify the climate change from our CO2 in the future. At present, the biosphere and ocean are absorbing excess CO2, acting as a stabilizing negative feedback. David]

  25. 75
    cat black says:

    RE #71 [NY flooding] IIRC, the point being made in those animations was not that NY is going to flood Real Soon Now, but rather that if all the land-based ice on either Greenland or the WAIS were to melt the resulting added water to the world’s oceans would raise sea level 21 feet, which is a known fact and widely reported. We don’t know that the ice is melting at a significant rate right now, or if it might in the future, but as we are talking about GLOBAL WARMING and the possibility of ICE MELTING in general it seems to me that asking what this might imply for civilization is a valid question, regardless of when it might happen. And mapping out the real impacts of a 21 foot increase in sea level is easy to do; you just take a topo map, run a plot around the 21 foot elevation contour, and see what you get. I know most people don’t do that sort of thing to kill time of a Saturday, but that’s why we have professional graphic artists and high-performance computers.

    Sure, animating a total ice melt and flooding the former site of the World Trade Center freaks people out. Well hey guess what, that kind of sea level rise IS freaky! It’s HORRIFIC! The atmospheric experiment we’re conducting is utterly INSANE! That’s not drama, that’s the whole, entire, complete, unredacted TRUTH of the thing, don’t you think? What part of “we will be living on a different planet” isn’t dramatic to you, regardless if it’s 30 years or 300? What part of that should be left out for more sober (meaning undramatic) discussion? It’s easy to be sober about something when you can push it out far enought to be Someone Else’s Problem. Well it’s OUR problem, and a lot of thoughtful people are looking at an ice-free Earth anytime in the next 500 years as a BIG PROBLEM. Right NOW.

  26. 76
    S. Molnar says:

    I think the reply of Rasmus to #37 illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of a sort of thinking prevalent in the US. Many (perhaps most) people in the US would not be the least bit embarrassed to discover a foreigner is more knowledgeable about an aspect of the US, or about anything, for that matter. There is a proud anti-intellectual and anti-rational tradition in the US that shows no signs of waning. Facts are mutable; opinions are not. Which is why there is little point in responding to many of the comments on this thread (not including comment #37, I hasten to add, which makes a good point).

  27. 77
    Eli Rabett says:

    Alex Tingle has created the neatest sea level rise toy. Alas, only 14 m max.

  28. 78
    Susan says:

    I don’t have time to read through all 77 comments to see if anyone has already mentioned this. To see the other side of this story please go to On their homepage they have their statement about why they didn’t think that they are the appropriate organization to distribute An Inconvenient Truth. Also, they have a link to the other site where teachers can get the DVD for free.

    We showed AIT to the entire school at the independent day school where I teach. After the video the first thing the students brought up was the politics. They had a hard time getting passed it. This is in a blue state, very progressive school. Any teacher who shows this video really need to do a lot of work beforehand to help students sort though the politics and science.

    [Response: I in fact mentioned the NSTA response in my article, but it’s hardly a very satisfactory response. Take a look at the link in my Comment 35 above. NSTA winds up looking pretty bad. I’m really having a hard time understanding your remark about sorting out the politics from the science. What “politics” are the students seeing in this movie? There’s really very little. Please explain. –raypierre]

  29. 79
    SecularAnimist says:

    cat black wrote: “Sure, animating a total ice melt and flooding the former site of the World Trade Center freaks people out.”

    One thing that “freaked me out” was a single line in the global warming fantasy movie “The Day After Tomorrow”. It wasn’t the fantastic scenes of a giant tsunami washing over New York City and freezing solid in minutes. It was much simpler and might have gone by many viewers unnoticed:

    The protagonist’s son is on a trip with some other students in New York City when the waters begin to rise. He calls his father in Washinton DC to let him know that he is (so far) OK, and mentions in passing that none of the toilets are working because the water has risen to the point where the sewers are all flooded and backed up.

    I realized right then that for New York City to become uninhabitable, it is not necessary that sea level rises many meters and puts entire buildings underwater.

    The sea level only has to rise enough for the sewers to be flooded, and all the toilets in the city to be backed up, for millions of people to be forced to evacuate.

    [Response:On a similar line, on Tuvalu, the limit point was salt water incursion into the groundwater preventing agriculture. It wasn’t kids wading to school or anything like that. Who’d have thought of it? David]

  30. 80
    K W Wilkison says:

    Rather than taking the opportunity once again to talk past each other instead of to one another, I would ask for the writer of the very first comment what politics exactly should be edited from the documentary to achieve this “greater acceptance by the masses”.

  31. 81

    A short conversation with our home insurance agent informed me that insurance companies are getting ready for severe storm and flooding effects along the Gulf and East coasts of the USA, along with severe restriction or termination of coverage in coastal regions. Permissible coverage is being moved back to 1000 from 500 feet from the coast, and south Florida properties are no longer insurable, except through state funds. For some reason the companies are squinting especially hard at NYC.

    The changes are here, manifesting themselves already.

  32. 82
    S. Molnar says:

    Re #79: But if the toilets are backed up, people would be forced not to evacuate!

  33. 83
    Lee Morrison says:

    Showing schoolchildren only one side of a controversial subject is proselytizing – not educating, and shouldn’t be allowed. Kudos to NSTA for taking its responsibilities seriously.

    Showing Al Gore’s piece in tandem with the opposing view would be both useful and stimulating. The best presentation that I have seen from the “non-believers” side is “Climate Catastrophe Cancelled” a 25 minute video (I think that it it also available on DVD) created by the Friends of Science Society in collaberation with the University of Calgary. Like “An Inconvenient Truth”, it deals with the subject in readily understood layman’s language and holds the attention of even the most blase viewer. It is available for somewhere south of $20.00 from Friends of Science

    [Response: What you’re suggesting would be about as useful as calling in somebody to show “the other side” of the theory of gravitation. It may indeed be a useful exercise to bring in somebody dressed like Ptolemy and have the students learn why epicycles are a bad idea, but I really don’t think it’s a particularly efficient way to learn about science. As is also the case for evolution, the “controversy” is purely manufactured. –raypierre]

    [Response: Very interesting that you raise the issue of the so-called collaboration between the “Friends of Science” and University of Calgary. -mike]

  34. 84
    wacki says:


    You didn’t mention the NSTA distributed “Fuel-less, you can’t be cool without fuel” video.

    More info

    You might want to update your original post just in case the connection isn’t obvious enough. ;-p

    [Response: (Note by the way that “group” isn’t “gavin.” “group” is truly the RC group mind, which sometimes chooses to speak through one of us more than another of us.) The “cool without fuel” video is mentioned in some of the links we provided in the article. NSTA defends itself by saying that this wasn’t distributed directly through their web site, but rather through a link to an oil-industry web site. At this point I can’t check that, or the nature of the link, since the NSTA and their petro-collaborators have evidently cleansed their respective sites of damaging evidence (see the report in the link I provided under my comment #36 above). –raypierre]

  35. 85
    David Graves says:

    Eldridge Moores, the estimable UC Davis geologist, (oops, earth scientist) has recently proposed that the University of California amend its high school admissions criteria to include some required study of earth and atmospheric sciences. In my opinion, this is a proposal whose time has come, or is more likely overdue. Any opportunity for increases in critical thinking skills in general would be a bonus! And as for#78, I am wondering what about the film is overtly “political”? Would a presenting figure with the stature in popular culture of say the late Carl Sagan somehow “sanitized ” the “political” from the film?

    [Response: One does want to be careful not to spread the curriculum too thin. As compared to European secondary school science teaching, the US curriculum is already too broad and too shallow. A firm grounding in chemistry and physics should be the first priority. (I am of the camp that says biology is hard, and should be done after chemistry and physics). Rather than a separate requirement on Earth science, I’d rather see Earth science problems brought into the physics curriculum at appropriate points. Radiation balance of planets fits in very well with the study of E&M, and introductory quantum concepts. The dry adiabatic lapse rate is a very nice application of basic thermodynamics. –raypierre]

  36. 86
    Arshad says:

    Global warming is the observed increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation into the future.

    But, how we can stop this global warming in year of 2007. As we are moving towards the advanced level
    It is not possible to stop global warming the year of 2007.

    How we can spread among the people about the Globalwarming Awareness2007 Mision,
    I think the seo contest is the best thing that they are doing for the Globalwarming Awareness in 2007.
    They had given the keyword phrase as Globalwarming Awareness2007, so many people will keep this keyword as a major keyword and try to get top there website top in google, yahoo and msn.

    Globalwarming Awareness2007

  37. 87
    Anne Bindoff says:

    Thank you for your interesting articles in Real Climate. Interesting to see that you do present controversial points of view in your regular articles, with appropriate commentary.

    In this particular article it seems evident that truth in general is always going to cause a stir in terms of acceptance, rejection or outright banning. However, it is always the responsibilty of those who study in their area of expertise to pass their peer reviewed articles on to the people who care to know about these things. It is also the responsibilty of people to find out ALL the information in whatever form to be able to make informed decisions. This inevitably incurs costs as this type of investigation involves highly skilled personel, with expensive equipment. In this case, a film has presented an aspect on global warming, in a form which in entertaining yet uses facts and verified data, with a particular point of view. I personally have seen it, and was pleased to have had the opportunity of seeing it. As an ex science teacher in South Africa, I am sorry that the opportunity is not presented to us to take advantage of the offer of the free DVDs, as so much is not known about global warming scientifically, only as cliche’s. I did like to see debate in the classroom, with all the differing points of view presented, so that people can make their own minds up. At least this can bring up that debating opportunity. We as South Africans have learnt the consequences in our past of bannings and one sided education. So, together with other points of view, this movie would be much appreciated. A good movie.

  38. 88
    Anne Bindoff says:

    Thank you for your articles, free to those who care to subscribe. I am an ex science teacher in South Africa. I saw the movie, and was entertained, but also saw it as an interesting medium to convey interesting correlations. Yes, there were gaps, but because I am interested in the subject and I have myself investigated broadly.

    This movie would be greatly appreciated in South Africa especially if given away for free. We do advocate/promote continuing education lifelong education, as this is very liberating, in contrast to the history of selective education and bannings. Debate is promoted. The responsibilty is up to the individual to investigate if he/she cares to.

    Keep up the good work.

  39. 89
    Al S. says:

    It is time to move beyond these silly discussions about whether anthropocentric global warming is happening, and focus on what we can do to minimize it. That would be a constructive part of the educational discussion. “Kids run hot/cold on global warming”, a column by Katherine Ellison in the December 23 Los Angeles Times, talks about children of our age and their anxiety about global warming. It quotes a child psychiatrist who suggests giving information about positive things kids can do (fluorescent bulbs, for example) to reduce global warming, rather than just wallowing in fear and helplessness. One quote from a kid: “yeah, well, it really sucks, but nobody’s going to give up their car, so we’re screwed.”

  40. 90
    Matt Bright says:

    RE: #51 You need to take a wider view. All these people ‘sitting on their ass[es]’ have jobs of this nature because society is affluent (and hence consuming and polluting) enough to support them. It’s the same problem with all those arguments that say we’re going to ‘tech out’ of the problem – in order to do scientific research (or marketing or graphic design or whatever) you need scientists, the scientists need to be well fed and rested in warm rooms to keep them thinking straight, they need light so that they don’t have to stop working at sundown, society needs to be comfortable enough not to mind them doing this rather than e.g. hunting gazelle etc. etc. When the road is flooded and the trucks can’t get the bread to the supermarket, when the power lines blow down and the simulation data gets wiped, when most of the public money is going on defending us from an increasingly aggrieved and water-hungry southern hemisphere – you ain’t gettin’ no hydrogen fuel cell technology. Or a beautifully designed ad campaign for running shoes, for that matter.

    It’s rather like (hey look at that) a positive feedback! The deeper into the pit we go the less spare time we will have to dig ourselves out again.

  41. 91
    Ike Solem says:

    Regarding the issue of what the ice cores say about CO2 and temperature, here is a graph of the Vostok and EPICA Cores showing the deuterium temperature proxy record and the carbon dioxide values.

    There is also a good discussion of how this data is collected at Ice Cores and Climate Change.

    The complete pdf is at (“Eight glacial cycles from an Antarctic Ice Core”)

    It’s also worth looking at this paper by Lonnie Thopson et. al on the mid-to-low latitude glacial records and the warming observed at high altitudes, which mirrors the warming observed at the poles:

    Apparently, the argument that Sashka and others are trying to make is that “CO2 lags behind temperature, so CO2 cannot be responsible for temperature increases”, but the notion is rather that orbital forcing leads to a positive feedback which results in more CO2 release; this is similar to how the increase in atmospheric CO2 in the 20th century has led to an increase in atmospheric H2O vapor, itself a greenhouse gas that is also helping to warm the surface. The processes were much slower during the glacial/interglacial period; the current rate of CO2 increase is something like 30 times faster then anything seen in the ice cores.

    Current CO2 levels are also well above anything seen during the glacial-interglacial cycles of the past 3 million years, which means that the paleoclimatology of that period is of limited use in understanding what kind of future we are heading into.

  42. 92
    matt says:

    I retract any statement about “red tide” I think i was thinking about another interesting worldwide problem concerning nitrgen rich run off. Of course if any of you eat meat you are particularly responsible for this.

    I also do not deny Carbon dioxide is responsible for warming and the natural patern is altered, i really only dislike the movie because it seems to draw the right conclusions for the wrong reasons, now i’ll have to watch it again because i know this movie gets me pretty wound up with its smoke and mirrors. ” My daddy shut the tabacco farm” sure, after a member of your family died, nice analogy to waiting though, i’m not convinced he capitilised on that.

    Anyway, show it in schools, my accounting teacher showed us total recall once cause it was abot resourses and arnie plus guns equals cool.

  43. 93
    Roy Turnbull says:

    An update concerning post 73.
    The Scottish Executive today announced that all school children in Scotland will be shown the Al Gore film, see:

    You will see from the blog following the ‘Scotsman’ newspaper report that quite a lot of Scottish adults are also in need of education regarding climate change!

  44. 94

    Re “Third, you write All the record tells us is that warming started without CO2 as a cause, but once CO2 started rising, it amplified the initial warming. Could you clarify how does the record tells us that?”

    The record doesn’t tell us that. Basic radiation physics tells us that. If you put more CO2 in the air it will warm the ground. What part of that do you not understand?

  45. 95
    matt says:

    Hey just an aside, an astronomist needs to use a space telescope to see distant stars in the infrared due to atmospheric saturation, does this not imply that atmosheric saturation of CO2 for the purposes of heat absorbtion is maxing out a bit? or is this just a topic concerning resolution?

  46. 96
    matt says:

    hey ray pierre, you think biology is hard now, just wait and see. If the UK researchers on Quantum mutation have their way we might see the need for quantum mechanics in biology to explain periods of mutation for evolution knocking good ol classical biology right on the noggin. Everyone will be begging to learn chemistry and newtonian physics just so their heads don’t explode :)

  47. 97
    Fernando Magyar says:

    Re#82 ROTFL

  48. 98
    matt says:

    Gavin I would also like to mention the above statement where you say the graphs used in the movie are causal in both directions regarding co2 and temp. are a little weird. Firstly intuitively causality is a one way street, but more importantly Al Gore never makes the point about amplification, this is something you have added from your own vast knowledge of the topic and I think that is part of the problem with the movie. If you know a lot about it then you can understand what actually said or what he meant where as a lay person has a choice to take it at face value what he says or say, “yo the temperature graph peaks way before the carbon dioxide peak” for a lay person this is an unavoidable conclusion based on what he is showing us. It is things like this that get on my wick ever so slightly, yet it bothers you not one bit (well it probably does) that millions of viewers will never see your explanation of why this is including a great deal of science teachers due to their not frequenting these message boards. Of course now I’m going to have to watch the film again with my wee black book and take down all the strange instances where this type of thing occurs. Then armed with more instances I’d like to comment more fully on why AIT failed regular joes like myself.

  49. 99
    Sashka says:

    Re: 91

    Apparently, the argument that Sashka and others are trying to make is that “CO2 lags behind temperature, so CO2 cannot be responsible for temperature increases

    Apparently you didn’t trouble yourself with reading what I write. I said nothing of the sort. What I said in fact was that the conclusions about the role of CO2 are based on the models that are used outside their range of applicability. It doesn’t mean that the conclusion is necessarily wrong but the logic is clearly distorted here.

    this is similar to how the increase in atmospheric CO2 in the 20th century has led to an increase in atmospheric H2O vapor, itself a greenhouse gas that is also helping to warm the surface.

    Has it? Could you point me to the documented research showing that atmospheric H2O content actually increased over the last century. Do we really have a reliable network for such measurements, sufficient for drawing statistically valid conclusions?

  50. 100
    Eli Rabett says:

    matt, the saturation is at the center of the absorption lines and bands. As the concentration grows, absorption increases at the wings of individual lines and at the edges of the absorption band. This is well known stuff and the subject of an entire sub-branch of spectroscopy. It is also the reason that one can approximate the increase in forcing by CO2 as being proportional to the logarithm of the concentration, rather than being linear as it is for say methane, where the atmospheric absorption is not (yet) saturated at line center.