Yosef Gotlieb, educator and writer, opines on critics of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Image via asterdata.
In a meticulously reasoned essay appearing on the Opinion page of the March 1, 2010 edition of the International Herald Tribune (New York Times, Feb 28), Al Gore succeeds in disarming and discrediting the champions of climate change skepticism. Given the resounding scientific evidence of climate change as a result of human activity and the consensus of the scientific community that we are in deep trouble, the fact that Nobelist Gore has found it necessary to denounce the deniers tells volumes about the economic roots of environmental degradation and those responsible for it.
The immediate catalyst for reviving the debate about the climate crisis are recent revelations that emerged coincident with the Copenhagen summit relating to mistaken findings concerning temperature rise and the rate and scale of glacial retraction in the Himalayas.
At the heart of the controversy is the work of an American researcher (who has already been exonerated by an academic board of inquiry looking into the matter at his university) and the work of an Indian glaciologist reported in a popular science magazine. Since part of the work of these specialists was conducted in the context of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body charged with monitoring the phenomena, the credibility of that body has also been called into question.
Gore relates that while errors were made, the vast majority of climate change research has been conducted according to impeccable scientific standards and leads incontrovertibly to the conclusion that climate change is a real, mounting and critical reality. Further, recent studies show that errors may have been committed in underestimating the gravity of the situation with respect to the melting of the Arctic cap and glaciers and its impact on sea-level rise.
Where Gore truly shines is in his indictment of “market triumphalism” and its fundamentalist proponents “who fought to weaken existing constraints and scoffed at the possibility that global constraints would be needed to halt the dangerous dumping of global-warming pollution into the atmosphere.”
These champions of the status quo or even more regressive policies are powerful economic interests, “industries and companies whose business plans are dependent on the unrestrained pollution of the atmospheric commons [and who] have become ever more entrenched. They are ferociously fighting against the mildest regulation,” in a manner evocative of the campaigns launched by tobacco companies in railing against anti-smoking legislation. “Their most consistent theme is to label as ‘socialist’ any proposal to reform exploitive behavior in the marketplace,” says Gore.
The former US vice president derides the manner in which big business opposed to climate change regulation have manipulated public opinion through the use of mass media. They and their political supporters have propagated their message on internet sites and other media and created disinformation, essentially specious propaganda to assail the global change message by attacking its messengers, essentially science itself as vassals of an alien anti-market ideology.
Al Gore is no radical: he is the scion of American aristocracy whose father, like him, represented a southern state, Tennessee, in the US senate. Gore has had a distinguished career of public service and a consistent record over three decades of fighting to bring the dangers of environmental degradation to the attention of the world.
He seeks to effect change within the democratic, free enterprise system that cultivated him and that he served with diligence. Today, several years after his highly-influential book and documentary, An Inconvenient Truth brought the climate change crisis into clear focus, he continues his efforts to bring about the regulatory changes that will be needed, globally, to ward off climate catastrophe.
Gore’s message rings true but requires greater amplification of implicit points. The climate crisis, like all other environmental crises – the threat to biodiversity, soil, water and environmental degradation, the destruction of ecosystems, among others – is the product of an economic system that is committed to one creed: unconstrained economic growth with minimal redistribution of the product of that growth. The system pays no heed to the reality that planetary resources are limited and that industrial production methods greatly compromise the balance of natural systems.
The system encourages overconsumption by privileged societies and classes without providing for the basic needs of hundreds of millions of people. The engine of the market economy is devoid of internal controls and is utterly detached from any commitment to a sustainable future. Such a system is incapable of stemming climate change and other environmental crises.
While Al Gore has not, perhaps cannot given his background, fully articulate the inconvenient truth about the underpinnings of the environmental crisis in the free market system, one finds in his words and deeds a great measure of vision and leadership. It behooves anyone concerned with safeguarding the future of the planet to support progressive voices such as Gore in the struggle against the propaganda of those who seek to obscure the truth.
At best, deniers of climate change are ignorant and blind to the truth. Even more deplorable are those who do so on the basis of economic self-interest. If we have any chance of working toward constructive change, Al Gore’s clarion message and his resistance to those who deny it should be given maximum exposure.
Yosef Gotlieb, a writer and educator, holds a doctorate in geography with specialization in society-nature relations. His book, Development, Environment and Global Dysfunction was published in 1996. He lives near Jerusalem.