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I welcomed hearing from those brave enough to detract from the global warming orthodoxy. The argument against goes something like this: that CO₂ levels follow warming rather than cause it; that, of the so called greenhouse gases, CO₂ is a relatively small part; that, of this small part, the contribution made by humans burning stuff is again relatively small there being far bigger natural contributors.

This is not to say necessarily that the world isn't heating up and that if so it's not a big problem. Nor is it to ignore the many other good reasons there may be for reducing consumption and CO₂ emissions. It is to say that the human contribution to global warming might be not so much.

As usual I look to the broader context for insight and wonder if this issue is as much about human character as science. Humans don't like that nature finally gets the better of them. It brings death, disease, starvation and an endless litany of potential horrors such that life is often one great battle against its forces, a battle ultimately lost. Historically, God was drafted in to supply that much needed power over death and the trials of life. God was on our side and would help us triumph, if not here and now, then certainly in the ever-after. More recently, enlightened humanity has increasingly forsaken God and unleashed science as the greatest tool ever to combat nature.

But of course even science can never be enough as nature eventually has its way. Everything dies. So there is a conceptual problem here. Modern humanity seems to forget that it too is part of nature and subservient to it. Humans are much more steeped in their biological roots than developed in their spirituality. They have an elevated opinion of themselves that disregards the much greater natural forces that exist around them. It is then almost something of a shock when nature rises up as it does in its infinite forms to have its evil way. Global warming can't just be nature doing what nature does it has to be the humans that are doing it.

A feature length movie of a guy doing a lecture is quite something. I hugely enjoyed 'An Inconvenient Truth' and applaud the film-makers for their achievement. I was open to being convinced by their case but wasn't. Al Gore for all his detailed knowledge and a lifetime commitment to the cause never really addressed the spine of the sceptical argument about CO₂ levels following temperature rather than driving it. It might well be that excessive CO₂ levels in the atmosphere currently caused by human industry are greater than ever (through the roof, off the scale, a mile high and all that) but this hard fact still might not be making any significant contribution to warming despite scientists being unanimous that it is. This, it seems to me, still has to be shown and could itself turn out to be the inconvenient truth for Gore's argument.

There was something just a bit over-zealous about the film helped on by director Davis Guggenheim's awe and humility toward the man who 'used to be the next president of the the United States'. It has been said that Americans would rather believe anything than believe nothing. It could be said of humanity in general. Belief can be just as empowering as knowledge. That we can do something about the world warming up because it is us who caused it is far more agreeable than the possibility we can do absolutely nothing about it at all which, although possibly true, would be very inconvenient indeed.

written in response to a documentary on global warming featuring Al Gore



commentary • 13.05.07