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At a glance - Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth correct?

Posted on 20 June 2023 by John Mason, BaerbelW

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

At a glance

An Inconvenient Truth is an award-winning documentary-style film that was released in September 2006, featuring the former U.S. Vice-president Al Gore. All about climate change, it was loved by many but vociferously loathed by some.

The film did contain a few errors, but that's not surprising given it was about climate science but created by a well-meaning politician. In reality, the reaction to it in certain quarters did a great deal to expose the simplistic mindset of the climate science denier. In their world, any error, however small, invalidates our entire understanding of how the planet works. It's like saying that because a single doctor misdiagnoses a condition, medicine should be abolished in its entirety.

Where were the errors? The most widely-circulated one involved snow and ice on Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro (5,895 metres). At that height, even by the Equator, the temperatures around the summit rarely go above freezing. The error was in the claim that climate change had caused the shrinking of Kilimanjaro's ice-cap.

Comparing Kilimanjaro today to when the first explorers scaled it over 100 years ago shows that glacial retreat has certainly removed its ice-sheets by some 90%. The ice has however sublimed - gone from solid to vapour - something that often happens in the very dry cold air that is typical of the local high-altitude climate there. In the rainy seasons that occur there twice a year, snow does fall, sometimes copiously, but the sublimation process is in overall charge at present.

But that's a minor error when one considers all of the vast numbers of retreating mountain glaciers in the mid-latitudes and the huge meltwater torrents gushing from their ends. That those glaciers are retreating due to the warming climate is widely accepted by those who study them.

Other errors concerned timing of future changes, giving an impression of imminent chaos. But does that matter? Not really. If you know the oceans are going to rise by several metres, whether that takes 50, 100 or 200 years is something of a distraction. We know from the deglaciation after the last ice-age that under some circumstances, sea level can rise by around four metres per century. So we have a feel for what's possible if warming continues unchecked. Even if the seas rise by a tenth of that figure by 2100, it's still seriously bad news.

In other words, we're storing up massive problems for our children, grandchildren and their descendents. To ignore that because a politician once annoyed you is to casually write off their futures. Is that the best we can do?

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "at a glance" section. Read a more technical version via the link below!

Click for Further details

In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

Myths with link to rebuttal Short URLs
Ice age predicted in the 1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
CRU emails suggest conspiracy
What evidence is there for the hockey stick
CO2 lags temperature
Climate's changed before
It's the sun
Temperature records are unreliable
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
We're heading into an ice age
Positives and negatives of global warming
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening?
How reliable are climate models?
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?
What's the link between cosmic rays and climate change?
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?


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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. A more important question regarding "An Inconvenient Truth" is: Did it increase awareness and understanding regarding the damage to the future of humanity being caused by human climate change impacts (primarily the use of fossil fuels)?

    The undeniable answer is YES.

    Without that significant increased awareness in the Nation with the greatest ability to be helpful or harmful the situation today would likely be far worse because of less being done to reduce the harm being done.

    The people fighting to benefit more from understandably damaging unsustainable activity are still very influential (being more harmful is more profitable and popular if it can be gotten away with, especially if there is a lack of awareness). But they have been steadily 'winning less' of their endless attempts to get away with being freer to believe and do whatever they please.

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  2. One Planet @1

    Indeed! I'm not sure, I'd be here hadn't I watched AIT when it came out in Germany in 2007 as described in this blog post:

    My Climate Story: Coming full Circle

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  3. BaerbelW,

    Thank you for exposing a minor improvement to my comment.

    I should have stated "Without that significant increased awareness, especially in the Nation with the greatest ability to be helpful or harmful, the situation today ..."

    As a Civil/Structural engineer with an MBA (in Canada) my personal interest has always been constantly learning to develop sustainable improvements with actions including:

    • limiting the harm done by new developments
    • correcting dangerous existing developments (reducing the risk of damaging results)
    • stopping the use of dangerous and damaging systems until they are corrected (that action can be applied to structures, but not to the developed systems of human activity impacting a planet - changes of the human developed systems and norms is what is required).

    The impacts of pollution from fossil fuel activity (extraction through end-use) had been effective arguments against continued fossil fuel use. And they continue to be arguments against continued fossil fuel use even though some reduction of harm has happened due to government intervention in the Marketplace of thoughts and actions.

    An Inconvenient Truth expanded my ability to 'try to correct misunderstandings being presented by people who did not want to reduce their ability to benefit from harmful fossil fuel use'. And Skeptical Science, improved by your engagement, has been even more helpful.

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  4. I am reading Greta Thunberg's compilation of contributions by many experts - "The Climate Book" . Hopefully it will effectively increase awareness, and more effectively than 'An Inconvenient Truth'.

    Unlike 'An Inconvenient Truth' being attacked by claims that Al Gore made it up, 'The Climate Book' cannot be claimed to be 'Just Greta's opinion'. It is a comprehensive presentation of the history and current understanding of the diversity of implications of human induced climate change. Each chapter is independently written and compelling. But I am particularly impressed by how holistically the issue is covered in the following chapters:

    • 1.5 'The science is as solid as it gets' by Greta Thunberg
    • 1.6 'The Discovery of Climate Change' by Michael Oppenheimer
    • 1.7 'Why Didn't They Act?' by Naomi Oreskes

    Go Greta 'the High School Climate Protest Graduate'.

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  5. "because a single doctor misdiagnoses a condition, medicine should be abolished in its entirety."

    It's Al Gore. It's more like a delivery guy misdiagnosed a condition. 

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  6. And your qualifications are?

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  7. John @ 6:

    I don't think J4zonian is saying "don't believe Al Gore because he's just a delivery man". I think J4zonian is saying that Al Gore is a messenger of the science, so even if he gets a little bit wrong here and there, the original diagnosis and medicine is largely correct.

    I think.

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  8. Bob Loblaw @7,

    I agree more with John Mason's approach. But I would go further and ask J4zonian to explain how they are more qualified today regarding the awareness and understanding of climate science than Al Gore was when he developed An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore was a very aware individual at the time with a significant understanding of the science. And he knows far more today.

    I am more inclined towards the perception that J4zonian is unjustifiably disrespecting Al Gore. And I sense that the disrespect is due to a dislike for the understanding that Al Gore shared.

    The understanding that Al Gore 'shared' increased the common sense awareness and understanding of the issue, especially the need for harmful inconsiderate over-consuming Americans, and others like them, to change how they live to be less harmful and more helpful to others (contrary to the untruthful declarations by both 'Bush' Presidents of the Neoliberal mantra that harmfully over-developed Americans are 'the winners' and did not have to change how they lived or make amends for the harm done by 'their success' - Many Republicans and Some Democrats still chant versions of that untruth).

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  9. OPOF #8 - that was my impression and it was why I responded sharply: however, if I have miscalled comment #5 then I apologise for that.

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  10. We'll only know for sure if J4zonian clarifies his position.

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  11. Bob, It may be very difficult to 'know for sure' what J4sonian meant.

    The use of the term 'delivery guy' is my primary basis for considering J4sonian's comment to be a misinformation ad hominem type of comment (I have just started reading the "Samoilenko, S.A., & Cook, J. (2023). Developing an Ad Hominem Typology for Classifying Climate Misinformation. Climate Policy." paper highlighted on "Skeptical Science New Research for Week #33 2023")

    The short statement by J4sonian can be considered to be a dog-whistle appeal to people who have developed a motivation to disrespect and be dismissive of 'Al Gore'. The 'delivery guy' term can easily be interpreted that way.

    The nasty thing about dog-whistle misleading messages is the way that they can be claimed to 'not be the misinformation appeal to people who are inclined to be unjustifiably impressed that it is intended to be'. 'Delivery Guy' could be claimed to have been a friendly colloquial way of describing a diligent pursuer and presenter of increased awareness and better understanding

    A history of clearly attempting to help increase awareness and improve understanding regarding climate science by J4sonian could convince me that their comment was not meant to 'disrespect Al Gore as a means of being dismissive of the information he raised awareness of'. And a part of that would include J4sonian admitting that when Al Gore produced An Inconvenient Truth he had a significantly better awareness and understanding of climate science that many 'geologists at that time' and many 'geologists claiming to be well informed regarding climate science today'.

    In summary, a reasonable sounding clarification from J4sonian could be a more subtle dog-whistle appeal to people who are motivated to dislike increased awareness and improved understanding regarding climate science and the related required corrections of 'harmful over-consuming developed ways of living' and 'making amends for the harm done'.

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  12. Given I doubt he'll be returning, I wonder if the "Jeffersonian" name reference is a clue to the intent.

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  13. More speculation won't get us anywhere.

    J4Zonian's recent comment is not his first appearance here, and he has been an infrequent visitor. Nothing in previous posts suggests a strong anti-climate-science stance, so let's give him the benefit of the doubt (until further evidence comes to light).

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