An Inconvenient Judgment? U.K. Court Actually Endorsed Gore's Film

Mon, 2007-10-15 14:52Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

An Inconvenient Judgment? U.K. Court Actually Endorsed Gore's Film

There has been a flurry of coverage in the last few days of a High Court decision in the U.K that, the deniers would have us believe, condemns Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, as “exaggerated” and “alarmist.

Read fairly, however, the judgment endorses the film for its general accuracy, exonerates school officials for their decision to show it in U.K. classrooms and approves of its continued distribution with a slightly amended “Guidance Note.”

Justice Michael Burton acknowledges in the early stages of his decision that Al Gore is “a talented politician and communicator,” who uses science ” to make a political statement and to support a political programme.” But of the film, Justice Burton says, “It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact.”

Justice Burton says, “I have no doubt that Dr. Stott, the Defendant’s expert, is right when he says that: ‘Al Gore’s presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate.”

Then he quotes Martin Chamberlain, the lawyer for the defendant (The Secretary of State for Education and Skills), who says, “The position is that the central scientific theme of Al Gore’s Film is now accepted by the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientific community.” Justice Burton then adds that “For the purposes of this hearing, Mr. (Paul) Downes (lawyer for the plaintiff) was prepared to accept that the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report represented the present scientific consensus.”

So, everyone agrees that the science is solid and that Al Gore, while quotable and agenda-driven (he wants us to do something about climate change) sticks pretty close to the facts.

Still, regardless that his lawyer conceded the science, Stewart Dimmock, the U.K. bus driver who somehow rustled up 60,000 quid to take this issue to court, did so in hopes that Justice Burton would have the film pulled from the school system. Dimmock argued either that An Inconvenient Truth (AIT) should be censored or, in the judge's words, “that, if the political issues, as per the content of AIT, are to be brought to the attention of pupils, then there must be an equivalent and equal presentation of counter-balancing views.” Presumably, Dimmock would champion the broadcast of something like the wholly discredited Great Global Warming Swindle.

Justice Burton disagreed, in the most whithering way:

“There is nothing to prevent (to take an extreme case) there being a strong preference for a theory – if it were a political one – that the moon is not made out of green cheese, and hence a minimal, but dispassionate, reference to the alternative theory. The balanced approach does not involve equality. In my judgment, the word “balanced” in s407 (in the relevant U.K. legislation) means nothing more than fair and dispassionate.” 

It might be a stretch to suggest that Justice Burton was grouping climate change deniers with people who believe the moon is made of green cheese - but not a big stretch.

As for the dreaded “errors” exposed by this case, Justice Burton notes: “Mr. Downes produced a long schedule of such alleged errors or exaggerations and waxed lyrical in that regard.”

Again, it's hard to suggest a perfect analysis of what the good judge meant when he said, “waxed lyrical,” but it doesn't appear to imply that the plaintiff's barrister contained himself to a strict analysis of the facts.

Justice Burton,on the other hand, visits those facts with care, beginning in his Paragraph 23. At his most critical, he says Gore was “distinctly alarmist” in predicting the collapse of the Greenland glacier: “the Armageddon scenario he predicts, insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of 7 metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus,” Justice Burton concludes. Other “errors,” such as Gore's contention that Hurricane Katrina was whipped up by climate change, elicit this kind of a response: “It is common ground that there is insufficient evidence to show that.”

It turns out that Al Gore, in the interest of making an interesting and compelling movie, spoke more boldly on nine occasions than would the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Accordingly, and to ensure that Mr. Dimmock's children do not wind up as confused as he plainly is, the judge has recommended a revision to the Guidance Note that U.K. teachers had already received with the film. Much of that note is also reproduced in the judgment, and it includes sections such as this:

Note: Pupils might get the impression that sea-level rises of up to 7m (caused by the complete melting of Greenland or half of Greenland and half of the West Antarctic shelf) could happen in the next decades. The IPCC predicts that it would take millennia for rises of that magnitude to occur. However, pupils should be aware that even small rises in sea level are predicted to have very serious effects. The IPCC says that “many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s” (i.e. within pupils' own lifetimes).

In other words, we think Uncle Al overstated himself, but we still recommend that you all think twice before buying waterfront.

No matter how you read this judgment, it is a convincing victory for Gore and his movie. Justice Burton finds that Gore exaggerated for effect - and to good effect, but that, given appropriate teacher guidance (and contrary to the wishes of Dimmock, et al), the film is appropriate for student viewing.

The newspaper editors who are trying to present this as somehow not the case, are deluding themselves and misleading their readers. 

Previous Comments

It truly is distasteful how this has been spun in the media.

Tim Lambert has a good write up on what the judge meant when he said ‘error’

There were nine points where Burton decided that AIT differed from the IPCC and that this should be addressed in the Guidance Notes for teachers to be sent out with the movie.
http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2007/10/an_error_is_not_the_same_thing.php”

So whenever gore overstated something as compared with the the extremely conservative IPCC, the judge called it an “error”. Of course you wouldn’t know that by reading the press this has generated.

There are plenty of distortions of facts that are taught in schools. Most science topics are sufficiently dumbed down so that students can comprehend them; many intricacies of a get lost in the process, and some facts become oversimplified to the point of no longer being accurate. An Inconvenient Truth is no exception. In fact it is remarkably accurate.

The point is, that there are some factual inaccuracies here and there in the movie, but no more than there are in many other materials deemed appropriate for schools.

as are found in that “global warming swindle” mess, although as far as I know that one hasn’t made it into the schools (mercifully!). The kids get to see it at home, though – without the benefit of a teachers’ guide to set the record straight!

The new “fake but accurate”.

So how’s that working out for you? As well as last time?

You’re having to stoop pretty low if the only way to push your argument is to replace the words of your opponents. How is that working out for you? Makes you look like a sore loser. But I’ll bite: define fake and then tell me how the movie was fake.

Hi Desmoggers. Did you hear about this? http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0„2190770,00.html

Revealed: the man behind court attack on Gore film: Fuel and mining magnate backed UK challenge to An Inconvenient Truth.

Big surprise, huh?

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot..,”
CHARLES DICKENS, Oliver Twist, chapter 51, p. 489 (1970 edition).

RealClimate has a new entry
http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/10/convenient-untruths/
and points here http://ninepoints.pbwiki.com/

Here’s a letter I sent in to the G&M on the 12th that probably wasn’t even considered for publication. For the most current information on the Polar Ice Cap, see ‘The Big Melt, a 20 page report produced by CarbonEquity.info. The graphs on page five are shockers.

‘It is ironic that just one day before the announcement on October 12 that Al Gore and the UN Panel on climate change will be sharing the Nobel Peace Prize, a U.K. Judge found that some assertions in An Inconvenient Truth were not supported by scientific evidence. Indeed, Al Gore’s film does contain some blatant errors, the greatest of which is the suggestion that if we all change all our light bulbs, we can save the Polar Ice Cap.
Perhaps Al Gore is to be forgiven. After all, the science data he used to make his film is already over two years old, and we have learned a great deal since then. Given the catastrophic loss of Arctic summer ice this year, it is now estimated that this ice could be gone in as few as six years and certainly by the 2020s. And then, with the exposure of the dark water to the sun, we can expect a precipitous decline in the winter ice as well. This will have an unimaginable impact on our Earth’s ocean currents and weather systems, causing worldwide suffering.
Two years ago, NASA scientist Dr. James E. Hansen gave us a decade to reverse the runaway effects of climate change. It turns out he was wrong as well. We have no time left at all.
In a way, the UK court is correct. An Inconvenient Truth should not be shown in schools without representation from those who doubt the accuracy of the scientific data. Children should not be asked to believe the lie that the polar bears can be saved, unless, that is, the DNA of these beleaguered animals can be preserved and we can lock them up in zoos.’

That’s a truth that our Mr. Dimmock would find unpalatable in the extreme.

… but newspapers often don’t like sarcasm. Hope the Globe & Mail is different.

It occurs to me that the judge’s response to suggestions that TGGWS be shown for ‘balance’ can be parsed further:

There is nothing to prevent (to take an extreme case) there being a strong preference for a theory – if it were a political one – that the moon is not made out of green cheese, and hence a minimal, but dispassionate, reference to the alternative theory. The balanced approach does not involve equality. In my judgment, the word “balanced” in s407 (in the relevant U.K. legislation) means nothing more than fair and dispassionate.

Now, I may be reading this wrong, but there’s nothing here that mandates how a science teacher presents the “alternative theory”. In fact, this could be a great teaching moment.

A teacher could mention “The Denial Factory”, the excellent 2nd chapter from George Monbiot’s Heat. She could throw up the weather/climate conflation from Lindzen’s Newsweek article. He could let his students tear apart the “It has cooled since 1998” canard. She could even make a point about causation and correlation that is often lost on the media’s alarmist reporting of tropical cyclones and floods.

As long as it were done “dispassionately”, it certainly would provide balance. And I for one know I would like my kids to learn about the dangers of pseudoscientific mis-information and the value of critical thinking.