An Inconvenient Truth


(This 795th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 25, 2006.)



It will be useful at this time when Al Gore's powerful documentary, An Inconvenient Truth has been published and whose film is also being shown here to recall the reception of Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring.


Today, with eagles and ospreys and peregrine falcons returning to the region, we have clear illustrations of the importance of Carson's warnings about the dangers of pesticides, but her 1962 book drew a violent response from the chemical industry. One American Cynamid Company executive claimed that her recommendations "would return [us] to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth." Others questioned her integrity, even her sanity.


But President Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee reviewed the issues the book raised and thoroughly vindicated both Silent Spring and its author. The Senate then held hearings at which Carson, already dying from cancer, testified, further establishing her points and communicating her ideas to the public.


Carson's sponsor at that Senate committee was Senator Al Gore.


Now we have a project that is, I believe, even more important than Carson's. Perhaps the best reaction to "An Inconvenient Truth" is New Yorker reviewer David Denby's comment: "If even half of what Gore says is true, this may be the most galvanizing documentary you will see in your lifetime."


Gore's warnings are far more dire than Carson's: they tell us of our planet at a tipping point beyond which the effects will far outmatch Katrina, the Christmas 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the drought and starvation in Somalia today.


Both Silent Spring and An Inconvenient Truth personalize global problems, Carson by imagining a world without the sound of bird song, Gore by relating global events to experiences of his own family including his sister's death from smoking-related cancer. Despite her critics' attacks on her, Carson was a well-educated and deeply informed scientist. Her experience in government gave her much information about her subject and provided important contacts within the conservation community. Gore is neither as well trained nor as eloquent but he has been able to use his positions in government - senator's son, then senator and vice president - to gain access to informed scientists. And he has been involved with such issues for many years.


Already Gore's global warming concerns are under attack as harshly as were Carson's. These attacks did not and will not only come from individuals; they will also come from industries that will once again pour money into countering the evidence the projects gather and present.


The nay-sayers are out in force. Two examples of the ad hominem attacks appear among the four star reviews: "This book presents so much false evidence it isn't even funny. If you really care about the truth you'll research both sides of this topic instead of taking in what the ever so corrupt U.N. dictates." Another claims that Gore is "the man who has in the past advocated banning the internal combustion engine and sending us back to the horse and buggy era."


Opposition will come from another source as well. This project is terribly embarrassing to our current political leaders who cut the mileage requirements and emissions standards on our cars thus increasing our contribution of dangerous chemicals to our fragile atmosphere, who reduced FEMA to a political wasteland with terrible consequences, whose "clean air initiative" reduced air quality requirements and increased health risks, who have until very recently simply assigned global warming to "further study."


It is important to understand that there are a few senior scientists who disagree with the overwhelming majority of the scientific community about global warming. For example, MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen, wrote a recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Climate of Fear." But a response to Lindzen has been posted on the Weather Underground website by Jeff Masters, who mentions Lindzen's service as a $2500 a day consultant to fossil fuel companies.


I urge everyone to see An Inconvenient Truth and to buy the book already on best-seller lists in order to have documentation at hand. Their two messages are clear: We can and must save this planet. To do so we must respond to global warming - and soon.-- Gerry Rising