For decades now, human industries have spewed tons of greenhouse gases into the environment. The industrial boom over the last century has been the catalyst for global warming. Increases in ground and air transportation entails a lot of fuel consumption, accompanied with the burning of fossil fuels. In addition to this, industrialization has lead to the dumping of toxic material into water ways with factories constantly releasing hazardous material and causing air pollution. All this is now telling on the environment and as a result the climate has begun to show signs of warming. Global warming could lead to changes in rain and drought patterns across the globe, tornadoes and hurricanes increasing in frequency and low-lying countries becoming submerged in seawater.
There is growing alarmism about climate change, or human-generated global warming. Storms and other normal weather phenomenon have also been attributed to global warming, and dire predictions have been made about the future. However, though it is important that we need to be good stewards of Earth and environmental awareness may be at an all time high, there still appear to be many significant, unanswered questions about the entire concept of climate change.
Contrary to the media and political onslaught that seems to be promoting an unquestioned acceptance of global warming and human contributions to it, there are many quiet and scientific opinions that raise some legitimate concerns about the accuracy of these “conclusions.” These contrary views to the issue of global warming include scientists who believe that on the whole global warming will result in not much more than slightly warmer winters and denser vegetation globally. They base their views on the inherent flaws in measurements of scientists and the uncertainty of the climate models used to predict changes in climate.
This main question that this paper will attempt to address will be “Is the phenomenon of global warming a serious concern to humanity?” To analyze this issue, different ideologies within the overall framework of global warming will be studied. The paper will discuss the movie by Al Gore “An Inconvenient Truth”, describing how the movie presents global warming from a historical perspective. It will examine how the movie showcases opposing views and the reasons behind them on the political scale by identifying the agendas of the Republican and Democrats. It will also understand the complexity of eco terrorist organizations like the Earth Liberation Front and examine their action and beliefs mainly in relation to global capitalism. The paper will also evaluate the basic doctrine of the LaRouche movement and examine the contrary opinion expressed by it to the issue of global warming.
Global Warming and Ways to limit it
Global warming is caused by air pollutants, carbon dioxide and other toxic radiations collecting in the earth’s atmosphere creating a thick blanket which traps the sun’s heat and thereby raises temperatures on the planet. These pollutants and harmful radiations like Chloro flouro Carbons (CFCs), carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are largely generated due to human activity such as industrial manufacturing and production systems, fuel combustion and an exploitation of natural resources leading to deforestation. These emissions have lead to the formation of a large hole in the ozone layer of the atmosphere, which is primarily responsible for maintaining temperatures, and protecting the world from harmful radiation. As a result of the depleted ozone layer, temperatures have increased and resulted in a global warming of the earth.
Global warming not only is a threat to biodiversity but the consequential sea level rise that would follow is dangerous as it would cause inundation of low lying coastal areas, changes in rainfall patterns, an increased danger of droughts, wildfires, and dust storms, no to mention the risk to a fragile marine eco-system. All of these pose an immense problem from a public health perspective.
The population boom has resulted in an overload on water bodies and caused challenges in waste management. Careful waste disposal is paramount to avoid pollution in the soil and waterways and also to avoid diseases. In some cases, authorities in less developed countries resort to burning garbage as a means of waste disposal. This burning of garbage releases large amounts of toxic pollutants into the atmosphere that can cause major damage. Most developing countries have not implemented modern effluent and waste treatment technologies that enable a safe disposal of waste. Relying on fires, the traditional means of disposal increases pollution levels and degradation in air and water quality. Most industrial effluents in larger cities are simply allowed to be drained into water bodies such as rivers and lakes. These toxic wastes cause water pollution and degrade plant and animal life in the eco system. Better means of waste disposal therefore need to be put into practice which would restrict the generation of toxic wastes.
Scientists have discussed several ways to reduce the impact on the environment from multinational and global industry. Strict regulation of industries that pollute the environment is necessary. Other ways to limit pollution and the impact that globalization has on the global climate is by changing consumer attitude towards the environment. Recycling and other social measures have been taken but a more comprehensive action is needed for these measures to be effective. Preservation of current eco systems, as well as future changes such as hybrid and electric automobiles, hydroelectric power, and low ecological impact construction are all possibilities that will limit the environmental impact of globalization and the world economy.
Analyzing “An Inconvenient Truth”
In the documentary Al Gore’s unassuming presentation does not impose any verdict on global warming on the audience, instead he seems to use illustrations and figures to inform the viewer and in the process leave him attentive, shocked and eager to mobilize for action on this crisis. This along with effective use of visuals is what makes the movie so effective and hard hitting. Its ability to disarm the viewer of any perceived notion on the subject with hard numbers and then slightly build the case by describing the scope of the problem and the urgency of the matter by using clever narrating and captivating slides is indeed impressive.
In the film, Gore starts by a display of some dramatic pictures of the earth taken from space and then moves on to tell the viewers about how he became interested in global warming. Camera shots lingering on Gore’s expressions show him as a real and genuine person and therefore the audience can completely relate to him. Gore mentions the story of one of his professors who back in the late 1950’s designed an experiment for measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and correlate it to the temperature of the earth. The amazing results which showed a link between the carbon dioxide in the air and the level of temperatures of both the atmosphere and the oceans caught the interest of Gore in the subject.
The visual impact of the film is extremely strong as Gore displays historical pictures of locations throughout the earth which clearly show the amount of melting ice on mountain tops, the thawing of frozen bodies of water and the gradual decomposition of glaciers. The viewer notices how in the past 30 years the process of change has accelerated compared to the past centuries when changes were taking place at a much slower pace. The most compelling piece of evidence is the 650,000-year chart, which included two periods of ice ages. It shows that including the ice ages, the carbon dioxide level has never surpassed 300 parts per million. However in the recent past, it literally went off the charts at 700 parts per million increasing exponentially.
To illustrate the extent of increase in carbon dioxide concentration Gore resorted to a visual trick by climbing on a lift that propped him 30 feet high on stage. The visual illustration of the difference in pollution levels was extremely arresting and left the viewer with no confusion whatsoever as to the extent of damage being caused. Another shocking piece of information is the one showing that the ten hottest in history have all occurred in the past fourteen years. The film makes the numbers come alive as the camera panned though the year time line while the record years are highlighted in red and keep popping up.
The film presents the political perspective of global warming by describing how the evolvement of global warming into a political issue was influenced by lobbying from industries with major financial and even survival stakes in the public perception of global warming. The Republican who have been historical pro-industry and against government restrictions would like the public to believe that global warming is nothing to be alarmed about and that changes in climate conditions are cyclical events that happen periodically on our planet.
This is understandable since recently the Conservative movement became more active in countering the alarms about global warming. As mentioned in a journal titled “Challenging Global Warming as Social Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative Movement’s Counter Claims”, conservatism was found to be “negatively related to pro-environmental attitudes and actions among the general public, and especially among political elites such as Members of Congress” (McCright &Dunlap, 2000: 504). This as the authors point out is “a direct reaction to the success the pro-environment movement was experiencing in transmitting its message”.
The Democrats on the other hand have a more indulging ear to scientists and environmental groups and tend to adhere to the alarmist view of their former party presidential candidate, Al Gore. One vivid illustration of this divide was his appearance before a congressional hearing on global warming. The panel’s response tilted between sheer denial that bordered on ridicule by the Republicans and heroic embrace and call for action by the Democratic side. The politics surrounding global warming are mentioned in the film as Gore illustrated the attitude of past Republican administration such as Reagan stating that “Very reputable scientist have said that one factor of air pollution is oxides of nitrogen from decaying vegetation. This is what causes the haze that gave the Big Smokey Mountains their name.” Or Bush declaring that “This guy is so far off on the environmental extremes, we’ll be up to our necks in owls and out of work for every American. This guy’s crazy!”
Another political dimension manifests itself in the form of disparity between industrialized countries compared to developed countries. The amount of pollution being generated by developed countries is much greater than that of developing countries with the United States taking the lead. This is further illustrated by the restrictions being imposed on developing countries by the developed nations in processes involving manufacturing and disposal. The dumping of electronic waste by the developed countries on poorer Third World countries is also a manifestation of the autocracy that reigns.
The economic and social impact of global warming is also highlighted in the film which showcases the recent increase in extreme weather conditions and their frequency. From more intense typhoons in Japan, to the first ever hurricane below the equator ever recorded to a record number of tornadoes and twisters and the increasingly deadly and devastating high category hurricanes such as Katrina, the effects of global warming are everywhere. The human and social impact of these events last for years. The oil and natural gas industry has also endured a lot of damage to offshore rigs in particular. Species of animals are either dying out or are on the verge of extinction because of seasonal changes which lead to changes in availability of food, shelter etc.
The film further emphasizes the fact that coastal cities are threatened by rising water levels caused by melting of glaciers. Gore brings in the parallel between the issue of global warming and a personal experience of his. He mentions how his sister who smoked cigarettes died of lung cancer. He relates this incident about knowing that smoking causes cancer and not doing anything about it to seeing the negative effects of environmental degradation occurring on our planet and not taking any action against it.
This brings us to one of the opening statements of the film that includes a reference to what Gore characterizes as our “Moral Imperative.” Gore states that:
“There are good people who are in politics who hold this at arm’s length because they acknowledge it and recognize it as a moral imperative to make big changes.”
These words make a big impact as they convey that there is a moral obligation towards future generations to act and further to act immediately. Gore also challenges Americans to rise to this challenge to combat global warming as they did before when dealing with other issues, such as desegregation or landing on the moon, or when facing a global crisis, such as the hole in the stratospheric ozone layer. All these problems seemed insurmountable as they required cooperation from every nation.
Gore’s solutions to these problems are quite sweeping. His recommendations begin with the immediate national freeze on new emissions of carbon dioxide, affecting products from cars to lawn mowers to coal-fired power plants — and include an overhaul of the tax code. Gore is also of the opinion that payroll taxes should go down, and taxes on polluters, especially those who emit carbon dioxide, should go up. He has also recommended a ban on incandescent light bulbs, which activists say are far less energy-efficient than new compact fluorescent bulbs; raising the fuel-efficiency standards for cars; and a “carbon-neutral mortgage association.” He acknowledges that almost all of these measures go well beyond anything lawmakers have contemplated so far (Farenthold, 2007, pp A04).
Radical Ecological Policies
A spin off from the whole issue of global warming is the emergence of radical ecological politics expressed by movements such as the LaRouche movement and the formation of groups indulging in terrorist activity in the name of environmentalism such as the Earth Liberation Front.
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is an international underground organization consisting of groups of people who carry out terrorist activity according to the guidelines put up by the Front. Each cell is autonomous and anonymous, functioning within a decentralized system. This radical group is an extremist group credited with over 30 acts of domestic terrorism costing millions of dollars in damage over the past six years. The supporters of ELF perceive the threat to the environment as real and extremely severe and base their deeds on the belief that unusual times demand unusual actions. The movement argues that the state and its accepted legal systems of social and economic change are in effect bureaucratic deceptions and it is the politics of the ruling elite classes that are the mainstay of the state. The ELF movement believes that the only way out is to stop unfair and exploitative industries by hampering their economic activity even if this is done through means of sabotage and terrorism. In the words of the ELF manifesto:
“The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is an international underground organization that uses direct action to stop the exploitation and destruction of the natural environment. The ELF realizes that all life on Earth is threatened by entities concerned with nothing more than pursuing economic gain at any cost. Therefore, the ELF uses clandestine guerrilla tactics in efforts to take the profit motive out of killing the Earth.
The ELF is organized into autonomous cells that operate independently and anonymously from one another and the general public. The group does not contain a hierarchy or any sort of leadership. Instead, the group operates under an ideology. If an individual believes in the ideology and follows the ELF guidelines, she or he can perform actions and become a part of the ELF. This means that anyone can be involved, even you.
The ELF is structured in such a way as to maximize effectiveness. By operating in anonymous cells, the security of group members is maintained. This decentralized structure helps keep activists out of jail and free to continue conducting actions.” (www.earthliberationfront.com)
The ELF has totaled over $100 million in damage over the last decade by most accounts. It has been labeled by the government as “eco-terrorists” and is promoted as one of today’s “most serious domestic terrorism threats” in the United States (Lewis, 2005). However there are contrary opinions to this which say that the charge of “terrorism” could be patently wrong and politically motivated (Best, 2004). Nocella and Watson (2005) argue that though it cannot be denied that actions by ELF and its supporters have caused millions of dollars of damage, the ELF however does not represent a direct or obvious threat to the U.S. government. Rather, ELF dealings and actions are aimed at the corporate organizations that exploit and abuse natural resources such as land, water, air and animals, with a specific prohibition against harming human life in the process of economic sabotage.
They maintain that ELF is an effective, decentralized, and autonomous organization which by its actions provides a mirror to corporate capitalist society. Further, not withstanding the extent of economic damage which they cause every action of theirs lays bare the injustice and inequities within the current system of economic governance.
The government appears to be correct in that eco-militancy appears to be on the rise in the face of a widespread environmental crisis. Also, the utter failure of the mainstream environmental movement to offer successful opposition to the most rapacious aspects of capitalist development leads to further encouragement. A 2005 RAND report even positions the union of the anti-globalization movement with ecological militancy over the next five years and predicts the potential “emergence of a new radical left-wing fringe across American society that is jointly directed against ‘big business,’ ‘big money,’ corporate power, and uncaring government” (Chalk, et al., 2005, p. 51).
The Debate against Global Warming
Opinion against the issue of global warming has its own set of followers who believe that the issue is a media built issue with no grounds as such. They believe that there is no scientific consensus on the global warming issue. Money is being pushed into it primarily because of a political agenda that wants power over economic development, over international monetary decisions and over energy and the production of energy.
The LaRouche Movement is a group based on the ideology of Lyndon LaRouche Jr. who is an American political activist and founder of several political organizations. The movement is an international, political and cultural movement which promotes the ideas of Lyndon. Lyndon is known as a conspiracy theorist by his opponents and critics. The movement’s main counterpoint to the whole issue of global warming is opposed to that of Gore. Supporters insist that the concept of global warming is driven by purely monetary concerns and is basically a fraud issue.
The theories of Lyndon LaRouche which have found wide support in his followers believe that the idea of man-made global warming is basically a fraud which has been developed to restrict human potential. It is also being propagated to curb population growth and the limit the development and rise of technology, especially in the developing countries of the world. Supporters further argue that Gore as the spokesman against global warming stands to gain the most from making a big deal about climate changes and their negative effects. Followers of this movement are cynical about the issue of the Earth’s temperature rising over the last century. They counter this argument by questioning the basic temperature data used to make this claim. They argue that since most of the data was collected using separate instruments spread over a large geographical area, these measurements could be subject to error. Therefore a clear representation of temperatures cannot be arrived at. Most scientists and researchers feel that satellite data needs to be collected for several more decades for it to be reliable. Another point of dispute is that it has never been proven outside of lab conditions whether global warming actually occurs as a result of carbon dioxide. There is enough fossil evidence which shows that as the planet grows warmer the levels of carbon dioxide do increase but there is no significant correlation between a rise in carbon dioxide and temperature increase.
As far as forecasts of future warming are concerned, skeptics point to the uncertainties inherent in the models researchers are using. There are a couple of dozen models currently in use forecast everything from the average surface warming of the planet to complex interactions global warming will have with the Earth’s atmosphere and weather systems. As mentioned, each of these models can generate a different answer depending on projections for future human emissions, the uncertainty in how the climate will respond, and what scientists decide to include in the models. Many feel there is still too much we do not understand about the climate or human society to take stock in any forecasts as of yet. (NASA, 2002).
According to Dr. Michaels who wrote the book ‘Meltdown’:
“They take a little truth and distort it or study it into a lot of revenue for them. Them = Academia + Environmental non governmental organizations + private scientific fields + Government + all the associated public and private organizations supporting this shell.” He concludes by saying, “This junk science works for the fish movement, smart growth, sustaining development, rapid transit, wet lands, critical areas, water rights, property rights, fossil fuels, logging, justifying huge government and environmental land wildlife corridor buy ups with public money, changing regulatory laws, changing high court opinions, escalating enforcement codes, on and on.” (Michaels, 2005)
Campaigns and support of various organizations against the global warming issue have gained grounds in recent years. The Heidelberg Appeal was signed in 1992, just before the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Scientists and other intellectual leaders came together to sign the appeal which was a simple call for moderation and reason in coping with the climate change issue. The appeal is not a statement or corporate interests, nor a denial of environmental problems but merely declares that modern society is the best equipped in human history to solve the world’s ills, provided that they do not sacrifice science, intellectual honesty and common sense to political opportunism and irrational fears. Today, the Heidelberg Appeal has been signed by more than 4,000 scientists and leaders from 100 countries, including more than 70 Nobel Prize winners.
The Leipzig declaration was signed in 1995, in answer to the International Symposium on the Greenhouse Controversy, held in Leipzig, Germany that year. The Declaration says;
“In a world in which poverty is the greatest social pollutant, any restriction on energy use that inhibits economic growth should be viewed with caution. For these reasons, we consider ‘carbon taxes’ and other drastic control policies – lacking credible support from the underlying science – to be ill-advised, premature, wrought with economic danger, and likely to be counterproductive.”
The economic impact of global warming has been estimated by various organizations across the globe. Increased temperatures, melt downs, uncertainties in predicting weather and natural disasters all add up to a sizeable sum. With increased globalization, such an impact in any part of the world gets transferred to the entire globe and the world economy suffers. This interest in climate change, global warming and pollution is new and needs considerable amount of research and development to be able to understand this phenomenon of global warming adequately. The growth of Sustainable development as a complete science requires a concerted effort on part of the global scientific community that would only then be able to come up with sustainable technology that helps prevent the disasters that are inherent in the rampant use of fossil fuels, harmful technologies and the consequent release of toxic waste.
However fierce resistance to up-front investment is slowing down if not negating the actions currently being taken. Most industry action was taken voluntarily to avoid changes in policy and others did so as a publicity stunt to accommodate the green fad. Industries dealing with fossil fuels and others who could be threatened by potential anti global warming actions have come up with research that counters claims to global warming.
Many of the recommendations that are put up as to how to best respond to this issue are not insignificant. They include raising taxes precipitously, charging a “carbon tax,” or requiring people and businesses to buy “carbon credits” for the emission of carbon dioxide. They also talk of limiting or doing away with many activities which we normally engage in, ranging from restricting the use of private vehicles to eliminating outdoor barbecuing. Most experts have predicted a drastic negative impact on our economy and lifestyle if these types of strategies are enacted, and many scientists have questioned whether these changes would have any significant impact on the issue at all.
Senator James Inhofe or Oklahoma, the ranking Republican member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has challenged Gore’s analysis of climate change’s dangers from hurricanes and melting ice in Antarctica. He says “It is my perspective that your global warming alarmist pronouncements are now and have always been filled with inaccuracies and misleading statements.” He estimates the cost of proposals to reduce emission of heat-trapping gases at $300 billion and says: “The poor pay for it and the science isn’t there. We just can’t do that to America, Mr. Vice President. And we’re not going to.” (Kurtz, 2007).
The debate against the specter of Global warming has seen a number of arguments made against the literature warning the world against the use of technology and fuels. However these doomsday predictions have often been made by interested lobbies that have a vested interest in protecting forests, lakes and woods. These lobbies have ensured that popular support, galvanized through propaganda and rallies, has resulted in laws being drafted that often work against the poor, the forest dweller and the small enterprise owner. These disadvantaged communities, suffering from a lack of articulation must always end up paying for what fascinated a tiny but vocal minority. Those who disagree with the proponents of the global warming phenomenon feel that this lobby is now making up questionable facts that point to a phenomenon that is not necessarily as gloomy as it is made out to be.
However, the question that has been raised is indeed critical to the future of the world. Is global warming a threat to human life on this planet? While it is true that this problem is of recent origin and has been a subject matter for debate only now, it is something that concerns the well being of the entire human race. The dangers are real and threaten life. Therefore, while acknowledging the fact that research on these areas of global warming and climate change are yet nascent, it is important to categorically state that the issue of global warming must be high on the agenda both in technological and in political circles. While it may be alarmist, as some critics have stated, by its very nature, it cannot be ignored. Sustainable development requires political will and a vision that includes a paradigm shift in what constitutes economic and industrial growth. It entails a shift away from what could be potentially dangerous to what can be sustained. This does come with a cost, but the cost is justified in terms of the dangers that sustainable practices avert.
As Laurence Bender, producer of An Inconvenient Truth says:
“… There’s a lot that has to be done. And it’s not just one thing. I mean, yes, the fuel efficiency of cars has to dramatically change. We need to go from gas to biofuel, ethanol. We need solar, wind, other renewable-energy technologies. We need to carbon capture and sequester the carbon dioxide coming out of the smokestacks. There’s not one solution. The thing that’s challenging about this is that we need solutions at every level, every area. One of the things I believe could happen on a grass-roots level is for people to learn what it means to have a carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is the car you drive, the house you live in, the way you travel. You can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put out by living.”
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