An inconclusive truth?
A new report from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy has called for a greater balance in the teaching of environmental issues in North American classrooms.
The background report, written by Manitoba high school teacher Michael Zwaagstra, points to a ruling by a judge in the United Kingdom, who determined that Al Gore’s Academy Award-winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth only be shown in classrooms if preceded by disclaimer.
“I had concerns about the film previously,” Zwaagstra said, “then this ruling really brought it home for me and I felt I had to make others aware of the findings.”
The initial case was brought before UK judge Michael Burton in late 2007 by Stewart Dimmock, a school governor from Kent, England. Dimmock initially sought to prevent the film from being used for any educational purposes. Through a great deal of research, Judge Burton determined that nine assertions made by the film were either untrue or inconclusive. Burton did not issue a full ban of the film because he felt it was still based on scientific research in principle.
“It was a very well edited and put together and it is very appealing for educational purposes,” Zwaagstra said of the film directed by Davis Guggenheim. “Many times teachers are required to touch on subject matters which are not necessarily directly related to their area of expertise and so it’s very easy for them to put on a film that apparently explains it all.”
Zwaagstra did show the film to his Grade 11 physical geography classes but also showed a second film that “countered many of the ideas presented by Al Gore.”
“I am in no way against the film, I feel it should be used as one side of a controversial issue that to this day still has many opposing viewpoints,” he explained. “I attempted to offer a contrast and in no way dismissed either film. All we can do at the end of the day is present all of the information and then let the students decide for themselves.”
Diana Fletcher, an instructor at Mount Royal in the chemical and biological sciences department, also showed both Gore’s film and contrasting piece from the Internet.
“My point of view is that we are harming the environment through our actions,” Fletcher said. “The science in either video may not have been perfect but the science in the Al Gore film, it engages people, it gets them interested and wanting to do something.
I am in no way against the film, I feel it should be used as one side of a controversial issue that to this day still has many opposing viewpoints.
“If the film can evoke an emotion in people and cause them to act then I believe it has done the job.”
Zwaagstra said he believes An Inconvenient Truth has been so well accepted by audiences because it supports the mainstream view of global warming.
“It really fails to take into account opposing viewpoints of any kind and puts forth many examples of what is thought to be truth without any factual evidence,” he said.
One of the nine assertions that Judge Burton took issue with was Gore’s claim that increases in carbon emissions are directly attributable to extreme weather disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which decimated the New Orleans area in 2005.
“Gore presents this blanket statement that human-induced increases in carbon dioxide levels are causing massive weather events, such as Hurricane Katrina, to occur and that is simply not the case,” Zwaagstra said. “I believe Gore went on to predict that we would see an even greater number of hurricanes the following year and it turned out there were less.”
Like Burton, Zwaagstra disagreed with Gore’s assertion that graphs of carbon emissions and temperature levels over the past 650,000 years show a strong correlation that implies emissions are leading to an increase in global temperatures.
“It worked great for his argument because when you put the two graphs together there is an almost perfect overlay,” Zwaagstra said.
“However this assertion has been disputed a great deal and in fact climate records tend to show that temperature increases precede carbon increases.”
Zwaagstra said he believes the numerous accolades that An Inconvenient Truth has garnered have helped validate the film for many who’ve watched it.
“I know for a fact that many take this film as absolute truth without any critical background research,” he said. “The topic of climate change is obviously a very important one, especially to young adults because they will ultimately make the future decisions, and it is important that we present them with balanced information.”
Gareth Thomson, executive director of the Alberta Council for Environmental Education, issued the following statement in response to the report: “Any Alberta teacher worth their salt knows that good education means teaching students how to think, not what to think.
“Students in the classroom— and for that matter, adults in the working world — need to think critically about where information comes from, and what biases might be present. As a teacher, I am convinced that a rigorous educational process with this principle at its heart will result in citizens who practice responsible stewardship of the planet.”
1) Sea level rise of up to 20 feet (7 metres) will be caused by melting of either west Antarctica or Greenland in the near future.
2) Low lying inhabited Pacific atolls are being inundated because of anthropogenic global warming.
3) The Ocean Conveyor is in danger of being shut down due to human-caused global warming.
4) Graphs of CO2 and temperature levels over the past 650,000 years show that there is a strong correlation between these two variables. As a result, we should be concerned that man-made CO2 emissions are leading to increased global temperatures.
5) The disappearance of snow on Mt. Kilimanjaro is directly the result of global warming. The scientific consensus is that it cannot be clearly stated that human-induced climate change is the cause of this change.
6) The drying up of Lake Chad is a prime example of a catastrophic result of global warming.
7) Disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are directly attributable to human-induced global warming.
8) Polar bears have been drowning because they have to swim farther in order to find ice.
9) Coral reefs around the world are bleaching and all the fish species that depend on the coral reef are in jeopardy. Species loss is now occurring at a rate 1,000 times greater than normal.