Archive for the ‘06. An Inconvenient Truth – Part 1’ Category

PLEASE NOTE: This transcript is being provided for educational purposes only to be used in conjunction with a university course designed to raise awareness of the serious environmental issues that the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth addresses. The kind understanding of the filmmakers will be appreciated with respect to any copyright issues which may arise, and it is hoped that permission to use this material will be granted so that the message Mr. Al Gore puts forth may be disseminated among the students participating in this course.

Students are encouraged to purchase their own copies of this important documentary on DVD.

Thank you.

Tony Del Vecchio, M.Ed.



Part I



You look at that river gently flowing by. You notice the leaves rustling with the wind. You hear the birds; you hear the tree frogs. In the distance you hear a cow. You feel the grass. The mud gives a little bit on the riverbank. It’s quiet; it’s peaceful. And all of a sudden, it’s a gear shift inside you. And it’s like taking a deep breath and going, “Oh yeah, I forgot about this.”

Earth Rise

This is the first picture of the Earth from space that any of us ever saw. It was taken on Christmas Eve 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission.


I’m Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States. [laughter and applause from audience] I don’t find that particularly funny.

I’ve been trying to tell this story for a long time and I feel as if I’ve failed to get the message across.

I was in politics for a long time. I’m proud of my services.

Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans in background discussing the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

There are good people who are in politics in both parties who hold this at arm’s length because if they acknowledge it and recognize it then a moral imperative to make big changes is inescapable.

And they lost radio contact when they went around to the dark side of the moon and there was inevitably some suspense. Then when they came back in radio contact they looked up and snapped this picture and it became known as Earth Rise. And that one picture exploded in the consciousness of human kind. It led to dramatic changes. Within 18 months of this picture the modern environmental movement had begun.

The next picture was taken on the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17. This one was taken on Dec. 11, 1972 and it is the most commonly published photograph in all of history. And it is the only picture of Earth from space that we have where the sun was directly behind the spacecraft so that the Earth is fully lit up, and not partly in darkness.

The next image I’m going to show you has almost never been seen. It was taken by a spacecraft called the Galileo that went out to explore the solar system. As it was leaving Earth’s gravity it turned its cameras around and took a time-lapsed picture of one day’s worth of rotation here compressed into 24 seconds. Isn’t that beautiful?

This image is a magical image in a way. It was made by a friend of mine, Tom Van Sant. He took 3000 separate satellite pictures taken over a three-year period, digitally stitched together. He chose images that would give a cloud-free view of every square inch of the Earth’s surface. All of the land masses are accurately portrayed. When that is spread out it becomes an iconic image.

The Most Ridiculous Thing

I show this because I want to tell you a story about two teachers I had, one that I did not like that much, the other who was a real hero to me. I had a grade school teacher who taught geography by pulling a map of the world down in front of the blackboard. I had a classmate in the sixth grade who raised his hand and he pointed to the outline of the east coast of South America, and he pointed to the west coast of Africa, and he asked, “Did they ever fit together?” And the teacher said, “Of course not! That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” That student went on to be a drug addict and a ne’er-do-well. That teacher went on to be science advisor in the current administration.

But you know, the teacher was actually reflecting the conclusion of the scientific establishment of that time:

“Continents are so big, obviously they don’t move.”

But actually as we now know they did move. They moved apart from one another, but at one time they did, in fact, fit together. But that assumption was a problem.

It reflected the well-known wisdom:

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

– Mark Twain

This is actually an important point, believe it or not because there is another such assumption that a lot people have in their minds right now about global warming that just ain’t so. The assumption goes like this:

“The Earth is so big is we can’t possibly have any lasting, harmful impact on the Earth’s environment.”

Maybe that was true at one time, but it is not true anymore. One of the reasons it is not true anymore is that one of the most vulnerable parts of the Earth’s ecological system is the atmosphere. Vulnerable because it’s so thin. My friend the late Carl Sagan used to say “If you have a big globe with a thin coat of varnish on it, the thickness of that varnish relative to that globe is pretty much the same as the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere compared to the Earth itself.” It is thin enough that we are capable of changing its composition.

That brings up the basic science of global warming. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this because you know it well. The sun’s radiation comes in in the form of light waves and heats up the Earth. Some of the radiation that is absorbed and warms the Earth is re-radiated back into space in the form infrared radiation. Some of the outgoing infrared radiation is trapped by this layer of atmosphere and held inside the atmosphere. That is good thing because it keeps the temperature of the Earth within certain boundaries, keeps it relatively constant and livable. But the problem is that this thin layer of atmosphere is being thickened by all of the global warming pollution that is being put up there. What that does is it thickens this layer of atmosphere. More of the outgoing infrared is trapped. So the atmosphere heats up worldwide. That’s global warming.

Carbon Dioxide Levels

This is the image that started me in my interest in this issue. I saw it when I was a college student because I had a professor named Roger Revelle who was the first person to propose measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. He saw where the story was going. After the first few years of data, he intuited what is meant, for what is yet to come. They designed the experiment in 1957. He hired Charles David Keeling who was very faithful and precise in making these measurements for decades. They started sending these weather balloons up every day. They chose the middle of the Pacific because it was the area that was the most remote. He was a very hard-nosed scientist. He really emphasized the hard data. It was a wonderful time for me, because, like a lot of young people, I came into contact with intellectual ferment, ideas that I’d never considered in my wildest dreams before.

He showed our class the result of these measurements after only a few years. It was startling to me. He was startled and he made it clear to our class what he felt the significance of it was. I soaked it up like a sponge. He drew the connections between the larger changes in our civilization and this pattern that was now visible in the atmosphere entire planet.

He projected into the future where this was headed unless we made some adjustments and it was as clear as day. After the first seven, eight, or nine years you could see the pattern that was developing. But I had to question, “Why does it go up and down once each year?” He explained that if you look at the land mass of the Earth, very little of it is south of the equator. The vast majority of it is north of the equator. And most of the vegetation is north of the equator. When the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, as it is in our spring and summer, the leaves come out and they breathe in the carbon dioxide and the amount in the atmosphere goes down. When the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun as it is in our fall and winter, the leaves fall and exhale carbon dioxide and the amount in the atmosphere goes back up again. It’s as if the entire Earth once each year breathes in and out.

So he started measuring carbon dioxide in 1958. By the middle 60’s when he showed my class this image, it was already clear that it was going up. I respected him and learned from him so much I followed this.

Political Journey

When I went to the Congress in the middle 1970’s I helped organize the first hearings on global warming, I asked my professor to be the lead off witness. I thought that would have such a big impact we’d be on the way to solving this problem, but it didn’t work out that way. I kept having hearings. In 1984 I went to the Senate and really dug deeply into this issue with science roundtables and the like. I wrote a book about it. I ran for president in 1988 partly to try to gain some visibility for this issue. In 1992 I went to the White House. We passed a version of a carbon tax and some other measures to try to address this. I went to Kyoto in 1997 to help get a treaty that is so controversial, in the US, at least. In 2000 my opponent pledged to regulate the CO2. That was not a pledge that was kept. The point of this is all this time you can see what I have seen all these years. It just keeps going up. It is relentless.

Effects of Global Warming

• And now we’re beginning to see the impact in the real world. This is Mount Kilimanjaro more than 30 years ago, and more recently. And a friend of mine just came back from Kilimanjaro with a picture he took a couple of months ago. Another friend, Lonnie Thompson, studies glaciers.

Here’s Lonnie with a last sliver of one of the once mighty glaciers. Within the decade there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro.

• This is happening in Glacier National Park. I climbed to the top of this in 1998 with one of my daughters. Within 15 years this will be the park formerly known as Glacier.

• Here’s what has been happening year by year to the Columbia Glacier. It retreats every single every year. And it’s a shame because these glaciers are so beautiful. People who go up to see them, here’s what they’re seeing every day now.

• In the Himalayas there is a particular problem because 40% of all the people in the world get their drinking water from rivers and spring systems that are fed more than half by the melt water coming off the glaciers. Within this next half century those 40% of the people on Earth are going to face a very serious shortage because of this melting.

• Italy, the Italian Alps, same site today. An old postcard from the Switzerland. Throughout the Alps we are seeing the same story.

• It’s also true in South America. This is Peru 15 years ago. The same glacier today.

• This is Argentina 20 years ago. Same glacier today.

• 75 years ago in Patagonia on the tip of South America. This vast expanse of ice is now gone.

Ice Cores: The 650,000-Year Record

There is a message in this. It is worldwide. The ice has a stories to tell. My friend Lonnie Thompson digs cores in the ice. They dig down and they bring the core drills back up and they look at the ice and they study it. When the snow falls it traps little bubbles of atmosphere. They can go in and measure how much CO2 was in the atmosphere the year that snow fell. What’s even more interesting I think is they can measure the different isotopes of oxygen and figure out the very precise thermometer and tell you what the temperature was the year that bubble was trapped in the snow as it fell.

When I was in Antarctica I saw cores like this and the guy looked at it. He said, “Right here is where the US Congress passed the Clean Air Act.” I couldn’t believe it but you can see the difference with the naked eye. Just a couple of years after that law was passed, it’s very clearly distinguishable.

They can count back year by year the same way a forester reads tree rings. You can see each annual layer from the melting and refreezing. They can go back in a lot of these mountain glaciers a thousand years. They constructed a thermometer of the temperature. The blue is cold and the red is warm. I show this for a couple of reasons. Number one the so-called skeptics will sometimes say “Oh, this whole thing is a cyclical phenomenon. There was a medieval warming period after all.” Well, yeah, there was. There it is right there. There are two others. But compared to what is going on now, there is just no comparison. So if you look at a thousand years worth of temperature and compare it to a thousand years of CO2 you can see how closely they fit together. Now, a thousand years of CO2 data in the mountain glaciers. That is one thing. But in Antarctica, they can go back 650,000 years. This incidentally is the first time anybody outside of a small group of scientists have seen this image. This is the present day era and that’s the last ice age. Then it goes up. We’re going back in time now 650,000 years. That’s the period of warming between the last two ice ages. That’s the second and third ice age back. Fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh ice ages back.

CO2 Concentration Is Above 300 PPM

Now an important point: In all of this time, 650,000 years, the CO2 level has never gone above 300 PPM (parts per million). Now, as I said, they can also measure temperature. Here is what the temperature has been on our Earth. One thing that kind of jumps out at you is…Let me put it this way. If my classmate from the sixth grade that talked about Africa and South America might have said, “Did they ever fit together?” Most ridiculous thing I ever heard. But they did of course. The relationship is actually very complicated. But there is one relationship that is more far powerful than all the others and it is this. When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer, because it traps more heat from the sun inside. In the parts of the United States that contain the modern cities of Cleveland, Detroit, New York, in the northern tier, this is the difference between a nice day and having a mile of ice above your head. Keep that in mind when you look at this fact. Carbon dioxide having never gone above 300 PPM, here is where CO2 is now. We give off where it has never been as far back as this record will measure. If you will bear with me I would like to emphasize this point. It’s already right here. Look how far above the natural cycle this is, and we’ve done that. But ladies and gentleman, in less than 50 years it’s going to continue to go up. When some of these children who are here are my age, here’s where it’s going to be in less than 50 years.

You’ve heard of off the chart. Within less than 50 years it’ll be here. There’s not a single fact or day or number that’s been used to make this up that is in any controversy. The so-called skeptics look at this and say, “So, that looks seems perfectly okay.” On the temperature side: If this much on the cold side is a mile of ice over our heads, what would that much on the warmer side be?

Ultimately, this is really not a political issue so much as a moral issue. If we allow that to happen, it is deeply unethical. I had such faith in our democratic system, our self-government, I actually thought and believed that the story would be compelling enough to cause a real sea change in the way Congress reacted to that issue. I thought they would be startled, too. They weren’t.


The struggles, the victories that aren’t really victories, the defeats that aren’t really defeats can serve to magnify the significance of some trivial step forward, and exaggerate the seeming importance of massive setbacks.

April 3, 1989. My son pulled loose from my hand and chased his friend across the street. He was six years old. The machine was breathing for him. We were possibly going to lose him. He finally took a breath. We stayed in the hospital for a month. It was almost as if you could look at that calendar and go…whew! And everything just flew off. Seemed trivial, insignificant, He wqas so brave. He was such a brave guy.

It just turned my whole world upside down and then shook it until everything fell out. My way of being in the world. It just changed everything for me. How should I spend my time on this Earth? I really dug in, trying to learn about it much more deeply. I went to Antarctica, to the South Pole, North Pole, the Amazon. I went to places where scientists could help me understand parts of the issue I didn’t really understand in depth. The possibility of losing what was most precious to me. I gained an ability that I maybe I didn’t have before. But when I felt it, I felt that we really could lose it. What we take for granted might not be here for our children.

The 10 Hottest Years

These are actual measurements of atmospheric temperature since our Civil War. In any given year it might look like it’s going down, but the overall trend is extremely clear. In recent years it is uninterrupted and it is intensifying. In fact, if you look at the 10 hottest years ever measured in this atmospheric record, they have all occurred in the last 14 years. The hottest of all was 2005. We have already seen some of the heat waves that are similar to what scientists are saying are going to be a lot more common. A couple of years ago in Europe they had that massive heat wave that killed 35,000 people. India didn’t get as much attention, but the same year the temperature there went to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. This past summer in the American west, there were a lot of cities that broke all time records for high temperatures and number of consecutive days with 100-degree temperature or more. 200 cities and towns in the West set all time records. And in the East there were a lot of cities that did the same thing, including, incidentally, New Orleans.

It’s Natural!

So the temperature increases are taking place all over the world, including in the ocean. This is the natural range of variability for temperature in the oceans. You know people say, “Aw, it just naturally go up and down, so don’t worry about it.” This is the range that would be expected over the last 60 years. But the scientists who specialize in global warming have computer models that long ago predicted this range of temperature increase.

Ocean Temperature and Storms

Now I’m going to show you, recently released, the actual ocean temperatures. Of course, when the oceans get warmer, that causes stronger storms. We have seen in the last couple of years, a lot of big hurricanes. Hurricanes Jeanne, Francis and Ivan were among them. In the same year we had that string of big hurricanes we also set an all time record for tornadoes in the United States. Japan again didn’t get as much attention in our news media, but they set an all time record for typhoons. The previous record was seven. Here are all ten of the ones they had in 2004. The science textbooks that have had to be re-written because they say it is impossible to have a hurricane in the South Atlantic. But it was the same year that the first one that ever hit Brazil. The summer of 2005 has been one for the books. The first one was Emily that socked into Yucatan. Then Hurricane Dennis came along and it did a lot of damage, including to the oil industry. This is the largest oil platform in the world after Dennis went through. This one was driven into the bridge at Mobile. And then, of course, came Katrina. It is worth remembering that when it hit Florida it was a Category 1, but it killed a lot of people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. And then, what happened? Before it hit New Orleans, it went over warmer waters. As the water temperature increases, the wind velocity increases and the moisture content increases. And you’ll see Hurricane Katrina form over Florida. And then as it comes into the Gulf over warm water it picks up energy and gets stronger and stronger and stronger. Look at that hurricane’s eye. And of course the consequences were so horrendous; there are no words to describe it.

Something new for America. But how in god’s name could that happen here? There had been warnings that hurricanes would get stronger. There were warnings that this hurricane, days before it hit, would breach the levies and cause the kind of damage that it ultimately did cause. And one question that we, as a people, need to decide is how we react when we hear warnings from the leading scientists in the world.

Winnie’s Warning

There was another storm in the 1930’s of a different kind, a horrible unprecedented storm in continental Europe. Winston Churchill warned the people of England that it was different from anything that had ever happened before, and they had to get ready for it. A lot of people did not want to believe it and he got real impatient with all the dithering. He said this:

“The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing, and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

– Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936

Making mistakes in generations and centuries past would have consequences that we could overcome. We don’t have that luxury anymore. We didn’t ask for it, but here it is.




 An Inconvenient Truth Transcript


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