How much influence did the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” have? That was the question that was asked in the Grist article The legacy of “An Inconvenient Truth,” explained by 16 really smart people. Sixteen people with some name in environmental activism were asked about how this movie influenced them and terms like “inspiration”, “lightbulb moment”, “watershed moment”, “getting past the legislature”, “wake-up call”, “building of a movement” and many more came up.
Being a believer of anthropogenic global warming at that time myself, what was the influence of that movie on me? The surprising answer is: surprisingly little back then. It was until later that it influenced me, but not in the way it influenced those 16.
Although I was a believer at the time the movie came out, I never went to see it back then. I took from the trailer and from the scared reactions of my friends (who did see the movie), that it was highly exaggerated. At that time I was convinced that “anthropogenic global warming was real” and I was not exactly in the mood for an extra portion of exaggeration, so I passed the opportunity to see it back then.
Nevertheless, while I thought it would be exaggerated, back then I believed that the arguments would be basically true. More, I considered Al Gore some kind of a hero. He was the one that brought the global warming issue in the spotlight. Him being a politician, no less. I found that a noble and selfless act at that time, the same sentiment that was also expressed by those 16. Looking back at this period, I was rather naive back then.
It all changed when I started to look into the global warming issue at the end of 2008 and began to realize that all was not what it seems. Initially it was very hard to find convincing answers from the skeptic side. This however had more to do with my own bias at the time. If I found skeptic sources, I dismissed their arguments almost immediately.
To make things easier, I had the idea to go back to the basics and then I remembered the movie. Still thinking that the arguments would be basically true, albeit exaggerated, I wanted to see the movie to come up to speed with the basic arguments.
Then I got the surprise of my live: googling the name of the movie brought up more links that handled the scientific errors in the movie than its merits. I remember one of those sites listing numerous mistakes/inaccuracies/misrepresentation and my surprise that I could keep on scrolling to get to the bottom of that page… That had certainly an effect on me. If so many mistakes were present in the movie and none of those surfaced in the real world, then how reliable was the information that I got until then?
What also got me puzzled was the format: a (pimped up) slideshow presentation. A presentation seems more like a corporate way to convince people. This presentation was given already before the movie, so I wondered whether business people might be the original target group of this presentation? That impression even grew when I came to know that Al Gore started a carbon trading business the previous year. So it is not exactly implausible that those might been the target group. They have the money and scaring the hell out of them would help to get their wallets out. That thought immediately deflated his hero status. He might just be an opportunist who noticed a scare and saw the opportunity to make big bucks of the gullibility of the people.
Going back to the title, also the “really smart” part puzzled me. I had the impression that that was in the title to give the impression that one would be smart if one accepts the message of the movie. What I missed in the testimonies of those 16 “really smart” people was a critical mindset. It just seem to fit the narrative (many seem to be environmentally active). They found the movie persuasive, but what is the value of being persuasive if it is not a truthful representation of the facts in the first place? The movie reported only on one side of the story. I don’t challenge their intelligence in other areas, but accepting on face value of an emotional appeal from a politician who just started a business (that would gain from scaring the people with climate horror stories) is not exactly what I would call “smart”.