By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007
FEDERAL WAY, Wash., Jan. 24 -- Frosty E. Hardison is neither impressed nor surprised that "An Inconvenient Truth," the global-warming movie narrated by former vice president Al Gore, received an Oscar nomination this week for best documentary.
"Liberal left is all over Hollywood," he grumbled a few hours after the nomination was announced.
Hardison, a parent of seven here in the southern suburbs of Seattle, has himself roiled the global-warming waters. It happened early this month when he learned that one of his daughters would be watching "An Inconvenient Truth" in her seventh-grade science class.
"No you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation -- the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet -- for global warming," Hardison wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School Board. The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.
His angry e-mail (along with complaints from a few other parents) stopped the film from being shown to Hardison's daughter.
The teacher in that science class, Kay Walls, says that after Hardison's e-mail she was told by her principal that she would receive a disciplinary letter for not following school board rules that require her to seek written permission to present "controversial" materials in class.
The e-mail also pressured the school board to impose a ban on screenings of the film for the district's 22,500 students.
The ban, which the school board says was merely a "moratorium," was lifted Tuesday night, subject to rigorous conditions. Still, the action has appalled the film's producers and triggered a ferocious national backlash.
Members of the school board say they have been bombarded by thousands of e-mails and phone calls, many of them hurtful and obscene, accusing them of scientific ignorance, pandering to religion and imposing prior restraint on free speech.
It has been a terrible ordeal, school board member David Larson said during a long, emotional speech at the board meeting.
"I am here to foster healing in our community," he said, while noting with sadness that "civility and honest discourse are dying in our country."
What the school board had really intended to do, Larson and school board members insisted, was not to stop schools from teaching the science of global warming, but merely to follow long-standing school board rules that require students to be exposed to "other perspectives" when they view a film like "An Inconvenient Truth."
"We do not need to lose balance in order to save the Earth," Larson said.
Exactly what "balance" might amount to, however, was not spelled out.
The National Academy of Sciences, together with nearly all of the world's leading climate experts, have agreed that there is conclusive evidence that human activity is causing the Earth to warm and that there is an urgent need to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the air.
In public comments at the board meeting, several riled-up Federal Way residents argued that "An Inconvenient Truth" was, indeed, scientifically true and that saying otherwise is "deliberate obfuscation."
These residents derisively compared the search for "balance" in the global-warming issue to decades of phony claims by cigarette companies about the lack of "proof" that smoking is harmful to human health.
Before the board meeting started Tuesday night, several residents buttonholed Larson and asked him if there should be a "balanced" presentation of the Nazi Holocaust, because there are many who deny that it occurred.
"The Holocaust happened," Larson said. "We have evidence and photos. The difference between the Holocaust and the global warming is we don't have photos of what will happen 50 years from now."
Sitting in on this conversation was Walls, the seventh-grade science teacher whose class includes Frosty Hardison's daughter.
"We do have photos of snow melting off Kilimanjaro," Walls said, hopefully.
In the end, though, the board opted for an abundance of balance.
That means that "An Inconvenient Truth" may be shown only with the written permission of a principal -- and only when it is balanced by alternative views that are approved by both a principal and the superintendent of schools.
Hardison was pleased.
"I am happy they are giving the kids as much information as possible," he said.
His daughter's science teacher, meanwhile, said she is struggling to find authoritative articles to counter the information in the Gore documentary.
"The only thing I have found so far is an article in Newsweek called 'The Cooling World,' " Walls said.
It was written 37 years ago.