By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 12, 2007
LONDON, Oct. 11 -- A British judge has ruled that Al Gore's Oscar-winning film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," contains "nine errors."
High Court Judge Michael Burton, deciding a lawsuit that questioned the film's suitability for showing in British classrooms, said Wednesday that the movie builds a "powerful" case that global warming is caused by humans and that urgent means are needed to counter it.
But he also said Gore makes nine statements in the film that are not supported by current mainstream scientific consensus. Teachers, Burton concluded, could show the film but must alert students to what the judge called errors.
The judge said that, for instance, Gore's script implies that Greenland or West Antarctica might melt in the near future, creating a sea level rise of up to 20 feet that would cause devastation from San Francisco to the Netherlands to Bangladesh. The judge called this "distinctly alarmist" and said the consensus view is that, if indeed Greenland melted, it would release this amount of water, "but only after, and over, millennia."
Burton also said Gore contends that inhabitants of low-lying Pacific atolls have had to evacuate to New Zealand because of global warming. "But there is no such evidence of any such evacuation," the judge said.
Another error, according to the judge, is that Gore says "a new scientific study shows that for the first time they are finding polar bears that have actually drowned swimming long distances up to 60 miles to find ice." Burton said that perhaps in the future polar bears will drown "by regression of pack-ice" but that the only study found on drowned polar bears attributed four deaths to a storm.
The ruling comes amid speculation that Gore will win the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his work on global warming.
Kalee Kreider, a spokesman for Gore, said the former vice president is "gratified that the courts verified that the central argument of 'An Inconvenient Truth' is supported by the scientific community." She said that "of the thousands and thousands of facts presented in the film, the judge apparently took issue with a handful."
Kreider also said that Gore believes the film will educate a generation of young people about the "climate crisis" and that the "debate has shifted from 'Is the problem real?' to 'What can be done about it?' "
Burton's ruling said that there is "now common ground that it is not simply a science film -- although it is clear that it is based substantially on scientific research and opinion -- but that it is a political film, albeit of course not party political." Burton said Gore's errors "arise in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of his political thesis."
Global warming has been a particularly big issue in Britain, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he wants to make his country a world leader in limiting carbon emissions.
Earlier this year, British education officials began distributing DVDs of Gore's film to state schools as part of a package designed to educate 3 million secondary school students on climate change.
The lawsuit was brought by Stewart Dimmock, a local school official who has two sons in state schools, in an attempt to block the education department's program. He claimed the film was inaccurate, politically biased and "sentimental mush" and therefore unsuitable for schools.
Dimmock, who belongs to the tiny New Party, told reporters he was "elated" at the ruling. He said guidance and context that teachers now must give along with the film means that students will not be "indoctrinated with this political spin." But he said he was disappointed the film wasn't banned outright from schools.
A spokesman for the Department of Children, Schools and Families said the agency was "delighted" that students could continue to see Gore's film. It has noted that the judge did not disagree with the film's main point -- that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are causing serious climate consequences.