Preach it, brother

Billmon reviews An Inconvenient Truth, and its more of a lament for the fact that science and reason seem to have little compelling power to a nation raised on ranting idiots and authoritarian dogma.

In my darker moments, it sometimes seems as if the entire world is in the middle of a fierce backlash against the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and the ideological challenges they posed to the old belief systems. The forces of fundamentalism and obscurantism appear to be on the march everywhere—even as the moral and technological challenges posed by a global industrial civilization grow steadily more complex.

I think a lot of us have that feeling nowadays.


  1. G. Tingey says

    I’m afraid you’re right.

    Here in Britain, all the politicians are scrambling to make themselves attractive to the believers, of ANY “faith” – something that would not have bee even vaguely imaginable, 30 years ago.
    As with a lot of things, Thatcher is to blame – Blair is just taking it further, and faster.

    We are importing USA brain-dead churches, and we have a muslim minority, of whom about 1% are potentially dangerous – but that 1% is still well over 10 000 people!

    The USA seems to be heading steadily towards Gilead/The Prophet Scudder – though probably not until the 2016 “election”.
    The rest of Europe also has “lets be nice to believers idiocy on their plates, and then there’s “The muslim world” – who don’t care if muslim kills muslim, but get VERY excited if one muslim is even “insulted” by a kuffar.

    Not a good prospect.

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    If you really want to get scared (especially after that Dobrich business in Delaware), read Phillip Roth’s chillingly plausible The Plot Against America. Then try to tell me it can’t happen here…

  3. BlueIndependent says

    I saw Al’s movie AND read his book version. I have taken it upon myself to start spreading the facts on other forums I frequent. It’s probably my civic duty to continue spreading the word, especially since I’m an automobile enthusiast.

  4. Nima says

    It would be easier to take Billmon’s lament about America’s irrationality more seriously if he himself didn’t show the very same irrationality he decries. Part of America’s irrationality is the fact that, generally, people can’t see past PR bullshit and they accept at face value what our politicians say–which is exactly what Billmon did regarding Gore’s film. Kudos to Gore for talking about global warming, but that doesn’t change the fact that the film was essentially a cynical self-serving campaign commercial, which just happens to contain some very important info that people need to hear. See Susie Bright’s review. But does Billmon recognize any of this? Nope, according to him this movie shows the “real” Al Gore. When Gore decided to make this film, I’m sure the Billmon’s of the world were his target audience. Gore loving liberals are scarcely different from religious fundamentalists who are gullible enough to believe that George Bush is a man of faith. The only difference is that Gore educates people while he manipulates.

  5. says

    Okay, despite my cheerful submission to the SEED essay contest, I admit to having the same sense of despair as Billmon and the other commenters here. But I refuse to let it end there. For one thing, I’m too much of a grouch to stay depressed. How’s that for hope? (Joel Osteen’s a crybaby compared to me.)

    “Maybe as a species we really have reached the same evolutionary dead end as Australopithecus robustus – intelligent enough as a species to create problems we’re not bright enough, or adaptable enough, to solve. I don’t know.” I’ve thought this, too, and I don’t know, either; I remember asking PZ about the future of human evolution with this question in mind, a question that no one can really answer…

    But in regards to Al Gore schlepping his laptop alone through airports, and at the risk of quoting a dingleberry President, my response can only be: STAY THE COURSE. So intellectualism and facts and charts don’t have the highest high-kick compared to the Bush/Cheney Rockettes. I don’t care. They’ve got to pull a hamstring sometime, despite the Allelujah smile. Then, in the words of that Cheney aide, I’ll sit back and study how they did it.

    So Richard Dawkins has little gremlins posting nasty things about him, even on his birthday, and a lotto-winner sell-out telling him that he’s “not a scientist.” STAY THE COURSE, man! So Rapunzel got in touch with her inner witch and wrote a best-selling book saying for the first time since Stalin that biology is dead (yes, as Billman states, the public who swallows this stuff is the real problem). Lah-te-dah. Who the hell can kill biology? (Well, I guess we can, with global warming.)

    Stay the course. Who said this was easy? Did Darwin have it easy? Did Gallileo? Anti-intellectual vehicles and strategies are successful right now, but the last thing we need to do is stop the careful work of building our own just to imitate theirs. This is not a struggle just over facts but over methods, too. So stay the course.

  6. PaulC says


    but that doesn’t change the fact that the film was essentially a cynical self-serving campaign commercial, which just happens to contain some very important info that people need to hear.

    Err… look up “enlightened self interest.”

    Oh what a terrible shame that Gore has a personal incentive to do something that also happens to further the public good. Whenever we are tempted to do something good it should be an onerous burden so that only the very purest and noblest among us will ever consider sticking our necks out for a cause. Otherwise… well… we still might do something useful, but it just won’t be pure and noble enough, and what’s the use of that?

  7. says

    Nima, how do you know it doesn’t show the “real” Al Gore, and that Susie Bright isn’t the cynical, self-serving one? Have you actually met Gore? If you haven’t, have you met either Billmon or Bright? Are you just speaking ex cathedra, or do you actually have something real to say about Gore’s personality?

    And even if the movie is a glorified campaign commercial, so what? The first goal of any politician is to get elected. Because that’s what they do for a living. For you to say that Gore is somehow objectionable because he’s doing this job by not lying to you is so far beyond intellectually obscene that I can’t even imagine how you managed to reach that conclusion without shooting yourself in the face in a fit of nihilistic self-loathing.

  8. BlueIndependent says

    Nima, I don’t know what to make of your reply. Gore manipulates people with facts? I think it’s arguable the facts are doing the manipulation, gore is simply making the facts known.

    The movie had an election joke or two in it, but it was hardly a campaign commercial. You only see it that way because you seem to be subscribing to the “Gore’s a sore loser” tack the hard-right is all to keen to spread as quickly and cheaply as possible. Gore hardly even mentions Bush Co. in the movie. It’s one thing if Gore has a movie about Global Warming that has a couple Bush Co. references in it; It would’ve been entirely another if the entire movie blamed Bush Co. for Global Warming, an accusation the movie never makes because it’s obviouly absurd.

    The movie is hardly “cynical”, and in fact is not as harrowing and “alarming-sounding” as he could’ve made it. It could’ve been Al’s version of fire-n-brimstone you’re-gonna-die environmentalism; After having seen the film, I can tell you it is most definitely not a movie that beats you over the head with self-absorbed righteousness. If that’s all you get after going to see the flick, then chances are you let your preconceived notions of the man sit in that theater, not your brain.

    Yes people accetping PR bullcrap at face value is not a good thing for democracy. Nor is it smart, however, to decry a factual piece of evidence sold in a “PR” manner. Gore was smart to use the avenue he used. If it’s fact, it’s not PR bullcrap. PR bullcrap is inherently disingenuous. Gore’s movie is not.

    As far as Gore-loving liberals are concerned, I’m sorry defending somone is such a sin. I didn’t even vote for him in 2000, but now wish I had. I came around on Gore based on my own research and judgement of what other people said for and against, and decided he probably wasn’t all that bad a guy. I’d rather be a “Gore-loving liberal” armed with facts and reason, than a “Bush-loving conservative” turtle that doesn’t know the world outside his own shell, and is entirely incapable of learning from and adapting to it.

    BTW, I’ve relied on reviews before seeing movies before, and sometimes come away comepletely disagreeing. Using a movie critic to judge what Al Gore says is like using one company’s PR firm to judge the competition’s product objectively.

  9. Steve LaBonne says

    Gore isn’t running for anything. He genuinely cares deeply about this stuff. He was way ahead of the curve, years ago, in trying to call attention to it. Even James Hansen admits in his recent NYRB essay that Gore was more prescient than he was.

  10. says

    There was an interesting editorial the other day about why we won’t deal with global warming. It just does not fit into the kind of threats we are adapted to deal with. The author said one thing I thought was interesting and humorous. “Imagine the reaction if global warming was being produced by the gay community”. No way would we have this apathy.
    We will not react to it because it is too slow in coming, and there is no obvious person to blame for it (though I cold nominate a few).

  11. lo says

    well actually now, coz that is something i think you biologists need namely a decent physical education.

    Once you have a starting point for evolution (and nah this surely isn`t the cell but stellar nucleosynthesis you will see that time [itself a fictional construct relating to the flow of energy] JUST moves forward. By mere definition anything else is an impossibility. As does evolution. Regardless of whether this world annihilates or not IT STIll is evolution and higher more advanced structure would emerge. The problem just is that people and science hasn`t really changed all that much: a geocentric world view is still present everywhere, that in numbers the universe is teeming with life, locally absolutely irrelevant though due to those extreme distances, is something that seems to elude many. By pure logical reasoning one would have to question himself what he rather believes some perculiar fluke in statistics (which ultimately represent us) or well statistics which would lead to…well not it is your turn.

  12. squeaky says


    I haven’t seen Gore’s film or read his book, but I intend to. The very sad thing is people tend to turn him off without listening to him because of his politics–as if everything he has to say has a political agenda. I heard John Edward’s address to the graduates at UMaine this spring, and sadly, both liberals and conservatives came away saying, “too bad he gave a political speech.” His speech was on POVERTY. He is the director of UNC’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Could it be he actually has a passion to overcome poverty? Likewise, could it be Gore actually has a passion to overcome global warming and is legitimately and sincerely trying to get the facts out to us, the voting public?

  13. DFX says

    When you are discussing anything with political implications (which seems to be just about everything these days) how are you to keep politics out of it? How would one talk about global warming without discussing the need for our policies to change besides just our habits?

  14. James says

    I like this bit:

    > Maybe as a species we really have reached the same evolutionary dead end as Australopithecus robustus – intelligent enough as a species to create problems we’re not bright enough, or adaptable enough, to solve.

    An idea I’ve heard (from R. Dawkins I think) is that h. sapiens evolved into the ‘cognitive’ niche. ie. where we don’t have to evolve new instincts or physical attributes to survive, we just outthink our competitors (within a lifetime) and then pass on those ‘fit’ survival traits through culture.

    If that is so, then we’ve got smart enough to really screw ourselves.

    And it’s about time we got even smarter to prevent our own destruction (along with everything else).

    Which means moving beyond the social darwinism of ‘fitness’ of the individual in a ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ world and building on that cultural co-operation and transmission that got us here in the first place.

  15. says

    Re: the gay reference.

    You know what would turn around conservative thought on global warming?

    If we could only get a badly done but well-publicized “study” done linking an increase in homosexuality to global warming. Might need more than the Weekly World News to publish it, though :)

  16. Squeaky says

    Ritchie Annand–good one!

    Actually, though, what would turn things around is if we can find a way to convince conservatives that there is good money to be made in the business of combatting global warming. Which is actually true–unfortunately, the economical losers in that scheme are the oil and coal industries, who put our current administration in office. Now if they jump on board (as BP’s (Beyond Petroleum)propoganda tells us they have) things might change…

  17. Steve LaBonne says

    Let’s think about this- what’s warmer (notwithstanding the famous apocryphal thermodynamics exam answer), heaven or the other place? Right. Which means that the ultimate source of global warming is- SATAN! Every good Christian must fight global warming in order to save his soul! Preach it!

  18. Mena says

    Personally I find people like Nima who obsess about liberals every waking moment to be kind of funny. They strike me as the kinds of people who would also back a winning team to the point of painting thier faces in the team colors and wearing weird wigs. It seems to be a battle of perceived toughness, not actual facts or ideas. I just wish that they would go the sports route and leave the politics and governing stuff to the grown ups.

  19. says

    Yes, but Satan is part of God’s plan, Steve.

    I’ve actually heard that–global warming, if true, is part of Jesus’s return, blah, blah. People can spin anything.

  20. darthWilliam says

    Ritchie Annand – We don’t need Weekly World News to publish it, but have the Onion do it and the fundies will think its serious news! :-)


  21. jamsiol says

    The real inconvenient truth is climate scientists are having as much success predict future climate as economists have predicting the stock market.
    So it’s not surprising that most liberal scientists are falling head over heel for pseudo-scientific junk.

  22. James G says

    People seem to have an inherent aversion to the idea of multiple “contributing causes”, or influences on people. The think, if Gore says something about global warming, then it is ONLY because he is a liberal politician doing his job. They don’t state the “only,” but it is there implicitly.

    A better ‘only’ to use in reality would be this: people only act when there are multiple causes or influences both compelling and allowing them to act. Gore sincerely wants to help the environment, wants to educate people; but I’m sure like anyone else he wants to cash a paycheck and have a successful career too. Good for him I say, I think people like him should be rewarded.

    The rare person who does act from “pure” idealistic motives rarely does society much good, and could fairly be regarded as a madman.

    The whole beauty of capitalism, according to Adam Smith, is it aligns self-interest with the common good. It gives people both an idealistic reason and a practical reason for helping others. Virtually everyone seems to have lost sight of this fact today. People no longer think of a lowly worker in a toilet paper factory as “helping others,” for example. There is this modern myth that you have to be a doctor working in Africa, or a teacher in a horrible inner-city school in order to be virtuous and do good. In fact people love toilet paper just as much as they love education and healthcare, and it is nice of him to provide it.

    I think this extends to the marketing of politicians in a representative pseudo-democracy as well. Gore’s “agenda” is my agenda. At this point I really couldn’t care less how he has to corrupt his soul to get back in office, or to help the democrats, more power to him! However, I kind of doubt he will be a serious contender in ’08.

    PR bullshit may be annoying, but it isn’t anyone’s particular fault that it’s necessary. Until someone finds a way to raise the collective IQ a few dozen points, we’re stuck with it.

    I suspect that the cynical attitude of some of the Nimas out there is partially caused by resentment. If you don’t like the job Gore et. al. are doing, by all means, get out there and do it better.

    And I read Susie Bright’s “review.” It was idiotic. A prime example of why it’s a waste of time to read reviews from unprofessional movie reviewers, you don’t learn a damn thing about the movie, all you get is a bunch of chatter. The comments from her readers are instructive.

  23. PaulC says


    The real inconvenient truth is climate scientists are having as much success predict future climate as economists have predicting the stock market.

    There are two possibilities: the first is that dumping 30% additional carbon into the atmosphere will have some disruptive effect on climate that is partially understood but leaves some details open, the second is that somehow everything will just miraculously cancel out and we don’t need to worry about it. Which of these proposition is “junk science”?

    To use your analogy, it’s true that nobody can predict the day to day behavior of the stock market, but only a fool would think you could, for instance, raise interest rates steadily without having any effect.

    Given that nearly all climate scientists everywhere claim that human activities can have a significant impact on climate change, I can only conclude that you are a true “moonbat” who sees some kind of vast global conspiracy. I guess the black helicopters must be kidnapping all the climate scientists who want to tell the “real” story, huh? It must be a fascinating world of paranoia that you live in, jamsiol.

  24. says

    PaulC beat me to the stock market rebuttal! The best analogy I heard was that the stock market was like a ping-pong ball inside of a basketball being thrown through a hoop. The ping-pong ball represents the seemingly chaotic daily trend, but the arc of the basketball represents the real trend. That’s probably a good analogy for global warming as well.

  25. says

    The “keep politics out of it” line is often an attempt by those whose politics are affected by some “inconvenient truth” to shut it up.

    I’m glad that someone high profile is tackling this issue: unfortunately by being high profile Gore’s very name is rhetorically damaging. Of course, I don’t know who would be high profile, wouldn’t be rhetorically damaging and would be clued in.

  26. jamsiol says

    Actully they both are junkscience.
    You seem to be the moonbattish one who seems to think everyone including the government(black helicopters) want to censor the truth being told by poor climate scientists, and spoutting attacks at anyone who disagrees with you.
    Interestingly most mathematicians, engineers and physcists are more skeptical of climate scientists’ claims, probably because climate scientists’ “proofs” are not really rigorous by their standard.

  27. jamsiol says

    Kristine, if you do a little research you’ll see that economists are not actully having more success predicting long term stock market behavior than short term ones, because stock market is a feedback loop system, so it’s chaotic at both high and low levels.

  28. jamsiol says

    for example, if you look at a graph of stock market behavior, it does not become more smooth as you zoom in, in fact, it looks kinda similar on all levels, the graph of the behavior of stock market in one day looks pretty much the same as the graph of the same stock market in one year, it’s kinda like a fractal.

  29. Squeaky says

    Well, Jamsiol, climate change aside, the real problem is our dependence on a fossil fuel economy when most experts in the industry say that non-OPEC oil has already peaked and OPEC oil is close to peaking. Not only that, China is vying for our share in OPEC’s oil, and the Middle East is becoming increasingly unstable and hostile towards US interests. So whether or not fossil fuels are causing global warming (and it is difficult to argue that they aren’t), it is in our best interest to move away from that source of energy so we are not so dependant on volatile nations for our energy and our economy.

  30. PaulC says


    You seem to be the moonbattish one who seems to think everyone including the government(black helicopters) want to censor the truth being told by poor climate scientists,

    Err, no. Nobody’s censoring climate scientists. Just a few dumbshits are spreading their ignorant denial.

  31. PaulC says

    jamsiol: I also find it interesting that you could take two mutually exclusive hypotheses: (a) some significant effect or (b) no significant effect and declare both to be “junk science.”

  32. PaulC says

    Sorry, I posted in haste. The point isn’t that the possibilities are mutually exclusive, but that they cover all possible cases. Either we have some reason to believe that human activity can affect climate or we don’t. Human activity has created measurable and significant changes in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It would be remarkable if that had no effect on climate.

  33. PaulC says


    for example, if you look at a graph of stock market behavior, it does not become more smooth as you zoom in, in fact, it looks kinda similar on all levels, the graph of the behavior of stock market in one day

    A little chaos theory is indeed a dangerous thing. First off, you’re just wrong about the stock market. The long range behavior of equity markets has been to grow in real value, possibly by 10% or more (there’s some debate over the exact amount, but it is positive overall). That is due to productivity improvements because of improvements in technology and economies of scale. “Past performance is no guarantee of future success” even at this scale, but the overall trends observed by economists since at least Adam Smith have been backed up for centuries.

    Second, the point is not whether one can predict exactly what will happen to a chaotic function. One can still predict that a change in conditions will actually make the result even less predictable than it was. If the climate is already impossible to predict accurately, the accuracy of prediction will get even worse–hence more risk–if we change atmospheric conditions in a way that is not fully understood. To use another analogy, nobody has a good analysis of turbulent flow, but one can often state “under these conditions, flow because turbulent.”

  34. PaulC says

    Sorry again. “10% or more” should be “an average of 10% or more annually.”

  35. PaulC says

    In the further interest of accuracy, 10% or more is probably not real value, but value unadjusted for inflation. However, markets consistently beat inflation over long enough periods (or have since we’ve been measuring).

    To make the same point more concretely, take a look at the DOW since 1920 and tell me with a straight face that it is just as fractal-looking as the day-to-day behavior:

    The trend is clearly up overall with some specific dips due to unusual circumstances.