Earning $49 million at the box office worldwide, An Inconvenient Truth is the fourth-highest-grossing documentary film to date in the United States (in nominal dollars, from 1982 to the present), after Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins and Sicko.
An Inconvenient Truth focuses on Al Gore and his travels in support of his efforts to educate the public about the severity of the climate crisis. Gore says, "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." The film closely follows a Keynote presentation (dubbed "the slide show") that Gore presented throughout the world. It intersperses Gore's exploration of data and predictions regarding climate change and its potential for disaster with Gore's life story.
It weaves in events that changed his world view, including his college education with early climate expert Roger Revelle at Harvard University, his sister's death from lung cancer, and his young son's near-fatal car accident. Throughout the film, Gore makes comments regarding his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 United States presidential election. For comic effect, Gore also uses a clip from the Futurama episode "Crimes of the Hot" to explain global warming.
In the slide show Gore reviews the scientific opinion on climate change, discusses the politics and economics of global warming, and describes the consequences he believes global climate change will produce if the amount of human-generated greenhouse gases is not significantly reduced in the very near future. A centerpoint of the film is his examination of the annual temperature and CO2 levels for the past 650,000 years in Antarctic ice core samples.
The film includes segments intended to refute critics who say that global warming is unproven or that warming will be insignificant. For example, Gore discusses the possibility of the collapse of a major ice sheet in Greenland or in West Antarctica, either of which could raise global sea levels by approximately 20 feet (6 m), flooding coastal areas and producing 100 million refugees. Melt water from Greenland, because of its lower salinity, could then halt the currents that keep northern Europe warm and quickly trigger dramatic local cooling there. The documentary ends with Gore arguing that if appropriate actions are taken soon, the effects of global warming can be successfully reversed by releasing less CO2 and planting more vegetation to consume existing CO2. Gore calls upon his viewers to learn how they can help him in these efforts.
Gore's book of the same title was published concurrently with the theatrical release of the documentary. The book contains additional information, scientific analysis, and Gore's commentary on the issues presented in the documentary. A 2007 documentary entitled An Update with Former Vice President Al Gore features Gore discussing additional information that came to light after the film was completed, such as Hurricane Katrina, coral reef depletion, glacial earthquake activity on the Greenland ice sheet, wildfires, and trapped methane gas release associated with permafrost melting.
The Associated Press contacted more than 100 climate researchers and questioned them about the film's veracity. All 19 climate scientists who had seen the movie said that Gore conveyed the science correctly. Professor Brian Soden, however, expressed concern about the coverage of topics for which there was not a scientific consensus, indicating "I thought the use of imagery from Hurricane Katrina was inappropriate and unnecessary in this regard, as there are plenty of disturbing impacts associated with global warming for which there is much greater scientific consensus."
In contrast, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, at the time chaired by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) issued a press release criticizing this article. Inhofe's statement that "global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" appears in the film. The majority of climate researchers have rejected Inhofe's views.
Eric Steig, a climate scientist writing on RealClimate, lauded the film's science as "remarkably up to date, with reference to some of the very latest research. Michael Shermer, scientific author and founder of The Skeptics Society, wrote in Scientific American that a lecture that Gore gave "shocked me out of my doubting stance".
As Vice President during the Clinton Administration, Gore pushed for the implementation of a carbon tax to modify incentives to reduce fossil fuel consumption causing fossil fuel to last longer and thereby decrease emission of greenhouse gases in the short term but not long term; it was partially implemented in 1993. He helped broker the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. However, it was not ratified in the United States after a 95 to 0 vote in the Senate. The primary objections stemmed from the exemptions the treaty gives to China and India, whose industrial base and carbon footprint are growing rapidly, and fears that the exemptions would lead to further trade imbalances and offshoring arrangement with those countries.
Gore also supported the funding of a satellite called Triana, to increase awareness of environmental issues and to take the first direct measurements of how much sunlight is reflected from the Earth. During his 2000 Presidential Campaign, Gore ran, in part, on a pledge to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
After his defeat in the 2000 presidential election by George W. Bush, Gore returned his focus to the topic. He edited and adapted a slide show presentation he had compiled years earlier, and began featuring the slide show in Power Point presentations on global warming across the U.S. and around the world. At the time of the film, Gore estimated he had shown the presentation more than one thousand times.
Producers Laurie David and Lawrence Bender saw Gore's slide show in New York City after the 2004 premiere of The Day After Tomorrow. Inspired, they met with director Davis Guggenheim about the possibility of making the slide show into a movie. Guggenheim, who was skeptical at first, later saw the presentation for himself, stating that he was "blown away," and "left after an hour and a half thinking that global warming [was] the most important issue. . . . I had no idea how you’d make a film out of it, but I wanted to try," he said.
At the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, the movie received three standing ovations. It was also screened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and was the opening night film at the 27th Durban International Film Festival on June 14, 2006. An Inconvenient Truth was the most popular documentary at the 2006 Brisbane International Film Festival.
The film has grossed over $24 million in the U.S. and over $49 million worldwide as of June 3, 2007, making it the fourth-highest-grossing documentary in the U.S. to date (after Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins and Sicko).
Al Gore has stated, "Tipper and I are devoting 100 percent of the profits from the book and the movie to a new bipartisan educational campaign to further spread the message about global warming. Paramount Classics is committing 5% of their domestic theatrical gross for the film to a new bipartisan climate action group, Alliance for Climate Protection, dedicated to awareness and grassroots organizing.
Critic Jayson Harsin emphasized the film's groundbreaking aesthetic qualities, as a new genre of "Powerpoint" film. In addition Harsin drew attention to its persuasive or rhetorical nature (instead of only its scientific claims), including the use of emotion in analogies to the danger of tobacco and to the universal identification with the fate of our children. He notes that the film's persuasive choices very likely fail in the end with what should be the film's target audience.
On 10 October 2007, Mr Justice Burton, after explaining that the requirement for a balanced presentation does not warrant that equal weight be given to alternative views of a mainstream view, ruled that it was clear that the film was substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political program. The film could then, on that basis, be shown, provided an accompanying explanation was given of its scientific errors, in order to prevent political indoctrination.
The judge concluded "I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that: 'Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate.'" On the basis of testimony from Robert M. Carter and the arguments put forth by the claimant's lawyers, the judge also pointed to nine 'errors', i.e. statements that he found to depart from the mainstream. He also found that some of these 'errors' arose in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of Al Gore's political thesis. Since the government had already accepted to amend the guidance notes to address these 'errors' along with other points in a fashion that the judge found satisfactory, no order was made on the application.
The Minister of Children, Young People and Families, Kevin Brennan, declared the outcome a victory for the government, stating: "We have updated the accompanying guidance, as requested by the judge to make it clearer for teachers as to the stated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change position on a number of scientific points raised in the film. Stewart Dimmock also declared victory but expressed dissatisfaction at the verdict, saying that "no amount of turgid guidance" could change his view that the film was unsuitable for the classroom. A spokesman for Gore said: "Of the thousands of facts in the film, the judge only took issue with just a handful. And of that handful, we have the studies to back those pieces up.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science publication ScienceNOW published an assessment discussing both sides of the NSTA decision in which it was reported that "David says NSTA's imprimatur [i.e. endorsement or sanction] was essential and that buying a mailing list is a nonstarter. 'You don't want to send out a cold letter, and it costs a lot of money,' she says. 'There are a thousand reasons why that wouldn't work.'.
In January 2007, the Federal Way (Washington State) School Board voted to require an approval by the principal and the superintendent for teachers to show the film to students and that the teachers must include the presentation of an approved "opposing view". The moratorium was repealed after broad public condemnation at the subsequent meeting on January 23.
Shortly thereafter, the school board in Yakima, Washington, calling the film a "controversial issue", prevented the Environmental Club of Eisenhower High School from showing it, pending review by the school board, teachers, principal, and parents. It lifted the stay a month later, upon the approval by a review panel.
Richard S. Lindzen wrote in a June 26, 2006 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that Gore was using a biased presentation to exploit the fears of the public for his own political gain. Roy Spencer wrote an open letter to Gore criticizing his presentation of climate science in the film, asserting that the Arctic had a similar temperature in the 1930s before the mass emissions of carbon dioxide began. Timothy F. Ball rejected Gore’s claim that there has been a sharp drop-off in the thickness of the Arctic ice cap since 1970, stating that the data was taken only from an isolated area of the Arctic and during a specific cooling period.
William Gray said of the movie: "We're brainwashing our children. They're going to the Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth and being fed all this. It's ridiculous. While discussing the companion book to the movie Gray said, "This is a slick propaganda book. The pictures are very good. But there are factual errors.
A March 13, 2007 article in The New York Times reported on concerns among some scientists about the tone and the accuracy of the film, noting that they "argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous." Gore's discussion of a rise in sea level of up to 20 feet, while not stating a timeframe, appears in contrast with a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts a maximum rise of 23 inches this century, excluding non-linear effects on ice sheets; although that too discusses the possibilities of higher rises if the ice sheets melt. The article also states that "a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore’s portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium." The article quotes both defenders and critics of the film; Gore responds that scientists may disagree with him on some details, "but we do agree on the fundamentals."
The documentary film The Great Global Warming Swindle, broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK in 2007, brought together skeptical scientists and others who disagree with the IPCC position regarding human-caused global warming. The film claims that Gore misrepresented the data in An Inconvenient Truth, and contends that the actual relationship between carbon dioxide and the temperature is the other way round (that is, rise in temperature preceded an increase in carbon dioxide in the ice core samples and therefore does so today). The claim that CO2 increases lag temperature increases in the historical ice core record is not disputed, but the inference that the same relationship holds today, and several other of The Great Global Warming Swindle's claims, have been disputed by scientists and scientific bodies such as John T. Houghton, the British Antarctic Survey, Eigil Friis-Christensen, and the Royal Society. The UK media regulator OfCom has since upheld some complaints against the programme (while rejecting others and declining to investigate the majority).
Review: "Eco-Apocalypse and the Powerpoint Film"http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/53/gore.htm