For cinema lovers or ecologists, the title of this post should be familiar. Obviously I will be talking about An Inconvenient Truth (2006) directed by Davis Guggenheim. The main topic of the documentary is the phenomenon of global warming as seen by the Vice President and Almost-A-President-But-Not-Quite :-) Al Gore. The film was highly acclaimed by both critics and U.S. audience. The question is if they really took the message to their hearts or if they forgot about it just after leaving the cinema.
I can highly recommend the movie, it opens your eyes on issues which you don't hear that often about in media. Granted, you hear someone mention global warming regularly, but how many of us really looked at scientific research regarding the dependency between CO2 emission and an average air temperature? How many of us knew about glaciers disappearing at an alarming rate on Kilimanjaro or in Himalayas? Or, that soon it won't be even possible to symbolically „conquer” the North Pole by raising a flag there, because there will be nothing to stick the flag into. Unless a pontoon counts as a good support :-(
Another issue, which was rightfully raised in the film, was something known in open source terminology as FUD – “Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt”. FUD practices are in this case used widely by organizations lobbying against restricting CO2 emissions, by saying that the global warming is just a theory or that we don't know for sure that the phenomenon is caused by humans, etc. George W. Bush when asked about his opinion regarding An Inconvenient Truth said: “we need to set aside whether or not greenhouse gases have been caused by mankind or because of natural effects” (he didn't want to see the movie, BTW). Watching the media blindly, especially as controlled by corporations as they are in the USA, one can definitely begin to doubt if the greenhouse effect really takes place. Nevertheless, when analysed scientific articles published in renowned journals, Gore found that none of them questioned the fact that human civilization has a dominant effect on global warming.
Why do I think that Americans should take it to heart? It's also explained in the movie itself; the USA alone produce something like 30% of the world wide emission of greenhouse gases. Even when counting the per-citizen number, they are still well in the lead. Gore rightly points out, that they should start cleaning up the world from themselves. No exaggeration; having an opportunity to visit this country I couldn't help noticing to how much extent consumption way of life is popular there. For instance, it was amazing to see a highway having five lanes in each direction clogged by a traffic jam. Below, highway 101 going through Mountain View, which as you can see is pretty empty because the photo was taken on Sunday:
In addition to that, their cars are not like our European or Japanese “toys”. The average engine size here is probably about 1.3 litres, while in the U.S. you would look lame without a 3 litre! Hence, an average fuel consumption in Europe is something like 6 l/100 km and on the other side of the pond – 10 l/100 km. It's not surprising that the recent price increase over 3 dollars per gallon caused a large outcry (U.S. gallon is about 3.8 litres – calculate with Google how much Americans paid for gas after converting to euros).
Compared to our prices this is really cheap, but clearly high fuel price here led to using more efficient and environment friendly technologies. In Japan, for instance, there is even a special category of small cars, called Kei car, which must fit in certain norms regarding engine's displacement and external size. They are distinguished with special license plates and their owners get discounts in taxes and insurance.
What can a proverbial John Doe do in order to minimize his negative impact on the environment? One can change a lot by just choosing a right mode of transport. If you can, prefer a walk, bicycle or mass transit. If you have to drive a car, select one with a modest size engine and reasonably modern (better efficiency). One can also, though it's rather for wealthier people, buy a hybrid car (quite popular in California; Google offers a discount for their employees :-)) or an electric one (in this case, a friedly employer can offer free charging):
There is a multitude of ways to make reasonable savings without totally sacrificing the way of life, there is no point in listing them all here. What's important is the awareness of the problem and putting pressure on the government to not ignore it. Al Gore does a great job here, undoubtedly having a gift of convincing, but also making an honest research beforehand. One can't ignore the fact that Al Gore invented the Internet :-) Well, not quite, but he did put a lot of effort into passing the High Performance Computing Act in the USA, which allowed sponsoring of Internet projects. For example Mosaic was one of the projects funded as a result of this act. Internet grandpas know, that Mosaic was one of the first significant WWW browsers, and it was open source (BTW, later it was used as a foundation of Internet Exploder from Microsoft). Maybe as a president he could lead the USA into signing the Kyoto Protocol, which was ignored by them as one of very few countries. Unfortunately the swindle with the 2000 election did not allow him to become the President. I just can't understand how almost 50% of the society could vote for this monkey, though looking at Polish experience with recent elections I'm beginning to doubt if common sense exists. I recommend a little known film showing some part of “backstage” life of Gore – a really reasonable man:
The next film waiting in the queue is another ecological documentary – Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) – watch this space for a review soon.