PLEASE NOTE: This transcript is being provided for educational purposes only to be used in conjunction with a university course designed to raise awareness of the serious environmental issues that the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth addresses. The kind understanding of the filmmakers will be appreciated with respect to any copyright issues which may arise, and it is hoped that permission to use this material will be granted so that the message Mr. Al Gore puts forth may be disseminated among the students participating in this course.
Students are encouraged to purchase their own copies of this important documentary on DVD.
Tony Del Vecchio, M.Ed.
(Background: 2000 election debacle in Florida. Supreme Court throws the decision to Bush.)
Gore: While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome.
Well, that was a hard blow. But what do you do? You make the best of it. It brought into clear focus, the mission that I had been pursuing for all these years. I started giving the slide show again.
One often unnoticed effect of global warming is it causes more precipitation, but more of it coming in one-time big storm events because the evaporation off the oceans puts all the moisture up there when storm conditions trigger the downpour, more of it falls down. The insurance industry has actually noticed this. Their recovered losses are going up. See the damage from these severe weather events. And 2005 is not even on this yet. When it does, it will be off that chart.
Effects of Global Warming
Europe has just had a year very similar to the one we’ve had where they say nature has just been going crazy. All kinds of unusual catastrophes, like a nature hike through the book of Revelations.
Flooding in Asia. Mumbai, India this past July (2005): 37 inches of rain in 24 hours, by far the largest downpour that any city in India has ever received. A lot of flooding in China, also. Global warming paradoxically causes not only more flooding, but also more drought. This neighboring province right next door had a severe drought at the same time these areas were flooding. One of the reasons for this has to do with the fact that global warming not only increases precipitation worldwide, but it also relocates the precipitation. Focus most of all on this part of Africa just on the edge of the Sahara. Unbelievable tragedies have been unfolding there and there are a lot reasons for it. Darfur and Niger are among those tragedies. One of the factors that has been compounding this is the lack of rainfall and the increasing drought. This is Lake Chad, once one of the largest lakes in the world. It has dried up over the last few decades to almost nothing, vastly complicating the other problems that they also have. The second reason why this is a paradox: Global warming creates more evaporation off of the oceans to seeds the clouds, but it sucks moisture out of the soil. Soil evaporation increases dramatically with higher temperatures. And that has consequences for us in the United States, as well.
Change and Timescales
(Gore revisits the family farm and reminisces about growing up there.)
The places where people live were chosen because of the climate pattern that has been pretty much the same on Earth since the end of the last ice age. Here on this farm, the patterns are changing. It seems gradual in the course of a human lifetime but in the course of time as defined by this river, it’s happening very, very quickly.
A Canary in the Coal Mine: The Arctic
Two canaries in the coal mine. The first one is in the Arctic. Of course the Arctic Ocean has a floating ice cap, Greenland on its side there. I say canary in the coal mine because the Arctic is one part of the world that is experiencing faster impact from global warming. This is the largest ice shelf in the Arctic, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. It just cracked in half three years ago. The scientists were astonished.
These are called drunken trees just going every which way. This is not caused by wind damage or alcohol consumption. These trees put their roots down in the permafrost and the permafrost is thawing, so they just go every which way now.
This building was built on the permafrost and collapsed as the permafrost thawed. This woman’s house has had to be abandoned. The pipeline is suffering a great deal of structural damage. Incidentally, the oil that they want to produce in that protected area in northern Alaska, which I hope they don’t. They have to depend on trucks to go in and out of there and the trucks go over the frozen ground. This shows the number of days that the tundra in Alaska is frozen enough to drive on it. 35 years ago it was 225 days a year. Now it’s below 75 days a year because the spring comes earlier and the fall comes later and the temperatures just keep on going up.
Fastest Temperature Increase Occurs at the Arctic
I went up to the North Pole. I went under that ice cap in a nuclear submarine that surfaced through the ice like this. Since they started patrolling in 1957 they have gone under the ice and measured with their radar looking upward to measure how thick it is because they can only surface where the thickness of the ice is 3 and half feet thick or less. So they have kept a meticulous record and they wouldn’t release because it was national security. I went up there in order to persuade them to release them, and they did. And here’s what that record showed.
Starting in 1970 there was a precipitous drop off in the amount and extent and thickness of the Arctic ice cap. It has diminished by 40 percent in 40 years. There are two studies showing that in the next 50 to 70 years, in summertime, it will be completely gone. Now you might say, “Why is that a problem? How could the Arctic ice cap actually melt so quickly?” When the sun’s rays hit the ice, more than 90 percent of it bounces off right back into space like a mirror. But when it hits the open ocean more than 90 percent is absorbed. As the surrounding water gets warmer, it speeds up the melting of the ice. Right now the arctic ice cap acts like a giant mirror. All the sun’s rays bounce off, more than 90 percent, to keep the Earth cooler. But as it melts and the open ocean receives that sun’s energy instead, more than 90 percent is absorbed. So there is a faster build up of heat here, at the North Pole, in the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic generally, than anywhere else on the planet. That’s not good for creatures like polar bears that depend on the ice. A new scientific study shows that for the first time they’re finding polar bears that have actually drowned, swimming long distances up to 60 miles to find the ice. They did not find that before. What does it mean to us to look at a vast expanse of open water at the top of our world that used to be covered by ice? We ought to care a lot because it has planetary effects.
Earth’s Climate is an Engine
The Earth’s climate is like a big engine for redistributing heat from the equator to the poles. It does that by means of ocean currents and wind currents. They tell us, the scientists do, that the Earth’s climate is a non-linear system. It’s a fancy way they have of saying that the changes are not all just gradual. Some of them come suddenly in big jumps. On a worldwide basis, the annual average temperature is about 58 degrees Fahrenheit. If we have an increase of 5 degrees, which is on the low end of the projections, look at how that translates globally. That means an increase of only 1 degree at the equator, but more than 12 degrees at the poles. So all those wind and ocean current patterns that have formed since the last ice age and have been relatively stable, they are all up in the air and they change. One of the ones they are most worried about where they have spent a lot of time studying the problem is in the North Atlantic, where the Gulf Stream comes up and meets the cold wind coming off the arctic over Greenland and evaporates the heat out of the Gulf Stream and the stream is carried over to western Europe by the prevailing winds and the Earth’s rotation. Isn’t it interesting that the whole ocean current system is all linked together in this loop? They call it the ocean conveyor. The red are the warm surface current, the Gulf Stream is the best known of them. The blue represents the cold currents running in the opposite direction. We don’t see them at all because they run along the bottom of the ocean. Up in the North Atlantic, after that heat is pulled out, what’s left behind is colder water and saltier water, because salt doesn’t go anywhere. That makes it denser and heavier. That cold, dense heavy water sinks at a rate of 5 billion gallons per second. That pulls that current back south.
Disruption of the Ocean Conveyor
At the end of the last ice age, as the last glacier was receding from North America, the ice melted and a giant pool of fresh water formed in North America. The Great Lakes are the remnants of that huge lake. An ice dam on the eastern border formed, and one day it broke. All that fresh water came rushing out, ripping open the St. Lawrence, there. It diluted the salty dense cold water, made it fresher and lighter so it stopped sinking. And that pump shut off and the heat transfer stopped, and Europe went back into an ice age for another 900 or 1000 years. The change from conditions we have here today to an ice age took place in perhaps as little as 10 years’ time. That is a sudden jump. Of course that’s not going to happen again, because the glaciers of North America are not there. Is there any big chunk of ice anywhere near there? Oh yeah, (pointing at Greenland). We’ll come back to that one.
Politics: Reagan, Bush1 and Kyoto
It is extremely frustrating to me to communicate over and over again as clearly as I can. And we are still by far the worst contributor to the problem. I look around and look for really meaningful signs that we are about to really change. I don’t see it right now.
(Video clips of three politicians speaking.)
Ronald Reagan: Very reputable scientists have said that one factor of air pollution is oxides of nitrogen from decaying vegetation. This is what causes the haze that gave the Big Smokey Mountains their name.
George H.W. Bush: This guy is so far off on the environmental extremes, we’ll be up to our neck in owls and out of work for every American. This guy’s crazy!
Senator James Inhof: Even if humans were causing global warming, and we’re not, this could be maybe the greatest hoax perpetuated on the American People.
If it is not on the tips of their constituents’ tongues, it’s easy for them to ignore it. They say, “Well, let’s deal with that tomorrow.”
Predator/Prey Disruptions and Misplaced Cities
So this same phenomenon of changing all these patterns is also affecting the seasons. Here is a study from the Netherlands. The peak arrival date for migratory birds 25 years ago was April 25. Their chicks hatched on June 3, just at the time when the caterpillars were coming out: Nature’s plan. But 20 years of warming later the caterpillars peaked two weeks earlier. The chicks tried to catch up with it, but they couldn’t. So they are in trouble.
There are millions of ecological niches that are affected by global warming in just this way.
This is the number of days with frost in southern Switzerland over the last one hundred years. It has gone down rapidly. But now watch this. This is the number of invasive exotic species that have rushed in to fill the new ecological niches that are opening up.
That’s happening here in the United States too. You’ve heard of the pine beetle problem? Those pine beetles used to be killed by the cold winters, but there are fewer days of frost. So the pine trees are being devastated. This is part of the 14 million acres of spruce trees in Alaska that have been killed by bark beetles, the exact same phenomenon. There are cities that were founded because they were just above the mosquito line. Nairobi is one. Harare is another. There are plenty of others. Now the mosquitoes with warming are climbing to higher altitudes.
There are a lot of vectors for infectious diseases that are worrisome to us that are also expanding their range, not only mosquitoes but all these others as well. We’ve had 30 so-called new diseases that have emerged in just the last quarter century. A lot of them like SARS have caused tremendous problems. The resistant forms of tuberculosis. There are others. There has been a re-emergence of some diseases that were once under control. The Avian flu, of course, is quite a serious matter, as you know. West Nile Virus came to the eastern shore of Maryland in 1999. Two years later it was across the Mississippi. And two years after that it had spread across the continent. These are very troubling signs.
Coral reefs all over the world, because of global warming and other factors, are bleaching and they end up like this. All the fish species that depend on the coral reef are also in jeopardy as a result. Overall species loss is now occurring at a rate 1000 times greater than the natural background rate.
The Second Canary: Antarctic Peninsula Sea Ice
This brings me to the second canary in the coal mine, Antarctica, the largest mass of ice on the planet by far. A friend of mine said in 1978, “If you see the break up of ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula, watch out, because that should be seen as an alarm bell for global warming.” And actually, if you look at the peninsula up close, every place where you see one of these green blotches is an ice shelf larger than the state of Rhode Island that has broken up in just the last 15 to 20 years. I want to focus on just one of them called Larsen B.
I want you to look at these black pools here. It makes it seem almost as if we are looking through the ice to the ocean beneath. But that’s an illusion. This is melting water that forms in pools. If you were flying over it in a helicopter, you’d see it’s 700 feet tall. They are so majestic, so massive. In the distance are the mountains, and just before the mountains is the shelf of the continent. This is floating ice, and there is land-based ice on the down-slope of those mountains. From here to the mountains is about 20 to 25 miles. They thought this would be stable for at least a hundred years, even with global warming. The scientists who study these ice shelves were absolutely astonished when they were looking at these images. Starting on January 31, 2002, in a period of 35 days, this ice shelf completely disappeared. They could not figure out how in the world this happened so rapidly. They went back to figure out where they had gone wrong. That’s when they focused on those pools of melting water. Even before they could figure out what had happened there, something else started going wrong. When the floating sea-based ice cracked up, it no longer held back the ice on the land. The land-based ice then started falling into the ocean. It was like letting the cork out of a bottle. There’s a difference between floating ice and land-based ice. It’s like the difference between an ice cube floating in a glass of water, which when it melts doesn’t raise the level of water in the glass, and a cube sitting atop a stack of ice cubes, which melts and flows over the edge. That’s why the citizens of these pacific nations had all had to evacuate to New Zealand.
West Antarctica Land Based Ice
I want to focus on West Antarctica, because it illustrates two factors about land-based ice and sea-based ice. It’s a little of both. It’s propped on tops of islands, but the ocean comes up underneath it. So as the ocean gets warmer, it has an impact on it. If this were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet. They’ve measured disturbing changes on the underside of this ice sheet. It’s considered relatively more stable, however, than another big body of ice that is roughly the same size. Greenland would also raise sea level almost 20 feet if it went. A friend of mine has just brought back some pictures of what’s going on in Greenland right now. Dramatic changes. These are the same kinds of pools that formed here, on this ice shelf in Antarctica. And the scientists thought that when that water seeped back into the ice, it would just refreeze. But they found out that actually what happens is that it just keeps on going, It tunnels to the bottom and makes the ice like Swiss cheese, sort of like termites. This shows what happens to the crevasses, and when lakes form, they create what are called moulins. The water goes down to the bottom and it lubricates where the ice meets the bedrock.
See these people here for scale? This is not the edge of Greenland. This is the middle of the ice mass. This is a massive rushing torrent of fresh melt water tunneling straight down through the Greenland ice to the bedrock below. Now, to some extent, there has always been seasonal melting and moulins have formed in the past, but not like now.
Impact of 20 Foot Rise in Sea Level
In 1992, they measured this amount of melting in Greenland. Ten years later, this is what happened. And here is the melting from 2005. Tony Blair’s scientific advisor has said that because of what is happening in Greenland right now, the maps of the world will have to be redrawn. If Greenland broke up and melted, or if half of Greenland and half of West Antarctica broke up and melted, this is what would happen to the sea level in Florida. This is what would happen in the San Francisco Bay. A lot of people live in these areas. The Netherlands, the low-countries: absolutely devastating. The area around Beijing is home to tens of millions of people. Even worse, in the area around Shanghai, there are 40 million people. Worse still, Calcutta and, to the east, Bangladesh: the area covered includes 60 million people. Think of the impact of a couple hundred thousand refugees when they are displaced by an environmental event and then imagine the impact of a hundred million or more. Here is Manhattan. This is the World Trade Center Memorial Site. After the horrible events of 9/11 we said, “Never again.” But this is what would happen to Manhattan. They can measure this precisely, just as the scientists could predict precisely how much water would breech the levees in New Orleans. The area where the World Trade Center Memorial is to be located would be under water. Is it possible that we should prepare against other threats besides terrorists? Maybe we should be concerned about other problems as well.
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