Inconvenient Indoctrination

Climate Change, Commentary, Education, Environment, Michael Zwaagstra

As Canadians shiver through the coldest winter in years, global warming is very far from most people’s minds. And yet, those who assert that global warming is human caused will doubtless continue to insist on showing their favourite propaganda movie to students in public school classrooms at all grade levels.

An Inconvenient Truth, produced and hosted by former United States vice-president Al Gore, presents the classic view of global warming and claims that human greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for significant climate change. It also states that catastrophic weather events (such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005) are increasing in frequency largely because of human-caused climate change. Teachers love to use it, as does apparently the CBC, which aired it three times over the recent holidays.

Is it fair to call An Inconvenient Truth propaganda? A British judge thinks so, which means that a recent court decision might finally reverse the disturbing trend of presenting Gore’s film as fact.

When the United Kingdom government announced it would distribute a copy of the movie to every secondary school in the country, Stuart Dimmock, a concerned father of two, launched a lawsuit claiming schools should not be party to promoting propaganda to students. He sought to have the movie removed from public schools. The result was a ruling from Judge Michael Burton that found that An Inconvenient Truth had major scientific inaccuracies, was not unbiased, and could not be shown in public schools without a strong disclaimer.

In his ruling, Judge Burton identified nine scientific errors in the movie that were serious enough to warrant correction. Among other things, Judge Burton found that some claims in the movie, such as the contention that sea levels could increase by as much as 20 feet in the near future, were exaggerated by several orders of magnitude, while other claims, namely that disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are occurring because of human-caused global warming, are simply not supported by the evidence.

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments in An Inconvenient Truth is the dramatic scene of polar bears drowning in the middle of the ocean due to the melting of the polar ice caps. While watching these hapless polar bears, viewers hear Al Gore authoritatively state that scientific studies had shown that this type of tragic event was already happening. However, the only scientific study Judge Burton could find on this matter was one in which four polar bears drowned as a result of a storm—hardly what the movie was depicting.

In another poignant scene, Al Gore displays a graph showing a correlation between CO2 levels and increased global temperatures and trumpets this as proof that increased human-caused CO2 emissions are directly responsible for global warming. As Judge Burton points out, Gore fails to clarify that, while there is a correlation between these two variables, the reality is that the historical record shows that global temperatures have actually increased before CO2 levels increased. In other words, the graph does not show that increased CO2 levels are a cause of increased global temperatures.

While one hopes that teachers take the time to point out these and other discrepancies in this movie, the wholesale way in which many schools have adopted saving the earth as their primary mission leaves little cause for optimism.

Public schools are supposed to be centres of knowledge that encourage learning and allow for a diversity of opinion. As institutions of learning, it is important to ensure that the information students receive is as objective and unbiased as possible. The fact that a judge had to order the education department to attach a warning label stating that a mandated video had substantial biases is deeply concerning.

Teachers need to ensure that students receive a rigorous education where they learn the facts and all the different perspectives—regardless of whether they fit into the popular version of environmentalism.

Receiving an education should mean, among other things, that students are being trained to develop their critical thinking skills. In order for this to happen, they need to learn as much as possible about the world around them. This includes being exposed to a wide variety of theories and being taught how to make critical judgements based on the evidence presented.

Hopefully this court ruling serves as a wake-up call to public schools and encourages a more balanced presentation of environmental issues in the classroom.