An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth: Part I
Greed, Delusion, & the Real Cause of Climate Change
[Scroll down for Parts II through VIII; for the actual movie, scroll all the way down.]
Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, & Jason Jones:
"But ALL the data is not in!"

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

Underlying "An Inconvenient Truth,"
There's a Scientific Fact of Life:

A Simple Experiment in a Ninth Grade Biology Class

Daniel Kriegman, Ph.D.

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore tells a story about a college professor who, many years ago, began to accumulate evidence of human induced climate change. This professor had a lot of influence on him; under the influence of that professor's tutelage, Al Gore's environmental interests germinated.

Four decades ago, I too was greatly influenced by an educator, the one who taught my ninth grade biology class. He was passionate about biology; he was my only high school teacher who continued on to get a Ph.D. in his subject.

He had us do a simple experiment that forever changed my view of the relationship between organisms and their environments. He had us each bring in an ordinary jar of clean, plain water, with a tight fitting screw-on cover. Then he had us add a variety of items to the jar and screw the top back on. We could add some grass, some pond water, some sugar and some human hair, or whatever we chose, as long as what we added could potentially introduce some life forms and nutrients into the otherwise sealed jar of water. We only did this once, at the beginning of the experiment.

Microscope slide with gridThen each day, we had to carefully open the jar, withdrew a pipette (an eyedropper full) of water, and immediately reseal the jar. We were instructed to carefully place one drop of the water from the pipette on a slide that had a microscopic grid etched into it. Placing the slide under a microscope, we then counted the number of micro-organisms we found within the squares of the grid. We kept a careful record of the results for a month.

Sometimes the "seeding" of the environment didn't "take," or at least no organisms that we could see with our high school's microscopes were produced. But in those cases where the experiment worked and micro-organisms were found, we averaged the results together to produce a chart that illustrated the lesson I never forgot. The chart looked something like this:

Bacterial growth chart in a closed environment

Our professor wanted us to learn about how organisms inevitably change their environments. And if the organisms were successful and the environment was a closed one, the changes were always lethal.

Of course, this made sense. If the original environment was one that supported the particular life form and the major change that we introduced was an organism that ingested nutrients in that environment and excreted waste products into a closed environment, then the success of the organism would inevitably pollute the environment making it deadly to the organism. The only reason that organisms don't typically destroy their environments is either because other organisms may be able to process some of the waste products (maintaining a balance among the environmental factors) or because the environments are not closed, for example, the original organisms move to new locations. Thus, the air that we breath in and out doesn't become fatally polluted with our exhaled carbon dioxide because fresh air which has had carbon dioxide removed and oxygen added by green plants moves into our living space.

Along with some friends, as a late adolescent, I repeated that experiment in college. Well, sort of. Like the old telephone booth experiment, we tried to see how many people could fit in a tiny, closed closet. We also added a test of endurance by seeing how long they could stay there. We expected the limiting factor to be psychological, i.e., boredom and/or claustrophobia. In fact, the participants gave up when they could no longer breath or stand the stifling heat. They polluted their closed environment and made it poisonous. We also found that this happened more quickly when the participants smoked cigarettes while in the closet ;-) Surprise, surprise.

[To watch Stephen Colbert interview environmental artist
Chris Jordan, left-click here; to download, right-click.]

Could such simple demonstrations have any implications for life on earth, and especially for humans? Indeed, even without sealed environments, life forms typically alter and pollute their living spaces and, if they don't move on, are stricken by the results.

For example, consider early attempts at city formation without sanitation and the waves of disease they spawned. Also consider repeatedly farming the same crops in the same place until the soil no longer supports them. These are examples of the same principle in a semi-closed/open system. Humans solved these particular problems with sanitation systems and crop rotation and fertilizer.

The ultimate application of that ninth grade science experiment was to a larger system that is quite "sealed," i.e., planet earth. Buckminster Fuller called our planet hurtling through space "Spaceship Earth." And like a spaceship our planet is completely sealed with almost nothing—with the exception of energy (electromagnetic radiation, e.g., infrared, light, x rays, etc., along with some space dust, and an occasional meteor or rocket ship )—coming in or going out.

But unlike our cities that we could pollute and make unlivable, the earth was too big for any one species to have such a devastating impact on the whole biosphere. Other problems always kept a species in check: predators, parasites/diseases, limited food supplies, droughts, etc. As humanity found solutions to these problems, our population began to explode and the once empty earth is finally getting acutely overcrowded. Now skyrocketing human population growth, skyrocketing skill at resource manipulation and consumption, and thus skyrocketing pollution are generating potentially catastrophic problems that may be far beyond any foreseeable technological solutions.

In the foreword to The Adaptive Design of the Human Psychea book I co-authored in 1991, I put my concern about the inevitable clash between human success and environmental realities like this:

"Recently I was told about an absurd statistical 'fact': in 4,000 years or so, at the current rate of reproduction, the aggregate mass of human flesh and bones will exceed the mass of the universe. Absurd because of the nature of making a prediction about humanity 4,000 years into the future. And absurd, of course, because all of the matter in the universe would need to be converted into human flesh. Yet, the inevitable catastrophic collision between human nature and reality—a collision that overpopulation and pollution suggest is already occurring—indicates that unless we change our ways, ugly human-generated horrors are as inevitable a part of our future as they were of our past. The small island of relative peace and safety that my parents provided for me and that, thus far, I have been able to provide for my children ultimately must be a blip in the tragic story of the human struggle for survival. With this knowledge, I either despair or turn to continue the work begun by Sigmund Freud. Not because of his particular insights. Rather, because despite the inadequacy of many of his ideas, he most clearly articulated our need to develop an understanding of the forces that define and live us—that operate upon and through us beyond our awareness—if we are ever to become masters of our own fate. To this end, I have found that new vistas—true visions—open up if we view ourselves through the lens of the theory of evolution. I hope we have done our work well enough to enable the reader to share this developing vision. I hope that as a species our capacity to envision enables us to provide our children and our children’s children with a chance to live relatively horror-free lives."

Though that book focused on re-envisioning Freudian psychoanalysis through the lens of evolutionary biology, as I noted then, the issue was not Freud's psychoanalytic insights. The issue was whether I could make a contribution toward helping our species see what we are doing and why. The issue was whether or not we had to continue to be inevitable, tragic victims of our own animal-driven, short-sighted behavior, or whether we could use our evolved minds and the accumulated store of human knowledge to make our future brighter, i.e., whether we could create "heaven on earth." (We can rephrase that for the more cynical, optimistically challenged pessimists among us ;-)

The scientific fact of life illustrated by that ninth grade experiment doesn't specify what particular problems a species will face when its success leads to a radically altered environment. Will it be defoliating the environment through over-consumption, like locusts? Will it be poisoning the living space with polluting waste products, as in early human cities or as with certain germs that cause fatal diseases that destroy their environments/hosts (and thus themselves)? Will it be the creation of new, overcrowding related fatal diseases? This principle about how life forms inevitably affect their environments doesn't tell us what problem a species' success will bring about. Rather, the principle tells us that if the species is successful enough and if the environment is closed enough, the species will eventually, inevitably alter its environment from one that once supported it to one that is far less hospitable.

Indeed, I had never heard of global warming or "the greenhouse effect" when the logic of this principle alerted me to the inevitable problems our geometrically increasing population explosion would produce. And while there are other environment altering effects that will also be devastating, global warming is simply the first one to start to reach the level of a "do or die" planet-wide crisis.

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.
If video fails to play, left-click here; to download, right-click.

[The rest of Stephen Colbert's interview can be viewed here].

Also Take a Look at
Colorado wildfires rage out of control.  Another product of climate change?
Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

In any case, this isn't "rocket science." It's a simple concept. We either use our intelligence to adapt ourselves to new realities—as we learned to do when faced with the problems of city sanitation and agricultural soil depletion—or we face the tragic consequences of failing to do so. PLEASE join with us in the attempt to organize humanity into moving beyond magical thinking and short sighted self-interest. Our long term self-interest—the fate of our children, our children's children, and ultimately of our species—demands that we do this. And we can. We have yet to see the limits of human potential when we diligently bring our intelligence to bear on a problem. This problem—the impact of the success of our species on our biosphere—demands all our diligence and all our intelligence. And the time is NOW!

The Data Is In

An Inconvenient Truth: Part II
Stephen Colbert interviews
the author of The Weather Makers

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

By the way, here is the data, as
summarized by leading scientists
in 18, two-minute videos.

An Inconvenient Truth: Part III
Jon Stewart interviews
the author of The Winds of Change

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

But The Spin Continues

An Inconvenient Truth: Part IV
Blinded by Greed and Religious Delusions, the
Coalition of the Radical Right Threatens to
Keep Humanity Spinning Out of Control

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.
Yo on Katrina,
Global Warming
& Climate Change
Yo on Katrina:  With help from Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Al Gore, Will Ferrell, & Stephen Colbert.

(with some help from
Jon Stewart, Bill Maher,
Al Gore, Will Ferrell
& Stephen Colbert)

An Inconvenient Truth: Part IVb
Exposing the Spinners

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

Using religious delusions to evaluate evidence of global warming.
Weasels, Inc.  ''Facts Made to Order''

And if you think that's just a joke, consider that, rather than demand action that could save our planet, a large block of Americans are being whipped into a frenzy by the incredibly insipid Tea Party where they work against any rational response to the problem that could be developed by the Obama administration.

How crazy does this get?
North Carolina tries to outlaw reality!

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

Take a look at an enlightening (and frightening) explanation for this otherwise bizarre phenomenon. In this article from The New Yorker, you will learn how pseudo-scientific "truths" are systematically made-to-order for consumption by the masses.

A Weatherwoman Goes Rogue, Twice

The more interesting question is why, knowing this stuff,
you DON'T go rogue. Now THAT'S truly hard to fathom.
You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

Finally, "trickle down" economics that really work!

Just think of the new economic opportunities that
we are currently creating through climate change.
The Polar Cow:  Farming opportunites after global warming and climate change.

Yo, America! No need to change.
We've solved the energy crisis with . . . corn!?!

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

And don't forget the new economic opportunities that
will also be created by construction projects like this:
Another absurdly extravagant construction project in Dubai.

An Inconvenient Truth: Part V

Lil Bush & Family On Global Warming

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

An Inconvenient Truth: Part Vb

What it would have looked like
If Bush Had Actually Addressed Global Warming
If Bush had ever really addressed global warming (as enacted by Will Ferrell).

An Inconvenient Truth: Part Vc
Bush Had (Pre-Global Warming) Glacier-Sized Balls

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

An Inconvenient Truth: Part Vd
Or Maybe It was That Bush Had A Pea-Sized Brain
If you don't open your eyes, then you won't see anything bad.

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

An Inconvenient Truth: Part VI
Greed & Obstacles to Solutions

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

An Inconvenient Truth: Part VII
Earth to America!

The Blue Man Group on Global Warming

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

An Inconvenient Truth (Mayan Style): Part VIII
A Mesoamerican Tale
[from the movie, Apocalypto]

this will be replaced by the SWF.

Jon Stewart & Al Gore On
An Inconvenient Truth: The Movie

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

The Movie: Part One

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

The Movie: Part Two

You may need to get or update Adobe Flash Player to view this video.

For further exploration of the issues surrounding climate change and public policy
(with additional videos featuring Stewart, Colbert, Bill Maher, and others), click here.

And to explore further the effect that religion is having on public policy
(with, yes, more videos), click here.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

:)) This one is cool.

:)) This one is cool. I laughed a lot when I first saw that graphic with 87% butt sex.