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The Global Warming Debate (soc essay)

Posted on January 4, 2010 at 7:15 PM

I will be investigating the “two conflicting versions of the truth” surrounding the global warming issue, by examining a number of texts that represent each side of the debate. There are two versions of the “truth” surrounding global warming. The first version argues that the temperature of the Earth is rising as a result of human activity, and threatens to disrupt the balance of nature and the ecosystem. This phenomenon is known as global warming and, as well as causing countless natural disasters throughout Europe and the Pacific, threatens to gradually destroy the foundations of human society. This version of the truth is represented by the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth and the New Scientist magazine article “But Here’s What They Didn’t Tell Us”.


An Inconvenient Truth is part global warming documentary, part climate change seminar, and part Al Gore autobiography. The seminar is the central focus of the film, and showcases Gore’s presentation of the causes of global warming, the negative effect it will have on humans and their environment, and the ways in which we can prevent further damage and help reverse the effects. Gore lectures from on top of a raised platform, and uses photographs, film footage, graphs, and statistic charts to present his case. Braking up the seminar are portions of Gore’s own life: his childhood, his role as presidential candidate, and his global warming prevention campaign. Scenes outside of the lecture are accompanied by a voice-over. The advantage of this is that it allows the audience to relax and absorb the information that we’ve just learnt, and to properly connect with the films creator. This gives us the ability to sympathize with him as one of us, giving his words more relevance to our own lives. Music is also used effectively; giving the film a natural flow. The song “I Need to Wake Up” by artist Melissa Etheridge is played over the credits, and acts as the films theme song.

The documentary argues that carbon emissions caused by human activity are the primary cause of the climate crisis. This is demonstrated through the use of large, complex graphs that map out the correlation between the rise in carbon emissions (due to the mass production and application of machinery) and the rise in the Earth’s temperature. These graphs are colorful, clearly labeled and laid out, and [most importantly] well explained; helping the audience to understand exactly what is occurring. The film further argues that this rise in temperature is [or will be] the cause of countless natural disasters, such as the melting of icecaps; the change in ocean currents; the migration of insects; the rise in sea levels; the increase in hurricanes throughout the Pacific; and the increase in flooding and droughts. It explains these phenomena via the use of weather charts and comparing photographs of land sites over time.

An Inconvenient Truth uses imagery reminiscent of the beauty and serenity of nature—the deep, blue ocean, the calm, green rainforests and the majestic icecaps—and then contrasts it against the ugliness and destructive power of industry—the mighty factory chimneys vomiting smoke so thick and dark that it blots out the sun, and sea of road vehicles over concrete superhighways emitting an ocean of fume and noise. The documentary also shows the effects that climate change has on the environment. For example, photographs of Glacier Park are shown from 30 years ago, and then the exact same photographs, taken that year, showing how most of the ice has melted and much of the river has dried up. This technique works because it illustrates to us, the audience, the cause and effect of climate change, and the cost it will have on our ecosystem.

The film makes uses of several other devices, including sarcasm (such as when Gore pretends to overlook the obvious threat that the melting of the polar icecaps would have on the worlds ocean currents) and humor (such as the cartoon clip explaining global warming). These techniques are employed to engage the audience in what is being presented to them. Other devices are the use of metaphors (such as the “two canaries in the coal mine” when referring to the inherent dangers surrounding the polar regions and the “frog in the boiling water” when explaining how the gradual realization of this problem has lead to failure to act) and allegory (such as comparing Gore’s own experiences with the danger of tobacco and the dangers facing the planet’s climate). All of these devices are used by the documentary to effectively represent its version of the “truth”.

The New Scientist magazine article “But Here’s What They Didn’t Tell Us” agrees with the perspective of An Inconvenient Truth in its belief “that the world is warming fast and that humans are almost certainly to blame”. It further argues that the situation is worse than we could have imagined; that many scientific findings have been suppressed due to the slightest ounce of inconclusivity. The article establishes global warming as fact, and then explains the disastrous affects that will precede it, including rapid melting of ice all over the world, and the shutting-down of rivers.

It backs up its finding with a variety of graphs, similar to those presented in An Inconvenient Truth, in that they map the large rise in carbon emissions in the last 30 years, and the sharp rise in global temperature that correlates it. It also supports this view by including quotes from a wide variety of scientists, all agreeing with this perspective of global warming, and further arguing that the aftermath will be far worse than we could have expected.

Only one image is used in the article; a picture of an icecap almost completely melted away. This illustrates to us, the audience, the extreme effect global warming, at least on a small scale, is having on our environment.

The article gathers much of its argument from statistics and expert opinions, and so the tone of writing is generally factual and scientific, rather than emotional. The article uses the technique of selecting shocking quotes from the text and highlighting them in red to entice the reader into finding out more. The article also provides fact files as companion to the main body. Both of these devices act to draw the reader into finding out more information about the issue.

Sources 1 and 2, despite using different mediums, compliment each other in what they are arguing; that global warming is caused by man, and that it will have disastrous effects on the planet. Source 1, however, acts more like an introduction to the issue (the theory of global warming, an overview of the problem, etc.), while source 2 is a more detailed look, elaborating on further, more shocking research. Both sources are well written and well presented, using simple, even humorous text to examine a very complex issue, but at the same time, never speaking down to the audience. As well as being accessible, the expert opinions, detailed and sourced statistics, and well researched ideas make them reliable sources.


Now we come to the second version of the truth about global warming. The second version argues that, while the temperature of the Earth is rising, it is a natural part of the Earth’s weather cycle, and is in no way caused by human activity. Global warming is not a dangerous phenomenon, and the theory that it is destructive was manufactured by politicians, scientists and environmental organizations for financial gain or political ascension. This version of the truth is represented by the Martin Durkin’s documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle and the conspiracy website “”.

The Great Global Warming Swindle is a documentary that refutes the scientific consensus surrounding global warming. It claims that the increase in the planet’s temperature is part of a natural cycle, and is in no way influenced by human activity. Besides the subject matter this program is very different to An Inconvenient Truth in the presentation of its ideas. Global Warming Swindle is put together using short video clips, alternating between expert opinions and random footage of natural features and city environments. The program is all tied together by the voiceover of Durkin, explaining the conspiracy for the audience.

The documentaries ideas are explained using graphs. These graphs aim to disprove the correlation between carbon emissions and the rise in temperature, arguing rather that the opposite is true. Instead, the graphs try to establish a connection between global warming and the radioactivity of the sun. This further reaffirms the point that carbon emissions contribute little to global warming because (1) the sun has a far greater impact on Earth’s environment, and (2) natural features such as the ocean and volcanoes emit far more carbon dioxide than humans ever could. These points are presented through use of statistics and expert opinions, once again, tied together by the creator Durkin’s commentary.

Other than the images of graphs and charts and supposed experts sitting in front of work desks or bookshelves, there is little to distinguish one shot from the next. Much of the film appears to be a background to Durkin’s voice. Images of nature are generally quiet and peaceful, most likely in order to establish a lack occurrence in the audiences mind.

The Great Global Warning Swindle uses several deceptive techniques in order to persuade the audience into accepting their arguments as fact. In the interview that followed the program, it was revealed that several of the graphs used were outdated by as much as 30 years, omitting the fact that carbon emissions, along with global temperatures, have risen considerably in the last few decades; so much so that the ten hottest years ever recorded occurred in the last 15 years. Nevertheless, the documentaries placed the word “now” at the point on the graph where 1970 would have occurred. Another misrepresentation of data was when a graph was used to illustrate the correlation between solar activity and global warming. The graph presented a strong relationship between the two, but ended before it reached recent years. It was later revealed that the reason the graph stopped there was because at that point the two variables diverged sharply, indicating that one did not influence the other.

The final source is “”, a conspiracy website which claims that global warming, along with [according to them] the oil crisis, geo science, and UFO’s, are a big government scheme orchestrated in order to keep the public under control. The website’s coverage of global warming is only one aspect of its design, but still a significant one. It consists of interviews with two doctors and a professor who all denounce human influence over the climate crisis, and maintain that global warming is “not that big of a deal anyway”. It also includes links to other conspiracy sites

Other than the testimonies of these three so-called experts (none of whose specific titles are actually given), there is no other factual information supporting their view. No statistics, graphs, pictures, or other commentary outside the initial interviews (other than a brief introduction).

Sources 3 and 4, while agreeing that global warming is not caused by humans or is a problem at all, present their information is very different styles. The Great Global Warming Swindle, while sensationalized compared to some documentaries, is a relatively intelligent, persuasive, and unbiased source compared to the inane ranting of “”, which accusations are made with limited evidence and are based on the testimony of a few people, whose official titles are conveniently omitted, limiting their reliability. Global Warming Swindle uses sourced expert opinions, and detailed (albeit questionable) statistical charts, while offers no referenced information to support its claims, and seems more determined to attack the government for the sake of rebellion, rather than sound scientific debate.


Source 1 is a famous, award-winning, and well-respected documentary (both critically and scientifically). It is well devised, well argued, and backed up with strong statistical and systematic data. Source 2 is an article from a very popular, long-running and highly valued science magazine. It’s points are supported by the opinions of various sourced experts from the scientific community, and other charts. Source 3 is also a quite famous documentary; though perhaps infamous may be a better word, although it is very controversial. This, as well as the statistical errors found in the film, greatly calls into question its reliability. Finally, Source 4 is a conspiracy website, which bases its arguments on the testimonies of three un-sourced “experts”, and offers the reader no other evidence, statistical or otherwise. Based on these facts, and the above evaluations, we can conclude that sources 1 and 2, far outweigh the reliability and usefulness of sources 3 and 4. Therefore, version 1 of “the truth”—that global warming is caused by human activity and threatens to greatly disrupt the balance of the Earth’s ecosystem—is the more credible assumption.

Categories: ESSAYS, Sociology

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