We are told that ours is a democracy where issues win out. Partisanship and polarity may invade debate, but they never dominate it.

Sarah Royce

Recent years have brought hollow stature to these supposed truths. Now more clearly than ever before, we see that anything, even our nation’s beloved democracy, can falter if it is not tended. Our founding fathers planted seeds that sprouted into a wealthy, innovative nation, but no matter how grand a tree, its roots still feed in a soil easily depleted. And while it would be untruthful to deem the reservoir of America’s unquenchable passion for social progress depleted, there is no question that it’s now as bare as our generation has ever experienced.

Nowhere does complacency and negligence of our esteemed American values hold greater sway than in regard to global warming. Some still deem the concept simply a “theory,” and for this there is a sad reason. There was a time when Americans would question what they were told, both by their leaders and their media – indeed, this is why our nation ever came to be in the first place – but we seem to have entered an era where the majority believe governmental lies and deceit are a thing of the past.

But what would our venerable founding fathers say if we told them we believe global warming is not a threat because the politicians tell us so? Surely James Madison would quake at the notion of an American citizenry that blindly accepts what politicians say?

And now for some facts, which are the core, mantle and crust of Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s easy to dismiss this as a political film, and, after all, isn’t Gore a politician? Certainly, and that is why we must hold him accountable for what he says. No one is entitled to their own facts, and the facts Gore introduces in his film are not under dispute. It is a fact, for instance, that of the 936 articles written about global warming in peer-reviewed scientific journals (the gold standard for academia), not a single one disputes the fact that global warming is real and that it is exacerbated by human activity. So, taking these articles as an indication, there is a strong consensus in the scientific community that global warming is real and human activity is compounding it.

Thus, attempting to discredit global warming as “only a theory” is about as practical as dismissing gravity as simply theory. One hundred percent of scientists will tell you that if you jump off a building, gravity will pull you down to a calamitous crash, but certainly that’s only a “theory.” There is no way to say with absolute certainty that the next person to jump won’t sprout wings and fly, but it wouldn’t be wise to ignore that falling-down “theory.”

Why, then, do we continue to ignore the “theory” that says if we continue to burn up everything that burns to power our apartment-sized SUVs, we will generate enough greenhouse gasses to make the planet’s temperature hostile to its life-forms? Alas, it’s because we have been told to ignore it – literally.

Though the scientific community may be at near 100 percent consensus, it’s the politically driven media that creates doubt and confusion about global warming in the mind of the public. As the film states, more than 50 percent of news stories written about global warming purport the phenomenon as unconfirmed. And we believe it. Why? Because it’s easy to do so.

But consider for a moment the consequences. The world is not indestructible, and what if what the “crazy liberals” (not to mention scientists) say about global warming is indeed true? Is it worth doing nothing simply because it’s easy, cheap and popular? It’s certainly not the American thing to do. But again, Gore is a politician (possibly gearing up for a presidential run), so we can’t take everything he says as a given; it’s our duty to scrutinize it and derive its credibility.

That’s what I attempted to do. There is near-absolute consensus among film critics that the film is a success (see page 10 for that side of the story), but that doesn’t prove the point. Wouldn’t it be best if we could have scientists evaluate the film from a scientific perspective?

After some snooping around, I came upon www.realclimate.org, a leading environmental website run by climate scientists. They did find minor inaccuracies in Gore’s film, but concluded: “For the most part . Gore gets the science right . The small errors don’t detract from Gore’s main point, which is that we in the United States have the technological and institutional ability to have a significant impact on the future trajectory of climate change.”

So remember, we as American citizens have the responsibility to question what the politicians tell us, and so we must question Gore, too. But if we learn that global warming is a danger, then it’s just as incumbent upon us to take action by holding accountable those other politicians who play down the issue.

Be us liberals or conservatives, the science is on Gore’s side. It’s immoral and a dereliction of our duty as American citizens to stand aside and not take action.

Syed is the current editorial page editor. He can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

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