Friday, 15 September 2006

Book: An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore

Lowdown: The case for the earth's global warming is an open and shut case.
Non fiction books always have a problem when they try and convey their message to us. The problem is simple: how can they convey their message to a public that is, by now, used to being entertained and amused without having to make the slightest of efforts? All this when you have to achieve your aim without resorting to fictitious means, such as a thrilling yet imaginative plot.
Different authors approach this problem differently. In many cases, such as in "The Guns of August" by Barbara Tuchman, the facts convey a thrilling story on their own, without having to resort to artificial life support. In others, such as the Bill Bryson books, it's the author's story telling style that keeps the flame alive.
So how does Al Gore, often dubbed as the earth's most boring person, manage with his non fiction attempt to tell us everything we need to know about global warming? Well, I think he managed it very well.
Mr Gore ("call me Al") chose an interesting path. His book is not a regular book; it's more of a coffee table book. The contents is basically an adaptation of a Keynote presentation that Al travels with to tell his message. And being a good presentation, it's mostly lots of pictures and short sentences and graphs that are quickly consumed by the reader and end up being a truly effective way to convey a non-fiction message.
So what is covered in a book that claims to cover everything to do with global warming? In short, everything as far as I can tell. Al goes through the scientific facts: rising temperatures, rising CO2 contents in the atmosphere, abnormal weather patterns becoming the norm, other weird natural phenomenon, the implications of what might happen if current trends continue, and what can be done about it all.
It's all very convincing (although I admit that in my case he is preaching to the preacher), other than one simple aspect. I'll explain by example: the book tells you that temperatures have been rising for the last century more than the previous 100,000 years, and shows you a nice graph to match; it doesn't, however, tell you how the graph was made, given that the bureau of meteorology didn't really measure stuff 99,000 years ago. You have to take Al's word for it, and I found it quite easy because often his sources quote articles I read elsewhere for reference (e.g., articles published in Scientific American). The lesson is simple: if you want to know the scientific reasoning, you'll have to look beyond this book; if you want the distilled facts, the book would answer all your global warming needs.
One thing the book isn't shy of doing is mixing politics into the equation. When discussing the fact that global warming is not at the top of the agenda, despite its potential to end life as we know it, Gore says he thinks it's because we now rely more than ever on TV, which is a one sided media that is under the control of a very few self interested companies. I agree, and I cannot fail to see the relevancy of that argument for Australia, where the Howard government is going out of its way to let media monsters such as Fox enhance their grip on the media and as a side product, on our minds and on our agendas.
If there is one thing I can criticized Al with, it's the fact the back cover tells us he is a member of the Apple board and a consultant to Google. Now, Apple does many great things, but the reduction of consumption is not one of them; how does Al get along with that? He says he buys green credits for all his polluting activities, but I doubt he can afford doing that for Apple entire. Not that this matters in the context of the book, because I am here to review a book rather than its author.
The bottom line is that one has to be living in another world in order to read this book and not take its principle message, "consume less and consume wisely" into account. Or they can just be the Finance Minister of the Howard Government, who claimed this effort is nothing but an Al Gore attempt to sell books. I'll put my opinion this way: I did not need this insight to know I will never vote for Howard, but I would be more than happy to give Al Gore a genuine hug. He is a soldier on my war.
Overall: A genuine 5 star effort that I hope as many people can read before it's too late. It's not often that you read a book and wonder whether this could be the most important book you ever read.

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