Hans Jonas, in his Imperative of Responsibility, presents the argument that advances in human technological capability have fundamentally altered our capacity to affect the earth’s ecosphere, such that the future of humanity is at stake in a way previously unknown to us. Jonas argues, as a consequence, that a new imperative of responsibility now exists that requires human beings to act to protect the very existence of humanity.
Jonas wrote this in 1979. Al Gore attempts to make a similar argument in his An Inconvenient Truth, which I went to see this afternoon. Michael Kruse is correct that this is indeed a political movie, in some sense, insofar as Gore may well be positioning himself for 2008 or beyond, and to convince the viewer to take seriously the proposed environmental crisis. And, further, the issues are sharply politicized in our country. That’s unfortunate, since I’ve not heard anyone successfully refute Gore’s claim that there is a consensus (not unanimity, consensus) that Global Warming is real, is a problem, and is causing deleterious effects to our environment. And even though Kruse isn’t convinced, the movie at least changed pundit Andrew Sullivan‘s mind (his other jabs at Gore, to some folks’ chagrin, notwithstanding). Sullivan is right that most that know the science believe Gore is authentically presenting a consensus view. That is, the forest view is right, even if a tree here or there isn’t presented in its full complexity (such as that there are likely multiple causes to the decreased snowcaps on Mount Kilimanjaro.) (Kruse presents some good counterpoints, so make sure you read his post too, though I think case for the human causal connection is
the human affects are strongly made and largely agreed upon).
So, I found the movie compelling, and it inspires me to try to learn more about Global Warming. Please, go see it if you haven’t yet. And while some try to make it out to be a self-obsessed, self-serving farcical tome (thus the reference in this post’s title to ManBearPig, the creature to the right from a Southpark episode.), to dismiss the science that way, and the overwhelming position of the scientific community (noting the rare exception) that this is a real problem, is the true farce. At least right now it looks like, for the most part, Gore gets the science right.
I particularly think we need to think about the parallel Gore makes between the warnings about smoking’s link to lung cancer and the nay-sayers about global warming. I’m not saying that An Inconvenient Truth is gospel, but the science about the warming and human contribution to it is strong and is ignored at our peril.
While there is not consensus among ‘Evangelicals,’ it is noteworthy that many prominent evangelical leaders issued an Evangelical Call To Action on the environment. There is a role for the religious community to play in articulating the moral dimension of Gore’s argument. I hope we play it.
At the end, Gore argues that we know enough and have the capacity to do something serious about the crisis. Samuelson’s skeptical, and I’m not sure that all of what Gore proposes will do it. Likely more is necessary. But the base-line requirement is political will, either to change what we can or to direct energy to find out what to do. My hope is that this movie is a catalyst to change that political will. We might really need, as Samuelson argues, to solve the engineering problem, but it is the moral argument that will provide the impetus to do so. So go see it, and decide for yourself if, like me, this is a really important movie. Some even call it necessary.