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Forcing An Inconvenient Truth By: Kevin Libin
National Post | Thursday, May 24, 2007


First it was his world history class. Then he saw it in his economics class. And his world issues class. And his environment class. In total, 18-year-old McKenzie, a Northern Ontario high schooler, says he has had the film An Inconvenient Truth shown to him by four different teachers this year.

"I really don't understand why they keep showing it," says McKenzie (his parents asked that his last name not be used). "I've spoken to the principal about it, and he said that teachers are instructed to present it as a debate. But every time we've seen it, well, one teacher said this is basically a two-sided debate, but this movie really gives you the best idea of what's going on."

McKenzie says he has educated himself enough about both sides of the climate- change controversy to know that the Al Gore movie is too one-sided to be taught as fact. Even scientists who back Mr. Gore's message admit they're uncomfortable with liberties the politician takes with "science" in the film. But, McKenzie says most of his classmates are credulous. His teachers are not much more discerning. "They don't know there's another side to the argument," he says. McKenzie's mother was outraged to find out that Mr. Gore's film was being presented as fact in her son's classroom. "This is just being poured into kids' brains instead of letting them know there's a debate going on," she says. "An educational system falls down when they start taking one side."

But Mr. Gore's filmed climate-change lecture is showing up in classrooms across Canada, frequently unaccompanied by critical analysis or a discussion of competing theories. "One of the teachers at my kid's school showed it and he even said ahead of time, 'There is some propaganda in this,' " says Tim Patterson, a Carleton University earth sciences professor. "I said to him, 'You even knew this was a propaganda film, and you still showed it in your classroom?' " The weirdest part: It was the gym teacher.

If you have children in junior or high school, there is a good chance they have been shown An Inconvenient Truth in school--or they will be soon.

Last month, Vancouver's Tides Canada Foundation and a local eco-friendly courier firm teamed up to buy DVD copies for every public high school in B.C. Climate Learning, a non-profit Vancouver outfit, is a third of the way to raising the $68,000 it needs to buy copies of the film for every high school in the country, after just weeks of campaigning.

"I think it's important for high schools to have this film," says Will Cole-Hamilton, the group's director.

"Our objective is to get them into schools by September."

Two weeks ago, 900 students from grade 7 to 12 in Ontario's Halton Region were treated to a screening -- sponsored by ethanol producer SunOpta Inc. -- with a second showing scheduled at a Georgetown high school this Wednesday.

SunOpta has donated 60 copies of the DVD and the book version of An Inconvenient Truth to public and Catholic schools as a resource.

After showing the film to students, a London, Ont., board launched a contest for kids to win tickets to hear Mr. Gore address a fundraiser this month, by making their own environmental videos.

Earthcare Canada, an energy consultant sponsored group, is working with the Ottawa-Carlton school board and one in Belleville, Ont., to raise awareness about energy conservation. The Gore movie is one of the materials it suggests as a teaching resource.

"We would definitely recommend it and make them aware that it is there, and then how to use it," says Earthcare's executive director Rose-Marie Batley.

"I get e-mail from parents all across the country about this, in Calgary, B.C., Ontario," says Albert Jacobs, the founder of Friends of Science, a Calgarybased group that promotes alternative theories to climate change.

"They say my kid has been exposed to this stuff which is totally one-sided and totally wrong and we want them to see the other side."

Hand it to Paramount, the studio behind An Inconvenient Truth, for tapping the classroom market in a way skeptics cannot.

In addition to a companion book written for school-aged children, producers have created a lesson plan, "AIT in the Classroom," for teachers to download.

In England, the government has made the movie part of the public curriculum.

In Spain, the government is buying copies of the movie for all of its schools. In Australia, private donors are buying copies for schools.

Politicians and educators may accept on face value filmed warnings of a world tumbling toward catastrophe if we don't dramatically cut back on our greenhouse gas emissions.

But some of Mr. Gore's allies have acknowledged glaring inaccuracies in the film.

Though Mr. Gore was right for "getting the message out," University of Colorado climatologist Kevin Vranes told The New York Times last month that he worried about the film "overselling our certainty about knowing the future."

James E. Hansen, a NASA scientist and one of Mr. Gore's advisors, agreed the movie has "imperfections" and "technical flaws."

About An Inconvenient Truth's connection of rising hurricane activity to global warming -- something refuted by storm experts -- Mr. Hansen said, "We need to be more careful in describing the hurricane story than he is."

Among other things, since the film's release last year, scientists have rejected Mr. Gore's claims that 2005 was the warmest year on record (temperatures have been receding since 1998), that polar bears are heading for extinction (their numbers are growing), that Antarctica is warming (interior temperature readings show cooling) and that sea levels will "rise 18 to 20 feet," swamping coastal cities (the International Panel on Climate Change predicts a few inches).

Last year, when producer Laurie David offered to donate 50,000 DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association, the group refused, citing a policy "prohibiting product endorsement."

In the U.K., one parent is taking the Department for Education and Skills to court to stop it from using the film in science, geography and citizenship classes.

A Washington-state school board now requires that any teacher showing the film must ensure a "credible, legitimate opposing view will be presented" as well.

In B.C., a Surrey school trustee, Heather Stilwell, has been fighting for a policy to ensure teachers in the Vancouver suburb also present a balancing viewpoint.

Meanwhile, Vancouver-based businessman Michael Chernoff, says his charitable foundation will provide to high schools DVD copies of the new British documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, featuring interviews with scientists who dissent from Mr. Gore's claims, as soon as the producer is ready to ship the discs.

"And if they start sending [An Inconvenient Truth] to all Canadian schools, then I'll buy a copy of Swindle for all the schools, too," Mr. Chernoff says. "I think showing it is fine, but they should present the other side as well."

But even with Mr. Chernoff 's gift, there's no requirement teachers to show both sides of the argument unless school boards demand it.

"We've gone to school boards offering to provide them with materials that present the other side," says Mr. Jacobs.

"You get the same answer, that the teacher has to teach a certain curriculum and how he does it is his business." Some teachers are open to alternative theories, he says.

But others, like Mr. Gore, have an agenda.

On a discussion board on the CBC Web site last month, readers debated the Surrey controversy. One commentor, who identified himself as a teacher, wrote this:

"Yes students should look at both sides on an issue and learn to judge for themselves. But there are times to do this and times to stop."

He is certain Mr. Gore is right. Now, he wrote, "It is time for action."

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