Al Gore may have just won the Nobel Peace Prize, but some of his ideas are under fire in the British court system. Showing schoolchildren Al Gore's award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth is a political act, a High Court British judge has said, ruling on a challenge by a parent to remove the film from secondary schools. Although it does not ban the film, the decision requires that the film be shown with guidance notes to comply with laws prohibiting "partisan" material in the school curriculum.
In his 17-page ruling, published Wednesday, Justice Michael Burton wrote: "It is now common ground that it is not simply a science film although it is clear that it is based substantially on scientific research and opinion but that it is a political film."
The criticism comes after months of legal and political maneuvering. In February, the national government announced plans to send a DVD of the documentary to each of England's 3,385 secondary schools as part of a climate change packet. In May, Stewart Dimmock, a parent of two from Kent and a member of a local school's governing board, initiated court proceedings to remove the film, which he called "propaganda," from schools. He also gained the support of the New Party, an independent, right of center political party, and launched a website called Straight Teaching, which explains his position.
"I am elated with today's result, but still disappointed that the film is able to be shown in schools," Dimmock said following the ruling. Gore, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this morning for raising awareness of man-made climate change, has not commented publicly.
While accepting the broad arguments of the film, the judge pointed out nine scientific errors and omissions that he believes Gore raised in the context of alarmism and exaggeration. For instance, Gore refers to a study indicating that polar bears have, in recent years, started drowning as they swim up to 60 miles (97km) in search of ice. According to Justice Burton, "The only scientific study that either side before me can find is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm." He also dismissed what he called the film's "Armageddon scenario" in which the world's melting ice caps could cause sea levels to rise by up to 20 feet (6m) in the near future. Such a rise could take place, he said, but "only after, and over, millennia."
There was also not sufficient evidence to back the film's claims that global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, the melting of snows on Mount Kilimanjaro or the evaporation of most of Lake Chad, he said.
Government attorneys amended their existing teacher guidance notes following a preliminary ruling last Tuesday, and specifics of those guidelines were debated with Dimmock's attorneys before the court. Those notes detail, on a scene-by-scene basis, the areas where teaching staffs nationwide will be required to point out opposing arguments and scientific errors. According to the guidance, which is now available on the government's Teachernet web site, it is designed to help teaching staff "encourage their pupils to assess the validity and credibility of different information sources and explore different points of view so as to form their own opinions."
John Day, Dimmock's attorney, still wants the film removed and has plans to appeal the ruling. He believes the new guidance is no solution. "It's an unfair burden on teachers," he told TIME, noting that teachers will now need to wade through a 60-page document in order to understand the film's inaccuracies. "At the end of the day, if a teacher makes a mistake, they'll be breaking the law," he said. For already overworked teachers, that's an inconvenient truth indeed.