Tweaking the Truth for Dramatic Effect

“Story is a form that requires conflict.  It requires good guys and bad guys.  It relies on dramatic effect to hold your attention.  But when facts are pressed into a fictional form, there are consequences.  Some facts get all the focus.  Others get tweaked.  Some get left out altogether.”

The ACTOR in U: The Comedy of Global Warming

The story interweaving through the interview footage in U: is no different than any other.   We tweaked the truth here and there, favoured some facts over others and left some things out we’d rather we hadn’t (over the course of two hours, you can only cover so much).  Below you’ll find a few of the things we know we tweaked and would like you to know about.

  • Although we sometimes refer to Tuvalu as “sinking” that is, of course, pure poetic license.  It’s the ocean that’s rising, not the land that’s sinking.  And while Tuvalu may not be completely inundated as Al suggests in his opening scene, its highest elevation is only five metres.  Sea levels need not rise much to make most of the land surface uninhabitable either due to inundation, erosion, the increased threat of flooding as a result of storm surges, or the leeching of saltwater into the freshwater table.
  • According to Wikipedia, New Zealand is accepting an annual quota of Tuvaluans not as environmental refugees but as part of an ongoing employment program.  While Tuvaluans will eventually have to evacuate their country if things turn out as predicted, it seems no nation has yet stepped forward to accept them as environmental refugees.
  • While its implied that Al is the CEO of an tar sands development company, Alberta’s chief source of carbon emissions at this point in time is actually from burning coal to produce electricity.  That said, the sands remain a very large source of emissions and stand to rise dramatically should development continue as planned.
  • The Hotstove Planet host’s contention that if you analyzed the atmosphere by thinking of it as one hundred human breaths – and inflated one of those breaths to the size of the theatre – all the greenhouse gases would fit inside the area of the flame of a cigarette lighter was closer to the truth when the show was to be performed in the much smaller PCL Studio of the TransAlta Arts Barns.  In a space the size of the Media Room, all the greenhouse gases would fit into an area of about two cubic meters.
  • The demonstration of the scientific method alludes to the sunspot explanation for global warming. The counter-argument that sunspot activity and not greenhouse gas concentrations is what’s warming the planet is very often brought up by climate change skeptics.  While sunspot activity does correlate with fluctuations in average global temperatures it cannot fully explain the warming that has occurred in the last part of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
  • In spite of the fact we used her voice in the hip hop song warning that the government’s plan to use carbon capture is a “bad idea”, Laurie Blakeman is not against carbon capture per se, nor is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recognizes it will be an important tool in the arsenal to combat global warming.  Whether the current Alberta government should be relying so heavily on this new technology to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions is another question.   Who should pay for the very expensive measure and whether taxpayers’ money would be better spent on other environmental initiatives are also matters of debate.
  • We did get the Tuvaluan myth off the internet.  And from a photo essay on that country.   Tivo’s recounting of it is quite accurate, but the rather homoerotic details are the playwright’s.
  • SPOILER ALERT: The idea that Al would get West Nile virus from a mosquito bite is not altogether impossible but still extremely fanciful.  The spread northward and southward of vector-borne diseases (those spread through insects and other animals) as a result of global warming is a cause for concern elsewhere, but Edmonton appears to be drying out and that will probably mean we’ll have less mosquitoes here.  And, of course, none at Christmas.

Whether you saw U: The Comedy of Global Warming, heard about this site from a friend, or just stumbled upon us on a surfing expedition, thanks for checking out the interviews page.  Extended clips of the interviews we conducted for the show are now being posted one at a time.  Check these pages over the next few weeks and watch the video library as it grows.

Right click on any video image and choose “Full Screen” to be able to view it.  Once it’s playing, you can hit the escape button and the video will minimize back onto the webpage.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to know who was who in the show, many of the interview subjects can be found on the internet, and links to them are provided in the list below.  Most, but not all of them have photos posted on the linked sites.

The twenty-two interviews we managed to capture averaged an hour in length and followed a more or less consistent line of questioning . more

The Interview Subjects:

The Scientists:
Dr. Suzanne Bayley, Zoology, University of Alberta
Dr. Andrew Derocher, Zoology, University of Alberta
Doctoral Candidate Vicki Sahanatien, Zoology, University of Alberta
Dr. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Ecologist, Earth Sciences, University of Alberta
Dr. David Schindler, Zoology, University of Alberta
Dr. Martin Sharp, Glaciologist & Chair of Earth Sciences, University of Alberta
Dr. Colleen Cassady St. Clair, Zoology, University of Alberta

The Activists:
Mary Griffiths, former Pembina Institute Senior Researcher
Mike Hudema, Tar Sands Activist, Greenpeace
Mike Kennedy, Senior Economist, Pembina Institute
Gordon Laxer, Director, Parkland Institute

The Politicians:
Laurie Blakeman, M.L.A. Edmonton-Centre
Linda Duncan, M.P. Edmonton-Strathcona
Ben Henderson, Edmonton City Councillor Ward 4
Don Iveson, Edmonton City Councillor Ward 5
Rachel Notley, M.L.A. Edmonton Strathcona
Kevin Taft, M.L.A. Edmonton Riverview

The More or Less Regular Folks:
Alex Bramm, University Student
Holly Cinnamon, University Student
Leslea Kroll, Playwright & Activist
Mandy Stewart, University Student
Chris Turner, Author & Journalist

Interview dates: March – April 2009.
Interviewer: Ian Leung
Cameraman: Mike McLaughlin

For most of these sessions, the camera, tripod and sound equipment were generously donated free of charge by the Arts Resource Centre of the University of Alberta – much thanks to Lee Ramsdell and also Grant Wang and Sandra Graf for their support in this.

More About the Interviews

These interviews were conducted as raw material for inclusion in the multi-media play U: The Comedy of Global Warming. Because we ended up with far more footage than we could possibly include in a piece of theatre with a running time of 90-100 minutes, finding a way to share all the information we gathered was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Albertaville.

Although we spoke with a lot of well-known scientists, activists and politicians, we can’t pretend these interviews represent a carefully composed or comprehensive range of opinion on the subject of climate change.For instance, though we tried, we never managed to speak with an atmospheric scientist, or a climatologist or an oceanographer, which is unfortunate considering the issue.

Of less concern, the list of people we talked to is also anything but “balanced,” at least in the sense of the word that the media often uses when referring to reporting that pits pro and con “experts” against each other, sometimes (though not always) without critically examining whether the appearance of debate is merited in the first place. You won’t find any deniers or skeptics here, though we certainly wanted to talk to some.  On the other hand, you will find that while these people broadly agree with each other on numerous basic points, they do represent a range of opinions on other matters. back to top

More About the Interviewees

So whom did we interview and why?Pretty much whomever we could that we knew or discovered along the way had something important or authoritative to say about climate change.  We also included a small group of regular citizens as an informal sounding of public awareness and opinion on the issue.

The number and range of people we were able to talk to was also limited by money, time and chutzpah.

Our limited budget required that interview subjects be local, which is to say from Edmonton (except for Calgary’s Chris Turner, with whom we were determined to speak).It also meant that after a certain point we had to stop for lack of funds.We had a two-month period – March and April of 2009 – in which to conduct as many interviews as we could, after which we really had to move on to the viewing and editing stage.

As for chutzpah, we confess it was a few weeks before we screwed up the courage to call the Honourable Rob Renner, Alberta’s Minister of the Environment. Considering the critical nature of the show, we didn’t even bother asking the Honourable Mel Knight, Alberta’s Minister of Energy, to sit down for a chat. And while we’d always hoped to interview a real oil & gas executive, we were pretty certain that once we got to describing the nature and content of the play their interview would become part of, any sane CEO would decline for understandable reasons. So we never called one.

On the other hand, these twenty-two people aren’t anywhere near everyone we did try to talk to. Some people expressed an interest but were completely unavailable. Others we never managed to sync schedules with, despite the best efforts of everyone. It would only be fair to all to mention that among this group were a number of professors at the University, representatives from the Sierra Club and the Council of Canadians, carbon capture and storage scientists at the Alberta Research Council, MLA Brian Mason and a couple of skeptical citizens.

Many people we did speak with gave us the names of more people we only wish we could have talked to.Some didn’t return our calls for whatever reason and again, to be fair to Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Andrew Nikiforuk and some aboriginal representatives – who were probably already very busy with other very important stuff (and we do mean that) – we only managed to call some of them once.A very few turned us down, among them, after (to his credit) a long period of consideration and negotiation with his communications people, Rob Renner.  We also had an enlightening and engaging off-the-record conversation with the one oil lobbyist we did call, who also declined to appear in an interview for the same, understandable reasons we thought oil and gas executives would turn us down. back to top


To watch the videos, right click on the image and choose “Full Screen” then press play.  For full control of the play and pause functions, remain on full screen or choose “Watch on Vimeo”.  Otherwise you can minimize the screen after it begins to play by hitting the escape button on your keyboard.

Dr. Martin Sharp


Interviews with Activists will be posted here.


To watch the videos, right click on the image and choose “Full Screen” then press play.   For full control of the play and pause functions, remain on full screen or choose “Watch on Vimeo”.  Otherwise you can minimize the screen after it begins to play by hitting the escape button on your keyboard.

Laurie Blakeman


Interviews with regular citizens and others will be posted here

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