Man who wants to turn every Scots child into an environment evangelist

A GENERATION of environmental activists is set to emerge from Scotland's schools after it was agreed every pupil in the country will hear Al Gore's "powerful message" about the dangers of climate change.

The Scottish Executive announced yesterday - as the former US vice president flew in to Glasgow to address business people, environmentalists and others - that his documentary film An Inconvenient Truth would be shown to secondary school pupils.

Ross Finnie, the environment minister, said he felt the status of Mr Gore would ensure pupils listen to the message of the film, but was sure they would make their own minds up about it..

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He dismissed any suggestion that the film was political propaganda, saying there was firm evidence of climate change and that anyone disputing it "has got to be on planet Mars".

The showing of the documentary is being sponsored by ScottishPower, which runs the coal-fired Longannet but is also a major wind-farm developer, at a cost of "tens of thousands" of pounds. Every secondary school in the country will receive two copies of the DVD.

Mr Finnie said: "The film, which is very well put together, is not only a powerful message - it's also been put together in a very easily understandable way. And Al Gore is not just a former vice-president. I think he's established in his own right an international reputation as a very powerful advocate on environmental matters.

Mr Finnie added that it would be "up to the teachers' discretion" whether pupils watched the film.

Asked if a new generation of environmental activists would produce a landslide for the Scottish Green Party at the 2011 Holyrood elections, Mr Finnie, a Liberal Democrat, said "there are [other] parties who have perfectly sensible environmental credentials".

Yesterday's event, at Glasgow's Hilton hotel, called "What Our Future Holds: an audience with Al Gore and Hans Blix" was chaired by television presenter Dougie Donnelly and attracted the cream of Scotland's business community, including companies such as Shell and Cairn Energy as well as environmentalists and politicians such as Mr Finnie and SNP leader Alex Salmond.

They listened to a speech by former United Nations weapons inspector Dr Blix, who said: "I am more worried about global warming in the long run than weapons of mass destruction."

Annabelle Njenga, 16, a fifth-year pupil at Bellahouston Academy, said she had seen the film on Monday and was already thinking of changes to her lifestyle.

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"I didn't think climate change was that big, but I think I'm going to throw away my mobile phone," she said. "The film was very informative, enlightening ... and scary as well."

She said she had been switching off lights more often than usual as she thought more about reducing her use of energy and thought seeing the film would have a big impact on others in her class.

Michelle Simpson, 16, a sixth-year pupil at Stirling High, said while she had not seen the film, others at her school had. "It sparked quite a lot of interest, people were really inquisitive, asking lots of questions," she said.

"I think it is quite an important problem when you consider global warming and all the ice caps that are melting, it is quite concerning, it is very worrying for the future."

Showing the film in schools she said would be "quite a big deal". "I think it will be good for him to get the message across," she added.

A spokeswoman for Mr Gore said yesterday: "Clearly, one of the hopes that vice president Gore, the producers and director had in mind was that An Inconvenient Truth would serve as an educational tool. It's wonderful to see that in practice in Scotland."

Scottish educationalists broadly welcomed the idea of showing the film.

However Ronnie Smith, the general-secretary of the EIS teaching union, said that the film would have to be put in context. "I entirely accept that the environmental issue is moving up the agenda, but I think it would be preferable that it was used as part of the curriculum, rather than taking an one-off, piecemeal approach," he said.

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Bill Lynch, a development officer at Learning and Teaching Scotland, said the organisation was involved in ensuring that Mr Gore's film was presented in a thoughtful way and pupils would not simply be presented with the Inconvenient Truth and expected to swallow it without question.

"We will be approaching it [the film] like any other education material. 'Here's a topic, here's something worth discussing' rather than taking the Al Gore line through this," he said.

"There's a need to create the skills and expertise and confidence in children to influence the adults now. If we wait 20 or 30 years when they are our age, we've maybe waited too long."

A spokesman for the Scottish Green Party challenged Mr Finnie to enable everyone in Scotland to watch Mr Gore's film before this year's Scottish Parliament elections.

"If that happened there's no doubt there would be a huge swing towards the Green Party. It is an incredibly powerful film," he said.

Mr Salmond shared the Green Party's and Mr Finnie's views on the power of Mr Gore's polemic.

"I've seen the film and read the book quite some time ago. He [Al Gore] has taken up a hugely important cause and, in terms of political influence, he probably wields as much as anybody on the planet in terms of popularising the cause," he said.

Mr Salmond added that he did not agree "with every detail" of Mr Gore's views in the film "but with the broad thrust ... that we need precautionary action. There are observed effects and we need precautionary action and big ideas".