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17 Nov 2006

A Review of “An Inconvenient Truth”.

g1**’An Inconvenient Truth’**, as you’ll all be aware, is Al Gore’s film about climate change. In essence it is a record of the lecture he has given to audiences all over the world, intercut with asides and reflections on Gore’s life and experiences. Climate change is often an area where one can feel out of one’s depth in graphs, charts and statistics, but what is so powerful about this film is that it makes the whole subject comprehensible to the lay person. Such a thing could be dry and dull, yet it is completely engrossing. It is well edited and paced, I have to say I was on the edge of my seat. As a film designed to shock the world into action, it is very powerful and, hopefully, effective.

g2It would be too easy to be critical of certain aspects of the film. He ignores peak oil (something he has since spoken widely on), which would profoundly affect many of his proposed solutions. He doesn’t really take on the role that global capitalism has played in creating the mess that is climate change. His solutions imply that low energy bulbs alone will save the planet, and that biodiesel can run all our cars, in other words that business-as-usual is still viable with light green trimmings.

His use of the ‘Seven Wedges’ at the end of the film is very dubious, enshrining the technocentrist argument that technology can solve all the problems that it has created, that rather than globalism and consumerism being the problem, what we need is ‘political will’ to tackle the issue. Rather than delivering a stinging critique of how the US political system stifles action, and why he wrote ‘Earth in the Balance’, then became Vice President, and did almost nothing about climate change while in office, are somewhat glossed over. However, to be overly critical of this film, it seems to me, is to miss the point.

“An Inconvenient Truth” is not really aimed at those of us who already understand climate change. It is aimed at the people for whom it is a new concept, or one they have heard a bit about but pushed to one side. This is a film designed, primarily, to get the US population on board. In so doing, he needs to overcome the common misconceptions still peddled deliberately and mercilessly in the US media, that climate change is a part of a natural cycle. Gore sets out the case clearly, tugging at the heart strings, and concludes by telling people that there is still time to avert the worst scenarios. All of these he does brilliantly.

g3I found the film very moving. There is a very sad animated section of a polar bear trying to find somewhere to rest, but given the melting of the ice cap, being unable to do so. There is harrowing footage of floods and other natural disasters, of villages sinking into the permafrost. He presents the worst case scenarios in such a way that no-one could be unmoved by them. What happens if the Gulf Stream shuts down? You don’t want to know, but you might as well start stock piling thermal vests now, not that they’d do you much good.

I think ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is a historic film. It is a line drawn in the sand. It defies us to turn away and pretend that climate change is not happening. While it is, to my mind, weak on solutions, this is not really a film about solutions, it is a film about the world acknowledging the problem. It has been seen by millions of people around the world, and I’m sure that having seen it, they will discuss the issues with their family and friends and start looking deeper into the solutions. It gives people just enough information to be able to take on a climate skeptic and win. You can’t watch this film and leave the cinema the same person. Every tree will look that much more precious, every sunset more beautiful, every river more vulnerable. Gore reminds us of what a profoundly beautiful planet we live on. It is, as he reminds us, our only home, and we are in danger of destroying it.

g4In the closing credits, he quotes an African proverb, “when you pray, move your feet”. Gore’s call for action on an unprecedented scale is compelling. I left the cinema with the intention of buying a copy of the DVD of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ for each of my relatives this Christmas. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come out until December 26th! Not sure what the marketing people were thinking of, perhaps they thought it would be too depressing for the Christmas market. I think they missed an opportunity there, I’m sure I can’t be the only person who would like, with great urgency, for each of their loved ones to see this powerful, passionate and highly informative film, and as soon as possible.

Categories: Climate Change, Politics

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6 Comments

Paul Rowan
17 Nov 12:34pm

This film will I think hit the right note with the general population, to quote Observer review “This film should be seen by every man woman and child”. I watched it in Falmouth Arts theatre with around 180 people, an educated audience with a interest for the most part in green matters, i.e. the converted.
It needs to get to a wider audience.
Gore has the stage presence to put things across to a large proportion of the population and this will encourage them to think and talk, more than maybe some of the more radical spoke persons in the media.

Nadia Hillman
17 Nov 3:56pm

i agree rob. it was surprising how watchable it was. i saw it in brixton in the first week of its opening and must say it is a little hazy now. as you say, this is a film for those who may only be just waking up to climate change. perhaps we should launch a campaign to get this film aired on tele?

Joanne Poyourow
20 Nov 6:05am

I saw “An Inconvenient Truth” this summer at an open air showing in Los Angeles, where the crowd was estimated at 5,000 and perhaps as many had to be turned away due to space limitations. The next day the Los Angeles Times (huge circulation) carried a front page article on the Greenland ice sheets. The message is getting out to a wider audience.

I agree with Rob that this film is intended for those who are not that familiar with the issues of climate change. And, when cast in this role, I think the film does an exceptional job. People who are new to this, leave the film wanting to do something, urgently.

I have heard that it is now being shown on air flights (aside: isn’t this an oxymoron? showing a global warming film on an airflight, where one of the solutions should be STOP FLYING!). The person who told me this said “and you know, I’m from a red-state”. I was delighted at the ingenuity of the Gore team to have gotten the film onto flights, where they have a captive audience and can present to people who would not otherwise intentionally seek it out at a theatre!

People here are thinking and talking and acting. Shortly after “An Inconvenient Truth” roared through town, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a 15minute documentary short on climate change in California, just in time to get California legislature to pass the Global Warming Solutions Act which includes greenhouse gas limitations for California. ( http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/AB-32-as-passed-fact-sheet.pdf ) When our federal government still refuses to get on board, “An Inconvenient Truth” most certainly paved the way for this important state-level legislative move. And when California’s legislation is considered in conjunction with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (7 northeastern U.S. states) it amounts to a substantial portion of our country’s emissions now covered by some form of ghg limitation.

As far as on-the-ground action, there is now significant interest in solar power, green power elections, and efficiency-hybrid automobiles here in Southern California, even among those who one previously would not have thought of as “green”. I know, I know, these are all techno-solutions and a long way from true energy descent, but it has been a powerful and rapid surge in interest, a very good start.

Albert Bates
21 Nov 12:48am

While I agree in general, I find the devil, as usual, off hiding in some small detail. In this case it is that scene where Al ascends to the top of a chart with the aid of a mechanical lift. Back in the 1980s he would do that with a folding chair. It is a great stage performance, but it tends to obscure what might be the most important message in the whole presentation. We have pushed carbon in the atmosphere (and the temperatures that follow it) to levels unprecidented in perhaps a million years and may well be about to reach levels (in the next century) not seen in 40 million years. In other words, there is no indication humans can survive, to say nothing of all other forms of terrestrial life. 100 million years later, when CO2 levels drop to levels that permit dolphins to sprout legs and walk the land, perhaps a new species will evolve much the way we did, and will once again begin to poke around into the deeply sequestered remains of ancient forests and swamps, applying energy to 4th level tools. That is not in Gore’s message though. Barring a massive program of permacultural tree planting (likely to be in competition for land with food and fuel in some contexts), nuclear winter, a supervolcano, or some other Deus Ex Machina, Al’s closing act, wherein we screw in compact fluorescents, is, I fear, anticlimatic.

Joanne Poyourow
21 Nov 6:31pm

It would be interesting to see which studies/projections (specific cites, please) Albert’s “no indication humans can survive” doomsday conclusion is based upon.

The projections of the IPCC (http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science/projections-of-climate-change.html) indicate that there is still time. If we curb CO2 emissions by 2040, by 2100 or so, CO2 concentrations (concentrations, as distinguished from emissions) will begin to stabilize. True, this will be too late for Bangladesh, small island nations, the U.S. Carolina and Florida coastlines, and other low lying areas affected by sea level rise. Rather, I’m discussing temperature warming here. Which, I think, Albert was, too.

Couple the IPCC projections with agricultural projections (Richard Adams, et al, The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “A Review of Impacts to U.S. Agricultural Resources

Albert Bates
24 Nov 9:52pm

Yes, Joanne, I am committed to just what you advocate … “DO SOMETHING, rather than just bemoan humanity’s demise.” At the same time I am beginning to actually look at it very differently because the hockey stick finally struck me in the head.

I look back at the Vostok record and how it always ranged in this constant band for hundreds of thousands of years and then suddenly shot up to double and soon triple the historical high water mark (or carbon mark) and I can’t help but wonder if IPCC-3, Hansen, Gore et al aren’t just being unrealistically optimistic when they say we have 10 years to turn it around. Lovelock is probably the biggest prod to my thinking, and while I don’t yet give a lot of credence to 2050 or thereabouts as the point at which die-off ensues, I nonetheless feel that the match has been lit to the fuse and we are not likely to extinguish it. Buckminster Fuller said humanity had until 1985 to get its act together. I think he might have been right.

That said, the only antidote to despair is to do something positive and to work as if it mattered. And it well still might. We are in uncharted territory, so all outcomes are possible.

I also believe like my friend Alan AtKisson that the one single most hopeful element in this is all that is required is a change of mind, and that can happen instantly (although it only rarely does). The solution is less a material one, more a spiritual one.