An Inconvenient Truth

For whatever reason, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to write a review of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth (IMDB), in part because I find myself wanting to say too much about it. As almost everybody who watches the news knows by now, the documentary features for VP and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore giving a “slide show” presentation on global warming, arguing not only that global warming is taking place and that it will have devastating consequences if we don’t take immediate action, but Gore also makes clear that humans are primarily responsible for global warming and that we can take action to reverse current ternds. The film has been widely debated, and while I have few illusions that my review will do anything other than add to the noise already out there, I would encourage anyone who cares about this planet to see this film. But while An Inconvenient Truth offers a lucid, eloquent explanation for the potentially devastating effects of global warming, it’s also a surpisngly human film, in large part due to the presence of Gore, and an unexpectdly hopeful film, with Gore outlining the ways in which we can combat global warming. The film also subtly argues that corporate greed is priamrily to blame for perpetuating the myth that global warming isn’t happening (or that it can be attributed to “natural cycles” or whatever), but to Gore’s credit–and the film’s credit–An Inconvenient Truth avoids coming across as overtly partisan or political.

In writing this review, I am conscious of the fact that I will likely come across as an “advocate” of sorts, but for once, I find myself agreeing with Roger Ebert, who argues that “to be ‘impartial’ and ‘balanced’ on global warming means one must take a position like Gore’s.” The evidence that Gore offers has become the consensus position of the scientific community, with Gore pointing at one point that in academic journals dedicated to science, not one article disputes global warming while 57 percent of all newspaper and magazine articles dispute it. At the same time, the film outlines the ways in which Bush’s current “environmental policy” is geared primarily towards benefitting oil and energy companies. As David Remnick points out, both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush have worked to discredit Gore. The older Bush referred to Gore as “ozone man” and implied that Gore cared more for owls than he did humans, employing the incredibly disingenuous argument that protecting the environment would destroy the economy. The younger Bush “has scorned the Kyoto agreement on global warming (a pact that Gore helped broker as Vice-President); he has neutered the Environmental Protection Agency; he has failed to act decisively on America’s fuel-efficiency standards even as the European Union, Japan, and China have tightened theirs.” In addition, the film reminds us that Philip A. Cooney, Bush’s former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, left the chief oil industry lobby, American Petroleum Institute, to take the White House job. When Cooney left that job, he went to work for Exxon-Mobile.

While the film is no doubt critical of the Bush enviromnetal policy, it is far more devastating and utterly convincing in its depiction of the effects of global warming, which are powerfully illustrated by Gore’s power point presentation, which he estimates he has now given over a thousand times to pretty much anyone who’s interested. Much of this information has appeared in advertisements and trailers for the film: ten of the hottest years in recorded history have taken place in the last fourteen years. Hurricanes have grown more frequent and more powerful than ever before, while typhoons have also increased in frequency. The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, which will cause coastlines to dramatically recede, eventually putting Calcutta, Shanghai, Manhattan, and huge portions of Florida under water. With Katrina’s devastating effects on the Gulf Coast fresh in our memories, Gore notes that we’ve seen the effects of 200,000 refugees and to then imagine the effects of a hundred million. Gore’s numbers are powerfully supplemented by footage of melting glaciers, before-and-after photographs of Mount Kilimanjaro and Patagonia, and animations that depict the radically changed coastlines that are expected if global warming continues unabated.

While this all sounds potentially wonky, I can assure you that it is not. As MaryAnn Johanson notes, Gore’s presentation of this material is utterly compelling, his rapport with his audiences undeniable. And the film’s use of charts and graphs dramatize the effects of global warming in ways that surprised me. And while I am strongly convinced that Gore’s argument is correct, I found it meaningful to see these arguments delivered in such a vivid, lucid manner. Reviewers including Peter Travers of Rolling Stone have aligned the film generically with “edge of your seat” thrillers (as seen in the film’s trailer), and that’s a rather apt comparison for the most part, though I think it might underplay the degree to which Gore generosity, reflectiveness, and his sense of humor carry his presentation. While Gore was often faulted during the election for appearing stiff, dispassionate, or dry, his passion for the topic of global warming is absolutely clear, and he also displays a sense of humor that was often overlooked during the election. These moments include Gore’s self-depricating introduction of himself as the man who “used to be the next president of the United States,” but as Johanson notes, his humor is also pedagogical in places, as he uses the anecdote of the frog who will comfortably rest in water that gradually warms until he “…is rescued.” And with that analogy, Gore introduces ways that people can begin to combat global warming.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I’ve found myself struggling to write about An Inconvenient Truth. And one reason I’ve struggled is that I found it difficult not to think about what might have been had Gore become president rather than Bush, how much different the last six years could have been. It’s also difficult to reconcile the image of Gore from the often hostile coverage he received in the 2000 election and the image of him in this film as a releaxed and humorous but passionate individual fighting for an issue that isn’t just political but moral. While the film rarely comments directly on the topic of the election, it was never far from my mind, and implicitly at least, An Inconvenient Truth seems to underscore the ways in which eletions should be less about image and polish and more focused on policy and substance. Even as I say that, I realize I’m creating a false binary, but when you see this film and see the man who ostensibly lost the 2000 election, you see what we as a nation really lost.

1 Comment »

  1. China Law Blog Said,

    June 5, 2006 @ 3:19 pm

    China is an environmental disaster and it is not because of its laws. It is because of the lack of enforcement of the laws. China’s care emission laws may be better than the United States’, but that is basically irrelevant because there are a huge number of cars their whose emissions would probably not meet anyone’s standards.

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