Revisiting An Inconvenient Truth
David Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, thinks Al Gore’s true calling is to be a great professor. His film works with that strength. It plays like a concert film, spending most of its time showing Gore giving the presentation that he was touring the world with, but also intercutting with interviews with the former presidential candidate. These more personal sections are a jarring change, changing the film from a TED Talk style presentation to something more personal. The change from professorial Gore to the emotional Gore is always a bit sudden and off-putting, but they do offer a bit of context to why Gore is so passionate about this subject. He talks about almost losing his son to a car accident and how he realized what it would be like to lose something he took for granted. He talks about how he has slowly seen the land he was born on change, showing that things that seem permanent are always in flux. He talks about how his family farm stopped growing tobacco after his sister died of lung cancer and how he learned that there are more important things than making money in the old fashioned way.
This comparison to the tobacco industry is one that he makes a couple of times, especially with respect to the widespread effort to deny the science of global warming. He spends surprisingly little time defending the idea that climate change is happening, assuming the audience will know it already. He hits the quick talking points (the heat from the sun is trapped by the atmosphere and as we add more to the atmosphere, more heat is being trapped), then plays a Matt Groening cartoon demonstrating the same thing.
The majority of the presentation is more focused on the effects of global warming. The film was released in 2006, so there was plenty of climate-related news to talk about. At the time, 2005 was the hottest year ever, with over 200 cities setting records for heat. The heat wasn’t a new thing either. Gore states that the 10 hottest years ever recorded were in the past 14 years, pointing out that the temperatures were only going to get hotter. The heat wasn’t the only problem, either. Higher temperatures cause drought, drying up moisture from the soil. Hotter ocean water also leads to stronger storms, Gore points out, leading him to talk about the historic 2005 hurricane season that saw a record four hurricanes becoming category five, most notably Hurricane Katrina, which did immense damage to the city of New Orleans.
Gore points out that this kind of heat wave had been warned about for years. The effects Katrina itself had been warned about as well, with warnings about levees being weak sent long before the hurricane caused massive flooding. Winston Churchill also warned about a storm that was about to take over Europe in the 1930s: Hitler. It sounds ridiculous, and almost cliche, to compare something to Hitler, but Gore does it with no hesitation. He clearly sees himself taking a Churchill role in this scenario, warning the world about something that could easily bring it to its knees. The majority of the film is him talking about the effects, in both the past and future, of climate change. The future effects start out reasonable, glaciers and ice caps melting, but soon grow to things out of science fiction. Changing habitats will lead to extinctions and an influx of invasive species, some bringing new diseases with them. Melting ice caps will lead to a new ice age. His reasoning for these predictions are solid, but the outlandishness makes them easy to ignore, and the pacing makes it easy to zone out. “We get it, it’s going to be really bad,” I found myself thinking.
The feeling of despair from his vision of the future was strong, but he finishes with suggestions on how to reverse the effects. He encourages politicians to join the rest of the world in ratifying the Kyoto agreement. He encourages the US to raise their mileage standards to meet the rest of the world. Quoting Churchill, he says, “The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing, and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences.”
In the ten years since the film was released, though, it seems like the era of procrastination and half measures are still in effect. 2005, which at the time was the hottest year on record, is now the fifth hottest year. 2016, 2015, and 2014 are now the first, second, and third hottest, showing that the earth is still heating up and it will continue to. The ice shelf has continued to melt, but we aren’t any closer to finding an answer to the problem than we were ten years ago. The Kyoto agreement still hasn’t been ratified in the US and the current administration has pulled out of the newest climate agreement and insists on calling climate change “fake news.” Gore’s presentation has had an enormous effect on the public’s perception of climate change, but little has been done by the people in charge to turn around the dangerous path that we’re on. Hopefully, the upcoming sequel will imbue life into the movement for a fix, but it’s hard to be optimistic when it's been a losing battle this far.