Monday, March 21, 2011
Film Review | An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Truth or Consequences
by Thomas Delapa
Admittedly, it's a little daunting to interview a man who, for a brief, shining moment, was the president-elect of the United States.
Though it would easily suit him, no one played "Hail to the Chief" when Al Gore sauntered into Denver's Hotel Teatro, dressed in casual black blazer and open collar. Warm, engaging and forthright, Gore was in town to publicize An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary based on his one-man multimedia show that turns up the heat on the global-warming debate.
Since the debacle of the 2000 presidential election, Gore has turned his attention to putting the Earth first. An environmental advocate since his days in Congress, the former Tennessee senator and Clinton vice president has delivered his traveling presentation hundreds of times to audiences around the globe. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, An Inconvenient Truth is now conveniently in theaters in most U.S. cities.
Not simply passionate about the project, Gore has an ardent hope that audiences will see global warming as the watershed issue of our time, superseding politics.
"The thing that's most gratifying to me is that audiences tell us over and over that they don't see the film as political," says Gore. "Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives have come out of the movie saying that they were entertained, but also transformed, and they want to be part of the solution. I love that, because that's the whole point of the film and the [accompanying] book."
Gore is emphatic in his desire that the American public view global warming as a "moral issue," not unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
"The movie will open at the exact moment in time when millions of people in this country are feeling, maybe for the first time, a sense of urgency about the climate crisis," he says.
In a timely coincidence, the film also opens at the onset of the Gulf Coast hurricane season. Last year's devastating season—topped by the apocalyptic wrath of Hurricane Katrina—may only be the tip of the iceberg if global climate change isn't averted.
"For the first time in history, they had to go to the Greek alphabet... they actually ran out of names for the hurricanes, there were so many. Not only that," says Gore, "in my part of the country, we broke an all-time record for tornadoes."
The consensus among climatologists is that the ever-increasing amount of greenhouse gases is the main culprit behind rising global temperatures, triggering extreme weather patterns. In Gore's foreboding film presentation, he clicks off fact after fact, amply supported by pictures that not only tell a thousand words, but should come with exclamation points. Among them: 2005 was the warmest year on record since atmospheric temperatures have been measured; the 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1990; since 1978, the Arctic sea ice has shrunk by about 9 percent per decade.
Clearly the heat is on, though there is some question whether the rise is an aberration. In the film, Gore points to a super-sized graph that reveals a shocking correspondence between global temperatures and the production of greenhouse gases—mainly a byproduct of automobiles and coal-fired power plants.
Some might say that the rise in temperatures has gone to peoples' heads—and they're trying to cool off by burying them in the sand. What automobile-addicted Americans, in particular, have been slow to realize is the nexus of human behavior and the Earth.
"We can't seem to imagine that we as humans can have a lasting effect on the environment. The new reality is that we've slowly transformed our relationship to the Earth, both because of our advanced technologies and overpopulation," he says.
Gore is only restating established fact when he brings up the Bush administration's policy of downplaying the consequences of global warming—even to the point of censoring the findings of government's own scientists. The White House has found allies in "a small but well-funded group of companies that made a decision to reinforce scientific uncertainties in order to paralyze political action, even if it means intentionally confusing people."
At least in part, Americans have warmed to the idea that something must be done on a grand scale.
"People are hearing a louder voice from Mother Nature, and they're saying to themselves, 'This has to change and we have to force the change,'" says Gore.
Gore's Spock-like mastery of facts and figures in support of his case is impressive, whether citing the 230 U.S. cities that have independently ratified the Kyoto Protocol on global warming (which Gore helped develop) or the 85 evangelical ministers who've broken with the Bush White House position on the issue.
But what's most impressive about Gore isn't his lawyerly recall. It's the genuine zeal and patriotic passion that he brings to his cause. Even after the fishy fiasco of the 2000 presidential election—enough to sour anyone on our democratic process—this ecological Paul Revere still believes in the American public's willingness to answer the call.
"As Winston Churchill once said, 'The American people generally do the right thing, after first exhausting all the alternatives,'" he says.
Flashing a glimmer of folksy charm, Gore wryly adds, "Maybe that's why I'm an optimist. We've just about run out of alternatives."
Gore's demeanor toughens when I edge him into a wider discussion of the Bush administration policies.
"Imagine," he says, "if after 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, President Bush hadn't made such a horrible mistake by diverting away from bin Laden to Iraq, and instead had launched an all-out effort to convince the American people that we can no longer be dependent on foreign oil."
With that, Gore's voice tails off, "Instead we took another course."
Coming from the man and public servant who won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential race, Gore's rueful words couldn't help but remind me of what abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier once said: "For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.'"
For information on global warming, go to www.climatecrisis.net.
Originally published in Boulder Weekly, 06/08/06
An Inconvenient Truth won the 2006 Oscar for Best Documentary.