AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006)


directed by Davis Guggenheim, written (?) and presented by Al Gore

I think late 2006 can be identified as the time when global warming really took off as an issue. We've been having hurricanes, tsunamis and lethal heatwaves now for a few years, but what really rang the warning bells (chez Stephen, at least) was not extreme weather, but mild weather. The realisation that I spent most of October basking in warm sunshine; the disturbing fact that now, in the bleak of midwinter, it's not actually all that cold.

I also must concede that An Inconvenient Truth is part of the reason for the higher-than-usual media profile of global warming. I don't think it's a good piece of filmmaking -- part pedestrian documentary, part autobiography/campaign feeler for Al Gore -- but I can't deny that I think of its message whenever I accidentally leave the lights on in the kitchen. It's to the credit of the filmmakers that they bring the issue to the fore in a popular medium.

Gore is not entirely unlikeable, and is quite tolerable and even interesting when he sticks to the issue. He gives some striking, if not especially original, illustrations of the catastrophic rise in global temperatures (though he gives the usual wrong explanation of the greenhouse effect). He gives some handy rebuttals to those who claim that global warming is an illusion. He is much less tolerable, however, when his subject is Al Gore, a subject he clearly feels passionately about, and which he returns to every few minutes. Gore is least tolerable of all when he mentions the 2000 election, which he and the Democrats won and then meekly surrendered to Bush and company -- another "inconvenient truth" which should neither be forgiven nor forgotten. Gore dismisses the event in a few words -- "that was a blow" -- as if it was a personal tragedy for him, when in fact his spinelessness was a tragedy for the whole fucking world.

That said, I much prefer Gore to the other leading Democrats of our times. He was a much better presidential candidate than Kerry, and unlike the various media creations that have declared themselves for 2008, he has taken a principled stand on such issues as global warming, "homeland security" and the Iraq war. Since his surrender in 2000 he has worked to position himself on the left side of the Democratic party -- though one can't tell how much this is an electoral tactic. It could be that Gore is merely sacrificing himself for the greater good. "Radical" noises from a leading Democrat help make sure the left doesn't stray elsewhere during the polls.

An Inconvenient Truth is most effective when it describes the problem of global warming, and predictably much less effective when it comes to providing solutions, with far too much respect given to the inadequate Kyoto protocol (which was drawn up during Gore's term as vice president). The film concludes with a list of fairly half-assed suggestions as to what viewers could do, as individuals, to promote green living -- things like driving around in your car a bit less, closing the door behind you, and so on. The suggestion "if you believe in prayer, pray" raised a big laugh in the cinema, but then it was full of godless European communists. Might I also suggest doing a tribal rain dance? One thing to bear in mind for the director's cut.

Oddly enough, the conclusion of the film had exactly the wrong effect: it reassured me about my lack of contribution to global warming, had me leaving the cinema feeling smug about my low environmental impact. Hosannas aside, I already live more greenly than the ideal green-living person the film suggests to me. I already cycle almost everywhere, recycle almost everything, and my electrical energy is 48% nuclear. (Though thanks to the stupid Luddites in the Green party, that won't be true for much longer.)

Of course, the film doesn't mention that merely by living in the first world, I already do more than my fair share of environmental damage. And as long as I continue to benefit from an economic system with low-cost airlines, bananas trucked around fifty depots before they hit the supermarket, 24-hour aircon in offices, and other widespread overconsumption, it won't matter how energy-efficient I get in my individual life. In truth -- and this is the real inconvenient truth -- a proper plan to stop global warming calls for a more dramatic, and dare I say revolutionary, change. Which it isn't in Gore's interests to advocate.


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