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An Inconvenient Truth

I attended a screening of this film with a packed house of well-off suburban liberals, a well-bred group made rambunctious by the prospect of seeing this documentary of their hero, Al Gore, giving his slide show on global warming.   During the trailer for Winterbottom’s upcoming film on Guantanamo Bay, a cry for “Impeachment!” went up from somewhere in the theatre and was met with hearty applause (with yours truly contributing a few firm claps).   Clearly, “An Inconvenient Truth” would be preaching to the converted this night.  

As for me, Gore’s never been my hero.   In fact, in 2000 I had no more use for him than I did for W.   Ages ago, during my days in the trenches of the enviro movement, we yearned for a bit “less talk and more rock” from the veep.   I remember a comrade commenting bitterly, “Al Gore should read his book”.   Indeed, the youthful, callow S. Pfeiffer might’ve gone so far as to satirize this film’s title as “An Establishment Tool,” for as such he always regarded the man.   (Gore’s actual record on the environment was outlined in Alexander Cockburn’s and Jeffrey S. Clair’s lively book from 2000, "Al Gore: A User’s Manual", in which he appears as rather more a heel than a hero).  

It will give you some idea of the power of this film, then, to say that I came out of it an admirer.   Though the film impresses as a ringing tocsin, it’s just as interesting as a character study.   We are shown a Gore who is intelligent and committed, but who is also visited by self-doubt: he says he often feels that he’s failed to get this message across, no matter how hard he’s tried.   To explain what drives him to tour with the slide show, which he says he's presented over 1,000 times, Gore points to the near tragedy of his son’s 1989 accident.   To illustrate the need to have the courage to change, he tells of how his father stopped farming tobacco after his sister Nancy died of cancer.   (Our authors, writing six years ago, charge that Gore shamelessly exploits these incidents for political gain, but I found the anecdotes moving and appropriate in the context of this film).  

With often stunning images--this film benefits from a big screen--“Truth” makes a stirring case that, as Andrew Revkin recently wrote in the New York Times, summing up the prevailing scientific view, “without big changes in emissions rates, global warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases is likely to lead to substantial, and largely irreversible, transformations of climate, ecosystems and coastlines later this century.”   You’ll learn how global warming causes both flooding and drought; how hurricanes pick up velocity as they go over warm water; and about the import of such things as the ocean current system and the melting Greenland and East Antarctic Ice Sheets.   There’s a desire for change to the film that is honest and infectious.   Radicals and “conservatives” alike will scoff, but for mainstream people with their hearts in the right place, this is highly recommended.

In the end, what is the inconvenient truth about Al Gore?   Is he the tireless crusader presented in this film, or the servant of moneyed interests portrayed in Cockburn and St. Clair’s book?   Well, as I once heard C. Hitchens put it: the truth never lies, but when it does lie, it lies somewhere in between.


- Jun 23, 2006

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