Film is primarily an emotional medium; a picture is "worth a thousand words" on when it comes to moving the heart or spirit. This is particularly true when dealing with complicated and abstract subjects, such as our changing climate, as opposed, say, to a film designed to show the horrors of war. But to explain science, or the vast sweep of history, film must always omit more details than the written word.
And so it was with low expectations that I rented the recently-released DVD version of Davis Guggenheim's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
I read a fairly good newspaper on a daily basis, and follow current events and science news from a number of sources, and so didn't slip the disk into my DVD player expecting to learn much that I didn't already know. My interest in the movie was more that of a cultural anthropologist than of someone wondering what all that global warming fuss is about.
An Inconvenient Truth neither surprised nor disappointed me. It is a solid film, mostly shot during what seems to be one of former American Vice President and former and possible future presidential candidate Al Gore's ongoing series of "slideshows about "global warming (or climate-change).
Surprisingly, given the reports I heard during the 2000 Presidential election campaign, Gore seems very comfortable in his own skin, He knows how to work a crowd, knows when to inject humour into what is, after all, a scary subject. A good-looking, bull-necked man just this side of beefy, with an accent that rings strange to my Canadian ears, he clearly knows his stuff and, if he is no Isaac Asimov, he explains basic climatological science clearly and without too much dumbing down. (It is worth noting that Gore is no Johnny-come-lately to environmentalism; he wrote Earth In the Balance back in 1988.)
As an exercise in getting those of us who haven't been paying attention to sit up and take heed, An Inconvenient Truth does an admirable job. Gore provides numbers and graphs that bring home just how serious a problem we are facing. As an example, if the Greenland ice-cap were to melt (and he says there is significant evidence it is doing so - and fast!), the world's sea-level would rise by more than 3 metres, or 20 feet, flooding about 100,000,000 people out of their homes.
As Gore might say, that's a lot of people. And most of them live in the Third World. Remembering the chaos caused in the First World, when
Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans only last year, the mind kind of boggles imagining how we would manage such a humanitarian crisis.
An Inconvenient Truth is a call-to-arms about an impending catastrophe that is still, Gore believes, not too late to stop.</i>
And here is where the film is at its weakest. Gore barely addresses how we can reverse course, other than by a vague call to American citizens to engage in the political process and fight for new regulations to limit CO2 emissions. He doesn't seriously engage those who claim cutting back on our "global warming pollutants will severely damage the economy; only in passing does he suggest that getting in the technological forefront of developing new, less-carbon emitting technologies could in fact provide for a future economic boom. Nor does he address the irony of his own, world-wide tour, and the CO2 being emitted as he harvests his frequent-flyer points.
As a film, An Inconvenient Truth is a strong piece of necessary propaganda, and may lead a significant number of people to research the subject in greater depth and to perhaps re-consider their addictions to SUVs and suburban housing.
If you are already aware of the looming environmental catastrophe we face, you don't need to see it, unless you'd like a spur to get you doing something more. If "global warming" is just a term about which you are vaguely aware, then An Inconvenient Truth is something you should see, and Gore's genial presence will likely hold your attention and keep you amused and engaged as he explains the basics of the problem.
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