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Young Geoffrey

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Scary Movie: An Inconvenient Truth [Nov. 25th, 2006|03:15 pm]
Young Geoffrey

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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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sooguy
2006-11-25 10:03 pm (UTC)
Just don't go an read Michael Crichton's State of Fear which in the context of a fiction novel tries to claim that climate change is propaganda and fear mongering an nothing else. He actually footnotes all his arguments as if it was a scientific paper.

I haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth yet, but I almost picked it up this afternoon at COSTCO. It was in a very environmentally friendly package. The only reason I didn't was I thought I would add it to my wish list in case people are stuck for ideas.

Thanks for the review. I liked it.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-11-28 02:46 am (UTC)

"State of Fear"

Was that an afterword to one of his novels? If so, I did read it, last Christmas. The afterword, that is, not the novel. (A propos of nothing, one of Laura's sisters used to be married to Michael Crighton. I know: small world.)

In any case, Crighton writes a good polemic, but he didn't convince me, despite the fact that "the scientists" have been wrong before.

By the way, I wouldn't recommend buying the video; it's not something you're likely to watch over and over again.
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[User Picture]From: colinmarshall
2006-11-25 11:47 pm (UTC)
Pretty much my sentiments, too.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-11-28 02:41 am (UTC)

Sentiments

To tell you the truth, your review - plus noticing it in my local video outlet - is what prompted me to rent it.

I did think you went a little over-board in emphasizing the "bars of gold" scene; the movie is, after all, a wake-up call and not a disertation.
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[User Picture]From: colinmarshall
2006-11-28 03:34 am (UTC)

Re: Sentiments

Good to know I'm making an impact on people's paths through the video store. I'll keep at it.

I don't think being a wake-up call is enough of an excuse for setting up counterarguments that aren't even strawmen -- a strawman would've been much preferable -- pretending they're the prime criticisms and then smugly waving them off. An eight-year-old could see through that. If you really want to motivate people to action, treating them like dim bulbs won't cut it.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-11-28 03:53 am (UTC)

Re: Sentiments

Good to know I'm making an impact on people's paths through the video store. I'll keep at it.

You do that. God knows I don't read your journal to reinforce my existing prejudices.

But as for An Inconvenient Truth I think you're making the classic mistake of criticizing it for what it is not, rather than for what it is.

If you look at that scene as a visual aid - an auditory graph, if you will - it is little better or worse than the rest of the film, which is designed to hammer home, on a gut-level, the inconvenient truth that "global warming" is (at best) going to be one hell of a problem.

Sure, he could have gone into a two-hour disertation about the potential economic benefits of getting in on the ground floor of the coming "green" technologies, but that's not what this movie was about. It was about making people aware that climate change is real, that it may have tangible effects in the near future, and that we had better start thinking about it now.

His basic "gold bars" point was that short-term profit is not necessarily a long-term good - which is not something an eight-year-old can see through. Because it is true.
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[User Picture]From: colinmarshall
2006-11-29 02:57 am (UTC)

Re: Sentiments

I don't mind Gore saying that he values long-term environmental gains over all else, but that's not what I was pointing out. With the "gold bars" bit, he acts as if he's going to address a counterargument, then doesn't even bother to present it, smugly waving it off as illegitimate by its very nature. That's a pathetic, transparent ploy, demeaning to both presenter and audience.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-12-01 01:16 am (UTC)

Re: Sentiments

Oh I take your point, but I'm not sure if you take mine.

As with any documentary about a complex subject, detailed analises must be left to those who are willing to go back to the primary sources (in this case, even the website seems sadly lacking - the viewer needs to do real research, or else take Gore on faith, which I think is a serious flaw).

Where I disagree with you is on your emphasis. It's pretty easy to create a graph illustrating, say, 1,000 years of temperature change. It's much more difficult to put into a one-minute segment, the (long-term) economic reasons for investing in "green" business.

What you see as a cop-out, I see as a necessity of this kind of film. Gore's point - that a few of us can enjoy a few decades of riotuous living at the expense of 6.something billion people's future - remains (I think) an accurate one.
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[User Picture]From: devon8
2006-11-29 10:15 pm (UTC)

I just saw the movie last Friday

Definitely a useful movie. I saw it at a free screening, with a (useful) discussion afterwards.

Try checking out Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning by George Monbiot. I went to a talk of his the other week (he's a good speaker- you can listen online to his talk in Vancouver).

Also interesting (and what I'm currently reading) is Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing by Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling. Basically, it says not everything (health, life, the environment, etc.) can be equated into money but also gives examples of how cost benefit analysis does this and is used in public policy in the U.S. in really demented ways.

Did you know that an American's life is worth 6.1 million? Using that number (and a survery conducted on health in one mall in North Carolina in the eighties) is how they worked out how much arsenic should be allowed in drinking water.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-12-01 01:22 am (UTC)

Re: I just saw the movie last Friday

I think "useful" is a good term.

You might be interested in reading Jared Diamond's book, Collapse, which takes a pretty detailed look at various societies that have - and have not - succumbed to environmental self-destruction.
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[User Picture]From: devon8
2006-12-01 02:19 am (UTC)

Let's not be Easter Island.

Collapse was mentioned in a book review I read about another book... I just requested it from the library.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2006-12-03 06:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Let's not be Easter Island.

I think Diamond is brilliant, as well as an excellent writer. I'll be interested in hearing what you think of it.
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