An Inconvenient Truth

In theaters.

I’m not sure how to write about An Inconvenient Truth without descending into a stormy, tearful rant, but I’m going to try not to do that. First, I don’t like the cynical, bitter, occasionally paranoid side of my personality that I’ve developed over the past six years. Second, I think such a response does a disservice to the movie and its subject, Al Gore. Yes, the documentary about Gore’s effort to educate people about the danger of global warning has moments of quiet anger, but it is no diatribe. In fact, one of the most inspiring aspects of the movie is that Gore — after winning the popular vote but losing the presidency to an unprecedented, party-line Supreme Court ruling — refused to become cynical, bitter, and occasionally paranoid; he decided to do something.

An Inconvenient Truth brings Gore’s presentation about the realities of global warming to the screen. It is, essentially, a PowerPoint presentation, one that he has given countless times all around the world. Like a good professor, he has honed and perfected the lecture over time to create a compelling, well articulated picture of the mechanisms of global warming and its varied effects, both contemporary and projected. He cites scientific studies, he shows dramatic photographs, and he tells wry jokes to offset the sometimes terrifying information he has to impart. He would, in fact, make a damn good professor.

Everyone has heard about global warming, of course, but I confess I was unaware of some of the implications of climate change. For example, many cities deliberately founded above the mosquito line, the elevation at which it becomes too cool for mosquitoes to live, now find themselves swamped with the disease-spreading insects. Intertwined life cycles of various creatures are diverging, destroying natural symbiosis, as the species attempt to adapt to longer summers and shorter winters. Melting permafrost in Alaska creates dangerous conditions for, ironically, oil companies, whose heavy equipment can be supported by the ground only during the dead of winter, which becomes shorter with nearly every passing year.

Those who believe the phenomenon of global warming is actually a fraud perpetrated by a cabal of scientists and, of course, liberals, the scourge of the planet, are likely to cling to that delusion, but for everyone else, An Inconvenient Truth is convincing and sobering. And after Gore presents mountains of compelling evidence that leave you petrified that your city is going to flood and your children are going to starve in an inevitable drought (and you don’t even have any children), he pulls you back from despair with evidence that it is not to late to choose a different path. He vehemently rejects the glib assertion that environmentalism must hurt the economy. For one thing, he points out, American car manufacturers would be able to sell on a much larger world market if they increased fuel efficiency. At present, even China has set fuel efficiency standards that U.S. companies consider too onerous to meet.

Gore’s presentation is masterful, which makes An Inconvenient Truth’s digressions into stories about him personally a bit distracting. I don’t think we need to hear that the near death of his son gave him a new appreciation of the fragility of his children’s world and thus reinvigorated him in his often quixotic quest to convince his fellow senators to address environmental issues, but perhaps such human interest angles are important to other people. In my opinion, however, the facts speak for themselves, and Gore’s dogged attempts to make people aware of those facts is admirable with or without a personal tragedy in his background.

If your politics line up with mine — and perhaps even if they don’t — it’s difficult to walk out of An Inconvenient Truth without dreaming wistfully, bitterly, about what might have been. I tried to clamp down on that sentiment. An Inconvenient Truth is not interested in recriminations or regret; it’s refreshingly forward-looking. Despite everything, Gore earnestly insists that American citizens and, by extension, the U.S. government can be leaders in stopping global warming and the devastating climate change that accompanies it. As for me, I want to believe …