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The inconvenience of being doomed

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Megan Graham |  09 August 2017

 

An inconvenient sequel. PG. Starring: Al Gore. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. 98 min.

xxxxx'The evening news has become like a nature hike through the Book Of Revelations,' says Al Gore, the politician-cum-climate activist who made waves with his Oscar-winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. His latest film, the follow up aptly called An Inconvenient Sequel, has some positive elements, yet like its precursor, leaves something to be desired. While horrible weather events can feel apocalyptic, it is arguable whether the dramatic tones Gore employs is ultimately helpful to his cause.

Certainly, as Gore alludes to in the film, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001—with 2016 being the hottest yet. Global sea levels rose approximately 8 inches in the 20th century, yet the rate in the last two decadesnot even a quarter of a century—is nearly double that amount.

Figures like that, when properly understood, are disturbing enough and require no hyperbole. Yet Gore is a former politician used to performing, and as such he puts on a show to make his point. In the US especially, it seems that immediate and dramatic consequences work best to get traction on environmental issues.

One example (from this article about America’s struggle to face up to climate change) is the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969. The river, in Cleveland, actually caught fire because of extraordinary water pollution. The horror of the spectacle prompted widespread support for the creation of the Clean Water Act. It’s possible the theatrics of Gore’s latest film could have a rousing effect for the good of the cause.

As the camera lingers on Greenland’s ice melting in forceful torrents, gushing through the widening holes and channels, Gore makes a comment about its likeness to Swiss cheese. The scientist, a Swiss himself, remarks that he’d need to be more specific about the type of cheese—one of very few lighter moments to break up the film’s intense seriousness.

After, we see Gore in Miami, where rising sea levels have resulted in an entire street being submerged in ankle deep water. The short-term solutions are expensive; the long-term, non-existent.

While more awareness of the problem is good, one does wonder what the film is hoping to achieve beyond Gore signing up people for his Climate Reality Leader Training – referenced several times in the film.

 

"While more awareness of the problem is good, one does wonder what the film is hoping to achieve."

 

Certainly more people in such courses would be a positive. But when large sections of the film are spent exhibiting the sheer impossibility of Gore’s task—to negotiate with Indian dignitaries, broker drastic business deals on solar panels, campaign in conservative seats—we may be impressed by his bravado, yes, but potentially less confident of our individual ability to make an impact.

On the positive side, the film manages to touch on several complexities surrounding the issue. One is the difficulty of convincing developing nations—who have witnessed the US and the West become rich off filthy fossil fuels and high-emissions industries—to agree to wealthier nations’ proposed emissions targets.

This is an important issue and deserves the attention given by Gore; although it could have been treated more sensitively in terms of how these politicians were depicted. He also addresses the fact that climate change has been painted as a partisan issue, when in fact it should not be. There are plenty of issues where the scientific evidence is unequivocal, and that both sides of the fence can agree on.

Hence, Gore discussing renewable energy with the conservative Republican Mayor of Georgetown, Texas, is a standout moment. The Mayor explains that he is leading the town to 100 per cent renewable energy. He asks, whether one is a climate change skeptic or not, wouldn’t everyone prefer cleaner air and a less polluted environment?

The matter-of-fact simplicity helps bring a needed bipartisan angle to the case Gore is making. It also delivers a dose of hope for those who care about environmental issues, and a source of inspiration as many people try to depolarise the issue.

What’s arguably missing in the film is evidence-backed recommendations, or suggestions for viewers, that are not limited to just buying into Gore’s leadership program. Some obvious examples could be personal divestment from fossil fuels (including superannuation) and voting with your wallet by boycotting companies with a big carbon footprint.

Hence, as with the first film, it is hard to quantify the extent to which An Inconvenient Sequel will materially help the cause. While I felt inspired after watching it, I felt equally unsure of the concrete action I should be inspired to take.

That said, for those looking to expand their knowledge of climate change advocacy, it is probably worth watching to get an idea of where the conversation is up to from a US perspective.

  

 


Megan Graham

Megan Graham is a Melbourne based writer.

 



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I will see his sequel. Gore gets endlessly attacked by the fossil fuel merchants of doubt campaign. Broadly speaking the energy of those attacks might be explained by (a) his prominence and effectiveness at getting the climate message across and (b) whether or not his arguments are genuinely attackable. For his first film it was only the former (a). I'm not expecting any different this time.

John McKeon 10 August 2017

I researched the film prior to going to see it the other night. I saw that big-Al has been spending $30,000 USD annually to heat/cool his house, pool house and pool. This is a whopping 25x the average American family. Gore is another disingenuous politician - from either side - where he advocates for action that he himself is unprepared or unwilling to live by. Does it matter that the advocate does not live by that which he/she advocates ? I also read with interest that the producer of the first edition likes to fly private. One coast to coast private air flight in the US is the equivalent to driving a hummer H1 ( errr, the really big one ) for an entire year. Finally, on the topic of our use of resources, should I be concerned that this advocate is 50kg's over weight and is known for his big steak restaurant meals ? This is the concerned politician that is telling me to advocate for action and change.

Patrick 10 August 2017

Al Gore has done more than anyone else to inform the world about the dangers of human-caused climate change. I thank God for Al Gore and for his determination to help save the planet for future generations. The fossil fuel industry will continue to denigrate him. I've seen the trailer to his latest documentary and look forward to seeing the documentary itself. I suggest readers view 'Tony Seba - Disruptive Technologies 2017'. Solar and wind energy are disruptive technologies that have already reached a tipping point where they are cheaper than fossil fuel energy. By 2020 electric vehicles will be as cheap as petrol vehicles and by 2025 all new vehicles will be electric. By about 2030 we won't need to be on the power grid as it will be cheaper to produce our own solar power and store it in our home battery. Al Gore is right to sound a note of optimism. Governments like ours that are locked into the fossil fuel industry and aren't sufficiently embracing the solar and wind disruptive technologies will make Australians poorer, while countries that quickly embrace disruptive technologies will make their citizens richer. Instal solar! Be richer and help save the planet!

Grant Allen 11 August 2017

Patrick, I admire people who can live a green lifestyle and become vegetarian, but it's not going to solve the issues around climate change. Individuals using solar power and recycling etc may be part of the solution, but turning off the lights and refusing to travel or take flights or not eating meat isn't going to scratch the surface. It's clearly a global, big policy issue.

AURELIUS 13 August 2017

Is Al Gore trading on the 70s becoming a normal age for running for the White House? Reagan ran at 69 and 73. Trump ran at 70 and will perhaps do so at 74. Gore will be 72 if he risks 2020 and 76 in 2024, when two-term presidents normally give way to a successor from the other party. Being on a near twenty year mission from God to save the planet would surely make for good optics in a presidential race.

Roy Chen Yee 14 August 2017

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