YOU REMEMBER AL Gore. Congressman, then senator from a political dynasty in Tennessee. Vice president for the eight years of the Clinton administration. President-elect of the United States for about 10 minutes, before being waylaid by the dangling chad. Since his bitter, disputed loss to George W. Bush, Gore has gone through some changes. He tried sporting a beard, reinvented himself as a media entrepreneur, hosted Saturday Night Live, gained a lot of weight. Then, last May, he burst back into the public eye as the star of a surprisingly successful documentary on global warming called An Inconvenient Truth. In a way that sometimes happens in America, Al Gore has come to personify an issue that until recently, most of us didn’t know we needed to know or care about. Oprah calls him “our Noah.” But if she’s going to get all ancient on us, Cassandra might be the better comparison.
Gore’s film has become the third highest grossing documentary ever, way behind Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 but closing in on number two, the equally surprising March of the Penguins. An Inconvenient Truth is basically the video of a PowerPoint presentation that Gore had been giving for years, jazzed up with animation and film clips, but weighted by some treacly autobiographical segments that seem to have been left over from an Al Gore for President campaign film.
The new Al Gore, visibly more relaxed and likable than during his last campaign, basically says this:
Our world is habitable because some of the heat from the sun is held here by gases in the atmosphere that are descriptively labeled “greenhouse gases.” Carbon dioxide is one of the main components. Unfortunately, measurements over the past 30 years show a steep climb in carbon dioxide concentrations and happen to track closely a concurrent rise in the average temperature of the Earth. All that extra carbon dioxide, a.k.a. CO2, isn’t produced “naturally”; it’s mostly a result of mankind burning fossil fuels.
If the profligate use of fossil fuels continues and the carbon dioxide levels keep rising, the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans will rise to calamitous heights, melting glaciers, disturbing water systems, and causing droughts, crop failures, and much stronger hurricanes and cyclones. Gore forecasts the worst-case scenario as “a nature walk through the Book of Revelation.”
But the real worst case that the once (and future?) politician presents is the breakup and melting of the two massive ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica, an event that would raise global sea levels so much that many coastal areas would be under water. Using an animated seeping blue stain that’s reminiscent of how filmmakers once illustrated the progress of the Nazi regime, Gore shows large parts of San Francisco, Beijing, Shanghai and New York becoming submerged. The result, he says, will be tens of millions of “climate refugees.” It will make the upheaval caused by the flooding of New Orleans and its displaced persons seem like a walk in the park.
There’s no way to watch An Inconvenient Truth without getting worried — at least a little worried.
Not Bob Giegengack. He has described Al Gore’s documentary as “a political statement timed to present him as a presidential candidate in 2008.” And he added, “The glossy production is replete with inaccuracies and misrepresentations, and appeals to public fear as shamelessly as any other political statement that hopes to unite the public behind a particular ideology.” This from a guy who voted for Gore in 2000 and says he’d probably vote for him again.