Film Review: An Inconvenient Truth
Cast: Al Gore (host/narrator/lecturer), [fawning acolytes, mesmerised Chinese audiences, star-struck partisan college campus lecture theatres... :) ]
Director: Davis Guggenheim
From the Riefenstahlesque opening and the intertwining of Al Gore's family and life experiences from the rural side of his (mainly Washington-based) upbringing this film was every bit as much about Al Gore, Presidential Candidate 2008 as it was about the disturbing trends in what he refers to as his "slide show." But what a terrific, terrifying show. A champion for a cause for which he both takes full credit and articulates pursuasively in the role of a consumate communicator. We have Gore's paternal Mason-Dixie Huck Finn narration through golden resonating river side contemplations, we have Gore's sarcastic jabs at big business, we have Gore's concern as a student of the professor who first noted the CO2 increases and his life-long commitment to "climate change" and "global warming" issues through his congressional career. We have a sub-plot of a sympathetic biopic via fascinating research and a potentially apocolyptic global deneument.
His task is to present the "inconvenient truth" of American (primarily) polluting industries and behaviour and how they are affecting the world. The most impressive data set was the historical cycle and correlation of temperature and CO2 in the atmosphere. We can see that just under every 100,000 years we have a very sharp increase in both, it plateaus and then it starts gradually to decline (into a long ice age) before repeating the cycle. All along the way it does have mini oscillations but the trend seems undeniable. The disturbing aspect is it seems we are already naturally at a peak at the part of the cycle right before it levels out at the maximum point. If we accept that our polluting, carbon emitting CO2 producing current (industrial) arrangements are making it worse then we could be pushing the natural maximum out into uncharted territory. What you might conclude also - in the same way the inference can be made of most glaciers whose ice only goes back approximately 1000 years - is that if Greenland and the Antarctic ice caps go back 650,000 years, then what happened before that? There was no ice because it was too warm I suppose. In which case are we rapidly heading to - or indeed causing a 1 in 650,000 year peak in the cycle preluding a very hot time ahead? - where reptiles may be more at home than homo sapiens? He does not pose these questions I hasten to add - these are the ideas swirling around in the minds of those intrigued and activated and inspired by a great set of ideas. To go even further - could human over-population and slash and burn agriculture have led to a global warming catastrophy before? If so there would be precious little evidence from 650,000 years ago - or indeed is each under 100,000 year cycle caused by humans too? Is it possible?
The information is presented precisely in graphical terms and also dramatically in footage of Polar melting, satellite images and the ravaging consequences of warming oceans; lingering on New Orleans enough to underscore the reality to American as well as foreign audiences. There is a lot of data involved and extrapolations and projections and hypotheses in the mix, so the cautious will perhaps be jotting down notes to find out more for themselves, because if what Gore is saying is even half way correct then our planet is indeed about to suffer a climatic heart-attack.
In Gore's pursuit of transparency, with every qualification or clarification however it necessarily raises questions with those who want to be certain - with those who want to believe. This is a campaign after all. The "Don't argue - it's science, stupid!" attitude of the true believer just makes many of us question such certainty even more thoroughly. For example when Gore says a "sample of 10%" we aren't told how they were selected or which organisation made the selection. Given that Gore was intellectually besotted and mentored by a professor who Gore proudly proclaims says he drew conclusions about what the trend was and what it meant after only a few years of hard data then we must also appreciate that someone wedded to a concept from such an early age would not readily have the objectivity of say a film reviewer with no scientific credentials whatsoever :). Where are the faults, where are the errors in logic - what is prediction and what is verified evidence? Even as a sceptic the anecdotal, observable evidence supports his thesis without getting into my pet theory that it is the damn scientists who keep drilling into the ice caps and glaciers all the time for data who actually start the melting! As Gore notes with the Greenland ice cap - it just takes a small hole and the normal melt on top will drain through it - making it bigger and destabalising the entire ice sheet. But it is a measure of a good documentary if the viewer will be spurred into their own enquiries. Any attempt at making people think in this day and age is to be applauded.
Most watching, as with this screening at the Auckland International Film Festival, will be of the solid urban left variety - a local who's who of the liberal litteratti. It deserves a far wider audience than those who have already agreed with it.
Can't he be both the thinking person's Michael Moore and a modern day Malthus? He has made a lecture-cum-documentary prosyletising for political and individual solutions to a catastrophy demonstrated through an adventure in science and history - and on the face of it it would seem an impossible task for the man so boring he lost to George W Bush - but here we have it: a riveting film.