Al Gore, the climate crusader, is back. Well, that guy never really went away — he’s been tilting at that windmill, so to speak, for decades. But Al Gore the movie star is back, with the arrival of “Inconvenient Truth: The Sequel” (aka, “Inconvenienter Truth: The Republicans Strike Back,” aka “Inconvenient Twoth: Two Inconvenient, Two Furious,” aka “Son of Inconvenient Truth”).
The update to 2006’s climate change warning alarm played in previews a couple weeks ago. And I, never one to miss an opportunity to do the absolute least I can for an issue, watched a movie for climate change, and therefore deserve praise. (Send praise in the form of checks.) I caught the preview screening at AMC River East 21 in Chicago.
The movie, set for release on July 28, comes at, it’s safe to say, an interesting time for climate activism. Previews, on June 6, arrived five days after President Trump, continuing his streak of undoing Obama’s efforts but accomplishing little else, announced that he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.
The movie spends a great deal of time on the accord, and I imagine the bulk of the film was made under the assumption that a President Hillary Clinton would continue President Obama’s efforts to meet the Paris agreement’s goals. Some of the most interesting bits of the new film detail, in live recordings, Gore’s telephone diplomacy. This, at least as the film portrays it, saved the Paris agreement. Gore is shown listening to the concerns of India, the last major holdout, who asked why India’s masses should be barred from the advantages of cheap, fossil-fuel-based energy after the West benefited for centuries. This is quite reasonable. Why, indeed, should countries like India forgo any of the benefits of coal when the United States’ current quality-of-life advantages stem from years of spewing the CO2 that will, disproportionately, harm countries like, for instance, India?
Gore is shown hearing these concerns and — wisely, even compassionately — not arguing against them. How could he, really? Instead, he devises a solution: He calls up some of his high-power tech buddies (include some dude name Elon) and proposes that they give, gratis, solar technology to India so that the country can both meet climate goals and provide cheap energy to pull its citizenry up into a middle class. The film shows the nitty-gritty, seat-of-his-pants efforts by Gore to make the calls, give the necessary flattery (“you can be the corporate partner that saves Paris”) to get it done.
And it works. The solar panel gift is made, and India, the holdout, signs the accord. Now, I don’t know your feelings about Al Gore. You may find all this to be a bit too much like hagiography. I’ll admit, even for me, a Gore admirer, there was a twinge of embarrassment to see Gore’s own movie paint him as the hero like this. And we all know that documentary creates its reality nearly as much as fictional works do. So is “I helped invent the Internet” Al just grossly kissing his own ass here?
Perhaps, in part, but not “just.” The scenes — which are actually quite dramatic and gripping — show that the work can be done. I think the point is to give audiences hope, to show that hard work, diplomacy and coalitions even with (gasp!) capitalists can get the job done.
This is both interesting and important. Audiences concerned about the climate (along with open-minded people interested in a free movie) need encouragement, even a road plan, not a story of woe. Because, especially given Trump’s recent and likely future moves, there’s enough despair out there.
That’s not to say the documentary ignores the challenges, though I feel it downplays them. Along with the Al Gore heroics (Goroics), the most salient part of the movie for me was a brief aside in which Gore hears from NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about a new challenge to climate efforts: Opponents of low-carbon efforts have been pursuing a new strategy, Schneiderman says: claiming that these efforts will tank the economy.
As I noted, the movie spends little time on this, but I think it’s of outsize importance. Climate opposition has mutated before, and it is doing so again. It used to be that those with oil-related interests (let’s be honest) claimed the world was not heating up. Some people still do that, but largely, the evidence of hotter and hotter years has pushed the arguments in a new direction: It may be getting hotter, but we can’t be sure humans are the cause. Now, the virus of climate denialism may have mutated again. Climate action will steal your pension and your job, they say now.
It doesn’t matter if this is true. Al Gore and like-minded climate hawks have marshaled facts, statistics and earnest nerds wearing very serious eyeglasses for decades. Meanwhile, no matter what scientists say, and no matter what the thermometers say, oil interests will find a new argument, a new rhetorical turn — the opposition will mutate again.
It’s insidious, and it’s been maddeningly effective. It’s also an argument for why Gore’s approach may not be the best one. Slideshows with alarming statistics may always be vulnerable to bad-faith rhetorical constructions and spin.
But a harder thing for moneyed interests to argue against is, well, money. The growing economic feasibility of clean energy, particularly solar, has countries around the world investing in renewables instead of the old, dirty fuels. Gore’s Paris diplomacy, significantly, depended largely on his contacts in the tech business world. The U.S., despite Trump’s personal animosity to anything and everything Obama did, will likely follow the money, too.
That, along with the impressive outpouring of climate support from U.S. states and cities after Trump’s announcement, should hopefully keep activists going. Wonky, stiff, widely disliked by the right, Al Gore continues to do what part he can, as the movie shows. Many others will have to do theirs.
Speaking of which, here’s one thing you can do: Check out the #BeInconvenient pledge here: http://pledge.inconvenientsequel.com/.