A clever apercu from Al Gore? The mind does not perhaps reel. But it does do a little startled jig. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Andy Borowitz, on his consistently funny blog, was comparing the man's sleep-inducing qualities to Ambien without the side effects. We are not quite prepared to hear him introduce himself as "the former President- elect of the United States." Nor are we quite ready for the power of his "slide show" presentation of all the facts about how trapped carbon dioxide is going to disastrously change the very nature of the planet we share in something less than a century.
I mean, we read about this stuff all the time the melting glaciers and polar ice caps, the deadly heat waves we're already experiencing, the growing intensity of extreme storms, the fact that the "snows of Kilimanjaro" have virtually disappeared (Sorry Ernest; the "The Dust Storms of Kilimanjaro" does lack a certain metaphorical intensity) but Gore has brought all the scattered news stories together in one briskly narrated, handsomely illustrated place, and the power of his points is striking. Sobering. Ultimately alarming.
In essence, director Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth is little more than a record of Gore giving what amounts to his stump speech for Planet Earth he says he has done it more than a thousand times to yet another audience of true believers . But the piece is more than a slide show. It contains apt film clips (including cartoons), maps that show how much of Manhattan will be left when the oceans rise (very damn little), charts that show bad trends literally going off those charts. It is an impassioned show, not least when it is attacking the media's dispassion on the subject. For example, a survey of recent peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming shows 928 of them saying it is unquestionably happening, while not a single one denies it. In the same period, however, 53% of mass media reports present the theory as unproven, This is the same strategy, Gore observes, that the tobacco lobby used when the bad news on cigarette smoking came in. Don't discuss the facts; keep the issue "in doubt," "controversial," for as long as you can. And if that includes pumping out reassuring "studies" from dubious, at-interest entities, which the press reports "objectively," so be it.
What we've got here, friends, is a radical and dangerous disconnect between reality and reportage. So, just by gathering the incontestable facts together and bringing them home soberly and rationally, An Inconvenient Truth does a great service, and we have to hope that somehow it reaches out beyond the Sierra Club's membership rolls. But Guggenheim at several points diverts from Gore's slide show to provide motivation and back story for his passion. We see the Gore family farm, for instance, where Gore, as a boy, found summertime freedom after being cramped up the rest of the year in the Washington hotel rooms he shared with his father, a U.S. senator, and his family. But there’s a bitter irony contained in his sylvan recollections. One of the farm's great cash crops was tobacco and eventually Gore's beloved sister, a smoker, died of lung cancer. So it goes with him: a college teacher, a pioneer of ecological studies, deeply impressed him, but was greeted with indifference bordering on hostility when Gore held early hearings on global warming in the House of Representatives. He came to understand how interdependent we all are in this world, but it was the trauma of an auto accident that nearly robbed him of his son that brought that lesson home to him. The popular vote elected him President, but he was robbed of that victory by dubious voting procedures in Florida, which were endorsed by a supine Supreme Court. He's frank about it: that result was emotionally devastating to him.
What he does not go into is how his political consultants were complicit in that result. Their insistence on his tamping down or avoiding the matters that he cared most about rendered him stiff, cautious, temporizing. We never saw a relaxed yet passionate and intelligent man. All we saw was a guy who would do anything to win an election.
Well, he lost and we live now with the mess that ensued. And we must finally see that, in its way, An Inconvenient Truth is some kind of campaign document a presentation of a self still young, still engaged, not bitter about the blows life has dealt him or about the rather lonely path (there are quite a few passages through late night airports as Gore, unattended by entourage, treks on to his next speaking engagement). It is not quite a (threatened) wilderness that he’s traversing, but there's something at least bracing in the way he braves his relative isolation. The experiment with the earth tones wardrobe are long gone; its all earth-in-crisis now. And your mind, no longer taken aback by his cracking a few jokes, begins to reconsider: He might not be so bad after all and better than most of the yo-yos who currently have their eye on the prize. I admit it: that may just be a yearning liberal heart speaking. But I think it may be worth your while to check out An Inconvenient Truth, if only to test the good impression it is bound to make on people like me.
As for the future, just one caveat, Al. Be your attractive self. And stay away from those political consultants.