My wife and I watched Al Gore’s 2017 sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, which was originally issued in 2006, last night; we were the only people in the cinema, which is a sad comment on the lack of interest in what is the most important threat to human civilisation. This is a curate’s egg of a film, it’s easy to list its weaknesses, the main one being its relative lack of structure, but it also says many important things, of which the general public is still relatively unaware.
The film is rather too obviously aimed at American audience, except for the scenes filmed during the Paris Conference, COP21, at the end of 2015, much of the film appears to focus on American political issues (although Gore can be seen travelling around the world), and gives the impression that the policies of the United States will largely determine the progress of addressing climate change. Arguably, during the decades of negotiation on climate change, United States has contributed little, weighed down as it has been by corporate lobbyists, and climate change deniers, in a way that no other major country has been. The United States is therefore an outlier in the international community on this issue, and the process of addressing climate change has largely been driven by Europe, and recently by China.
It would also have been interesting if there had been interviews with leading scientists, like Jim Hansen, or environmental journalists like Elizabeth Kolbert. The narration of the film is almost entirely left in the hands of Al Gore, who is an effective speaker, but I felt that we had rather too many presentations, too many halls and conference rooms full of interested young people, and an overly lengthy series of scenes set on the Greenland ice cap. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly its coverage of the negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement in 2015. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this event, President Trump or not, because Paris has set the agenda, and established a roadmap towards a zero carbon economy. Although it is arguable that the actual temperature targets agreed in Paris may be met, without such targets, it is difficult to see how global policies to address carbon emissions could be agreed; Paris has established a global commitment to move to a zero carbon world. The discussions in Paris about India’s plans for building hundreds of coal-fired stations, illustrated how international negotiations and cooperation, do have a real impact in dealing with carbon emissions.
The film made a number of effective points, it showed clearly the accelerated melting of the Greenland ice cap, the increased level of flooding in Florida, and the threat from rising sea levels around the world, it also acknowledged the role of drought in creating instability in Syria prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Furthermore, Gore showed how renewable energy, in the form of solar panels and wind turbines, is becoming cheaper, and is replacing fossil fuels. Gore also referred to heatwaves and their impact, but did not refer to recent research which suggests that parts of the world will actually become too hot to support human life.
This film will be very well received by American Democrats, it is the antidote to the message preached by many in the Republican Party, and their wealthy backers. At times I wondered whether this was a precursor to a bid for presidential power in 2020; certainly Gore is an attractive figure, who may be able to unify opposition to the Republicans, and President Trump.
I do recommend that you go and see this film, what Gore says about climate change is quite correct, and the film of water pouring down into the heart of the Greenland ice cap illustrates in a way that mere words cannot, just how real the warming of our planet is, and the threat that this represents to us all.
© Andrew Palmer, 2017. Do not reproduce without permission.