The former Vice President’s movie may inspire viewers,
but fails to empower its fallen star, or to offer any new ideas

ReviewAn Inconvenient Truth. Directed by Davis Guggenheim. Paramount, 2006. 100 minutes.


This summer’s release of An Inconvenient Truth—a surprisingly entertaining documentary about the looming specter of global warming—shows not only the perils of global warming, but also (and perhaps as importantly) a radically different Al Gore. The man who was once lambasted by the press for his monotonous and irritable tone appeared cinematically to be energetic, passionate, and even funny.

With the help of director Davis Guggenheim and a handful of producers, including Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting), Al Gore does a fantastic job of summarizing his worldwide lecture tour on the subject of climate change. In the process, he also remakes his image. Consequently, the movie sparked a short but intense slough of articles and radio talk-show chatter about the possibility of Gore making another run for the White House—a prospect that just four years ago seemed as likely as the coming of the next ice-age.

Al Gore is not going to run for President again. Clearly. And since the initial babble of whether he would or wouldn’t run has now simmered, more pressing questions exist worth pondering. First, what was the central message Gore was trying to convey in An Inconvenient Truth? Secondly, how accurate is the science behind the film? And finally, has the film sparked a shift in our consciousness that will slow the alleged detrimental effect of humans on the planet? If it hasn’t, Gore says it should.

“This is not a political issue. It is a moral issue,” says Gore in the film. The former Vice President might as well have said that climate change is not a Democratic issue. Nor is it a Republican issue, or a concern only for the environmentally pious. It is to matter to all people: not just to Americans, not just to liberals, not just to a leftist-leaning minority of either group. It’s a matter that demands our attention and must be forefront in our collective consciousness, lest we stand idly by as millions of coastal-living people are displaced. Or worse: we could all be plunged into another ice age.

While the mainstream press and powerful lobbyist groups might have you believe otherwise, global warming is no theory, no social tool used to undermine the energy industry or to frighten citizens into voting for ‘tree-huggers.’ Global warming is real, and the evidence to support its claims can be found everywhere. After looking at almost 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles addressing climate change, Gore found that 0% disagreed with the claim that global warming is indeed happening.

How could they? Carbon dioxide levels and global temperature (the connection between the two is a complicated relationship, though it is undisputed that as one rises so does the other) are at an all-time high. In hundreds of thousands of years, levels have never been higher. Ocean temperatures are on the rise, and glaciers worldwide are melting.

An Inconvenient Truth also portrays the indirect effects of global warming, which are harmful to civilization and not just our physical environment. Because of rising temperatures worldwide, diseases are spreading to areas that were previously protected due to high elevation. Mosquitoes, fleas, and other vectors for diseases like malaria and the West Nile Virus are able to travel where they previously could not. Furthermore, Gore claims that because of rising sea temperatures, storms are more frequent and more intense. These indirect effects, however, are not as widely accepted as the various direct phenomena described above. London’s Economist says that the relationship between hurricanes and global warming is not so cut and dry: “Robert Muir-Wood, head of research at Risk Management Solutions, a firm that creates catastrophe models for use in the insurance industry, says that if you ask climatologists how much of the extra [hurricane] activity is the result of climate change, the range of opinion is between 10% and 60%.” Danish scientist Bjorn Lomborg, made famous for his book The Skeptical Environmentalist that disputes many of common arguments supporting global warming, represents a dissenting voice to the claims made by the former Vice President. “[Global warming],” according to Lomborg, “will not increase storminess or the frequency of hurricanes. There is no general agreement made yet among models concerning future changes in mid-latitude storms in terms of intensity, frequency, and variability. It will not increase the impact of malaria or indeed cause more deaths.” As is often the case, An Inconvenient Truth is not without its dissenters, and like all documentaries with a specific agenda, the movie should be viewed critically—or taken with at least a grain of salt.

Because in the end, while the viewer is left with a lot of interesting factual tidbits about environmental science and a glimpse at the both the lighter and impassioned sides of Al Gore, the message it leaves us with is nothing entirely new. Dare I say it leaves something to be desired? The message: drive less and use more efficient vehicles. Conserve energy and use green energy when possible. Use natural forms of heating and cooling instead of depending on central air. Recycle. Plant a tree. All of which are good chides, but doing them is just not a priority, and this movie is not enough to make it one.

“Political willpower is a renewable resource.” Mr. Gore may be right, but unfortunately such willpower is also scarce.