Conservatives love to bash the 1960s, but when you think about it, the ones who should really be distancing themselves from that activist decade are those who seek to warn us about the perils of global warming. Every day, they must wonder why more of America isn’t with them. Is it laziness? Denial? The pernicious influence of corporate propaganda? All of the above, perhaps, but there’s a deeper cultural reason. Global warming has its roots in ’60s environmentalism — or, as it was known then, ecology. For a lot of people, the topic still carries a liberal-left tree-hugger vibe, and a taint of conspiracy. The right-wing strategy, which has been to paint global warming as a lofty hypothetical — an alarmist scenario pushed by pesky Chicken Littles — is a way of relegating it back to the era of ’60s paranoia. The challenge is how to clear those counterculture mists and claim the issue, forever, as a mainstream crisis.
That’s what An Inconvenient Truth brings off. Be warned, for I am about to write seven of the scariest words ever to confront moviegoers: This is a documentary starring Al Gore. Is your heart still functioning? In An Inconvenient Truth, the man who now introduces himself by saying ”I used to be the next President of the United States” is seen giving a lecture in which he outlines, with furrowed brow but a reassuringly jovial authority, the facts of global warming: how it works, why it’s really occurring, and what will happen — not could, but will — if we fail to stop it.
I only do wish that the Al Gore who ran for president in 2000 could have had a peek at the Al Gore who presides over An Inconvenient Truth. The hectoring scold, with his sighs and grimaces, his manservant stiffness, has been replaced by a funny and eloquent yarn spinner who might be ushering us into his comfy study. Backed by a beautiful collage of a slide show, Gore engages us in the mysteries of the earth — how the planet looks from space, the craggy prehistorical grandeur of glaciers (and the visible horror of their melting away), what global warming means for weather patterns, trees, oceans, populations.
The beauty part is, Gore isn’t preaching to the converted. He’s reaching out to the skeptics, pitching his lecture to those who believe that there might, sort of, kind of, be something to all this but are wired, in their guts, to suspect otherwise. Early on, Gore debunks the conservative myth that global warming may be happening (slightly), but that it’s merely cyclical, by making himself into a sight gag, with an elevated ladder that hoists him up a geological graph, showing, as a visual-numerical fact, the unprecedented levels temperatures are now at. That’s just one of his many professorial/showman tricks: before-and-after slides of Mount Kilimanjaro and other hot spots, computer simulations of the effects of the potential catastrophe of the polar ice caps melting — which, make no mistake, they are. An Inconvenient Truth can’t, of course, reveal a future that is still up to us, but by the time you’re done watching, the real question is, Which way on God’s green earth would you want to err?