One of the most provocative experiences to be had in a movie theater this year is not really a film at all but more like the most frightening power point presentation you’ll ever see. Former Vice President Al Gore is our guide to An Inconvenient Truth, an urgent hike through the past, present, and projected future of our globe’s climate crisis. The man once criticized for being aggressively bland has returned to the public eye re-energized as a passionate advocate for an issue he’s been talking about for years: human consumption has put the future of the earth’s environment at stake. Though some might quibble over Gore’s motives, the scenarios he describes are terrifyingly real and deserve the attention of everyone regardless of their political affiliation.
In essence An Inconvenient Truth is a film version (with some added interviews) of a presentation he has given over 1,000 times. Though Gore’s slide show is a blizzard of pictures and graphs that illustrate just how dire our planet’s future might be, he somehow makes an incredibly complex, scientific issue comprehensible to a general audience. We see Glacier National Park almost glacier-less. Lakes evaporate in Darfur and Niger. Atmospheric levels of CO2 (the most abundant of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming) are at an all-time high, and the ten hottest years on record have fallen in the last fourteen years.
Making It Personal
The jarring portrait he paints is counterbalanced by Gore’s personal stories that reveal the roots of his decades-long crusade. He talks about how the premature death of his older sister from lung cancer convinced Gore’s father—a longtime tobacco farmer—to stop growing the crop permanently. When his six year old son Albert was gravely injured after being struck by a car in 1989, Gore was profoundly affected, found new reason to return to the issue. “When I came face to face with the possibility of losing something so precious” he remembers. “I was able to feel, for the first time, the possibility of losing, for our children, what we take for granted.”
Gore’s stories of loss are moving, but some leave us wondering about his political aspirations for 2008. Footage from Gore’s 2000 election defeat muddies his call for bipartisan environmental action. Unfortunately, the former Democratic contender cannot help but descend from his noble perch to deliver a few pointed political jabs at the Bush administration. Cynics might note that the former vice president won’t discuss his own part in the Clinton administration, when CO2 levels continued to rise. Neither party truly admits our common complicity in the problem.
Shooting the Messenger
Ultimately, however it would be tragic to miss the movie’s message by focusing solely on the messenger. An Inconvenient Truth provides scientific evidence for climate change, much caused by our human behavior in recent times. According to interviews of top climate researchers conducted by the Associated Press, Gore’s presentation of past and present science on the issue of climate change is, for the most part, accurate. Some not only praised his accuracy but were surprised at how thorough his grasp of the subject was. “He got all the important material and got it right” said William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University.
claims that global warming is a moral issue. In a time when elections are won on the basis of “moral values,” we need to critically consider the breadth and depth of morality.
A Moral Issue
Gore rightly claims that global warming is a moral issue. In a time when elections are won on the basis of “moral values,” we need to critically consider the breadth and depth of morality. Though it has not yet become a front-burner issue in religious circles, the need to be good stewards of creation has a clear basis in sacred scripture. Biblical writings begin with creation. Genesis is not an outdated tale, but a profound look at deep understandings of our origins and the future to which we are called. Mankind’s connection to the earth is so inextricable that even the Hebrew word for “Adam” means “earth-creature” or “mud man.”
Catholic Social Teaching also addresses the issue of environmental justice. The U.S. Catholic Bishops have written about the environment and global warming, urging us to “carefully consider our choices and lifestyles,” for “the poor often have too little, [while] many of us can be easily caught up in a frenzy of wanting more.” Our responsibility in the United States with regard to climate issues is even greater not only because our consumption of natural resources is so much greater than the rest of the world’s.
Pope John Paul II left no doubt about the urgency and the universality of caring for the earth. In 1990 he wrote, “Today the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone… I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”
What To Do?
The obvious question An Inconvenient Truth raises for all of us is “What can we do to make a difference?” Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time spent talking about this in the film because most of the practical suggestions are given during the end credits when many people are leaving the theater. Despite this criticism, Al Gore does offer viewers reason to hope when he says that “we have everything we need” to change.”
Caring for the environment is not just for tree-huggers and hippies. It is not just for certain congressional committees. It is not just for the church, synagogue, and mosque-goers. It is an issue we all need to be concerned about. Through the actions we take and the choices we make the greatest resource we have to combat this catastrophe is ourselves. It is a sentiment echoed by an African proverb quoted during the film’s closing credits “When you pray, move your feet.”
Here are some practical suggestions on how to make a difference in the fight against global warming.