For anyone who paid attention to the 2000 presidential election (or even just the Saturday Night Live parodies of it), the prospect of sitting through a 100-minute filmed lecture by Al Gore probably sounds duller than another Matrix sequel. But An Inconvenient Truth -- essentially a film version of the high-tech global-warming "slide show" the former vice president has been giving around the globe -- is surprisingly engaging.
And inspiring -- not for what it's about (though Gore does end the film on a hopeful note), but how it goes about it. Sadly, it's inspiring to see a political figure function as teacher, speaking in complete, intelligent sentences, using facts and evidence, respectful of his audience. And that's why, despite Gore's insistence that the film is about an emerging global crisis rather than about his noncandidacy and despite his what-should-be-irrefutable assertion that confronting global warming is a moral rather than political issue, An Inconvenient Truth is still a political film. And one that doesn't shy away from a little partisan finger-pointing, including footage from 1992 of a desperate George H.W. Bush demagoguing about environmentalists and a shameless James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) insisting in the Senate that global warming is a "hoax."
Alarming but not nearly as alarmist as its detractors have claimed, An Inconvenient Truth's claims have been universally seconded by scientists not funded by oil and coal interests. With a mix of slides, graphs, and computer graphics, Gore describes how we got where we are and what the current course -- if not corrected -- holds, with a worst-case scenario of melting polar ice caps and a 20-foot rise in sea level that would -- in the distant but not unforeseeable future -- sink high-population areas (including much of Florida and Manhattan) around the globe. On this subject Gore comes across as a -- yes, uncharismatic -- preacher with a path to the promised land: "We know how to fix it," Gore says. "We have everything we need, save perhaps political will. And in America, that's a renewable resource."
Though Gore has so far deflected questions about running for high office in 2008 (or beyond), An Inconvenient Truth balances messenger and message more than it might, making a case as much for Gore's value as leader than for the reduction of carbon emissions.
But I don't mind the political undercurrents of this supposedly nonpartisan film. Gore is most striking when asking the rhetorical question: "Is it possible we should prepare for other threats besides terrorists?" And he's most damning when comparing the reaction to global warming to the reaction by tobacco companies when their product was linked to cancer: the attempt to "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact."
Gore contrasts scientific journals -- which are unanimous on the impact of global warming and its causes -- with the popular press' insistence on a "balance" that doesn't exist. Global warming may be a nonpolitical issue, but all the noise and bluster surrounding that issue and this movie makes a very political question unavoidable: When did the scientific method become a liberal conspiracy?