Well, I saw An Inconvenient Truth tonight. The Garberville Theater was filled with many of the usual suspects, and a surprising number of younger people which is encouraging simply for the interest. The film consisted of a Powerpoint slide presentation conducted by the former VP and arguably president elect 2000, laced with frightening footage of disappearing glaciers and convincing graphics of everything from the correlation between warming and increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to a convincing argument that the Republicans’ sheltering of the American auto industry from strict emission standards isn’t doing the car makers any favors in a global market. We were also treated with a touching family history, and I mean that without sarcasm – particularly at Gore, Sr.’s decision to stop growing tobacco after his daughter’s death at the hands of the poison the family had been selling.
Most shocking is that Gore is, for the first time in his life, is charismatic (a friend of mine remarked during the 2000 election that you knew it was a boring campaign when among the four candidates for President and VP, Gore was the most flamboyant). The Republicans have harped over the years that he continually “reinvents himself.” Well, he may have settled upon an effective invention this time. It wasn’t staged – he was in front of an audience, and he was engaging, humorous, and persuasive. And it looked natural. Arguably “presidential.”
Afterwards I met my good friend Fred Baron who shared my thought, and the thought of any political geek watching the film – the film marks the beginning of Gore for President, 2008. Certainly, the release was timed for the 2006 elections as well. And as reported earlier on this blog, it’s doing quite well.
The film wasn’t detailed on the science, though I’m told that the book addresses the science with considerably more depth. Other than the striking footage, the film presented nothing new to me in terms of substance. I would be more impressed if the film attempted to address the skeptics’ quite reasonable question as to whether the increased CO2 levels are causing the warming or simply an indicator of it. The arguments for causation rather than mere correlation are compelling, and Gore ought to have shared some of them. Perhaps he does in his book, but it’s central to the debate, and the film will reach many more people.
Which brings me to my problem with the film. Yes, it affected me. It’s impossible to sit through a two hour film with that kind of power without being affected, and I pride myself on my skepticism. But actually, it’s the power the film had over me that disturbs me about it, precisely when I am cognitively aware of its deficiencies. As George Orwell once remarked, “All propaganda is lies, even when you are telling the truth.” I agreed with Gore, for the most part, before I saw the film. The film inspires a sense of urgency, and I definitely share it.
I can understand Gore’s point about skepticism, but I’m uncomfortable with his attempt to discourage it. Truth, especially truth so important, should be able to withstand scrutiny, and even becomes more compelling when it does. The film should have incorporated a few of the intelligent criticisms, and dealt with them. Gore decried the reference to global warming as a “theory.” But evolution is a theory. Relativity as well. Other theories are treated as fact and applied that way, but remain theories because they can’t yet be proven in the sense that all variables have been eliminated. That’s the nature of science. Bush’s whining and use of tax money to dispute the relative consensus in the scientific community is actually beside the point. It doesn’t matter if there’s consensus. A theory doesn’t become a law until all variables are excluded.
A critic of Moore’s films once remarked that if he was a filmmaker he’d feel much more successful if the viewers were arguing in the aisles afterward, rather than applauding in unison. Personally, I believe that the cause against global warming would actually benefit from a film of that nature, precisely because I believe Gore’s premise is compelling. But unfortunately, propaganda, even for a good cause, doesn’t allow for much nuance. After the 2004 election, nuance is a bad word. Gore can’t afford to come across as reflective. He has to preach the word.
Which brings me to the fact that I saw Elmer Gantry last night for the first time. The experience may be coloring my response to tonight’s film.
Look, if you think Al Gore is a lunk head, and what he has to say about global warming is utter hogwash, then you’re gonna hate this movie. But if you like the man and agree with him politically, then you’ll love it. The film makes him out to be a bigger martyr and a better savior than Jesus Christ, himself.
On the other hand, all criticisms of the film and speculations abouulterioror motives aside, Gore is most likely right. And the warming trend is now indisputable, the only question being whether humanity is responsible for it. And even that isn’t the core issue. The core issue is simply whether reducing CO2 emissions will mitigate the warming. The scale of the problem alone requires considerably more thought than the vast majority of pols are currently willing to commit to it.
Recently, Bush was asked whether he would be seeing the film. He responded with his characteristic smirk and said “Doubt it.” That clip, if available, should be added to the film as it plays right into its theme of mass denial.
For what it’s worth, Gore’s presentation has converted a former global warming skeptic. Well, that and four other books.
I’ll be updating this post with more links on topic over the next few days as I come across interesting comments on the film.
Update: Although he hasn’t seen the film, and has no intention of seeing it, Republican Senator James Inhofe feels quite qualified to compare the movie to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. How much do you want to bet that he’s never read that one either?