Well folks, it has been 10 years since An Inconvenient Truth showed us the devastating effects of climate change and reminded us that it sure would have been nice to have Al Gore as president. Sure, we thought he was kind of bland in 2000 but boy oh boy did we get karmically bitchslapped for that unkind judgement. So get ready for that post-apocalyptic future outlined in young adult novels, because we are 10 years closer to it!Anyway, climate change. 10 years later are we making any progress? Is there any fucking hope? We are not alone in taking note of this film’s anniversary. It is being celebrated across Twitter and the internet at large. The website referenced in the film as a site to look up solutions to climate change, www.climatecrisis.net, has now transformed to takepart.com. This new site is both a retrospective on the film as well as a call to action and engagement across climate change and intersectional social and political projects.
Before we get too ensconced in the present, let us traverse to the world of 10 years ago. The film itself serves as both partial biography of Al Gore and filmic presentation of his traveling slide show/talk on climate change. 10 years ago I was a high school junior, studiously and politically entrenched in my IB Environmental Science class. This film does a fair overview of many of the tenets I learned in that course. We also watched a lot of Futurama in class so the Futurama reference in An Inconvenient Truth was also quite resonant. However, we also got to watch The Lorax, so IB Environmental Science has one up on you, An Inconvenient Truth.
The world of 10 years ago was a post-Hurricane Katrina world, where the clear evidence of the scale and breadth of environmental damage, and political indifference to communities of color and the poor, in the U.S. was laid plain. Katrina is a major focus of the film, acting as a fulcrum around which the science of climate change can balance. Al Gore’s talk is the main focus of the film. The talk features many impressive graphs, sad pictures of receded glaciers, and animations of rising water levels that make me want to immediately check how far above sea level I currently live. Elaborating on the direct talk are snippets of Al Gore’s personal life, his childhood, and his political career. With transitional shots of walking, or riding in cars, the film parallels Al Gore’s personal journey and realizations with the ones the world collectively needs to make about climate change. When we hear of Al Gore’s young son’s accident, he contextualizes the threat of losing your child as a turning point in his political activism. Realizing all that could truly be lost he vows to fight harder for the planet. Losing his sister to lung cancer when the family grew tobacco shows how we are all culpable and yet can change.
As Al Gore states in the film, he was privileged to learn about climate change and the pending environmental crisis as a young man from a respected scientific mentor. For me, my IB class was my first true discovery of climate change, unless you count some Sesame Street sketches about not using too much water. The film gives you the narrative and the scientific. It is clearly a film meant to inform, to provide an audience at large access to factual scientific evidence and to quash the falsehood that global warming is a theoretical concept. The film is a delivery device. The best way to reach the most people as easily as possible. Al Gore’s narration is measured and direct. These facts are just as useful to experience today, and while I’m sure there is significantly more data than 10 years ago, the graphics and scientific inquiry hold up. However, the film is even more terrifying than 10 years ago. The facts of climate change explained in the film seems like such familiar information to the me of today: melting glaciers, increased CO2, warming ocean currents. But, it is freshly horrifying while watching the film now each time Al Gore mentions that “in just 50 years” xyz levels could be reached, or such and such incomprehensible horrifying change could occur. As I was watching the film again, all I could think to myself was, “Shit…it’s already been 10 years.”
A particularly striking graph, and one of the common promotional snippets for this film, is of Al Gore stepping on to a mechanical lift and rising himself up next to one of his wall-sized graphs as the projections of CO2 levels in the atmosphere rise off the charts. Quite the literal visualization. Quite terrifying. The whole film is shot as a rather literal visualization. Either with archival footage accompanying narration, actual filming of Al Gore’s talk with graphs or computer renderings, or B-roll of him at his family farm, the images of both Al Gore’s talk and the film strive to visually communicate, as clearly as possible, the scale of the problem. It is huge. It feels insurmountable. “Like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.” Al Gore assures us that this is not the case. That we have the information we need to overcome this problem. That the perspective astronauts gained when looking back at the earth from space is exactly the one we need to save the whole damn planet. This little blue dot is all we got. There are moments toward the end of the film where American history is used as an example of all that we can achieve and I can’t help but feel that it is too far of a reach 10 years later. The people in power today seem even more frightening than the ones of 10 years ago. That is likely because I am older and understand now how horrifying everything has always been. Climate change is another large-scale human failing. We did this to ourselves.
I will not claim to know everything about climate change, but it seems as though for all the trendiness of energy efficiency and low impact living, (in my little corner of the world), that climate change continues to exceed expectations and scientific projections. If I learned anything about the Gaia principle and entropy in IB Environmental Science, I surely learned this: life itself will continue. The Earth will change, probably drastically, but is it us, the human race that will suffer and be wiped out. Inconvenient indeed. Some of us may live to see a post-apocalyptic wasteland that we will be forced to traverse in our old age if nothing radically changes. Some projections claim it is already far too late. Al Gore believes that by dispersing this information and providing resources, we don’t have to go from denial to despair. Instead, we can do something. I’m a bit less optimistic. I compost, recycle, have a car with decent gas mileage, use energy-efficient products, shop locally at farmers markets, and live in a home with a roommate who has a beautifully cultivated garden full of indigenous plants. It still doesn’t feel like nearly enough, and yet many days I feel I’m doing all I can. Hopefully, we don’t do what the animated frog in the movie does: sit in a pot of water as it heats to boiling. In the film the frog gets saved, but there is no one to pull us out of this, soon to be boiling, pot of water. I hope we don’t end up like the series finale of Dinosaurs.
At the opening of the film we are looking out across a river, watching sunlight catch the water and reflect onto the bright green underside of the leaves. The wind rustles the leaves in the trees creating a shimmering effect. Al Gore begins his narration, describing the beauty of nature as “Like taking a deep breath and going ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about this.’” An Inconvenient Truth is a film that isn’t about itself. It’s about getting people to wake up to a reality that must be dealt with. However, 10 years later, it feels down right worrisome that the scale of the problem still seems astronomically larger than the scale of response.