June 2006 Archives

An Inconvenient Truth? Or The Break-Up? What To See.

Two movies had major openings last weekend. In "The Break-Up", a couple played by actors Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston forgo an ostensibly blissful cohabitation in favor of his and her gladiatorial inclinations. The movie goer pays to share the experience in what we can only imagine is a tedious 105 minutes. However trite the premise -- a couple struggling to wrest ownership of their spiffy combat arena of a condo, and despite the tepid reviews, the movie topped the revenue and popularity charts last weekend, and June 2nd was declared National Break-Up Day (yes, by Budweiser). The message of the movie? On a pessimistic day, we wager it's something like -- day to day, the human demand for material things egotistically, swiftly and completely trumps inclinations towards humanity and civility.

The movie "An Inconvenient Truth" was also released in many theatres last weekend. The comparison might seem ridiculous, like comparing apples to, say, sea cucumbers. Of course the movies couldn't be more different, except for their similiarities. "An Inconvenient Truth" is a documentary about global warming starring Al Gore, and like the other movie, features dramatic, icy break-ups and wanton acts of destruction by humans in pursuit their own material well-being. It was also tense and difficult to watch. But unlike the first movie, it was probably the gravity of the plot, rather than the banality, that made the audience squirm in their seats.

Some had gleefully predicted that "An Inconvenient Truth" would be boring -- it wasn't; that Al Gore would drone on -- he didn't; that it would be depressing -- only in a certain view; overwrought -- not. That isn't to say you can't quibble with one or two generalizations, but that the movie overwhelmingly presents evidence for global warming linked to CO2 emissions in an entertaining and irrefutable manner, which is a rare feat for science "entertainment". One reviewer for the New Yorker commented: "It will be interesting to watch how skeptics will deal with Gore's bad news on the environment without making themselves look very small. Well said. Those "skeptics" abound, and indeed their statements seem both absurd and "very small", as in this recent letter to the editor of the Financial Times:

"There is, moreover, no scientific consensus that man-made activities, especially man-made carbon emissions, are the main cause of very recent climate change... Given the huge uncertainties - it is quite impossible to forecast temperature changes with any accuracy, such is the complexity and natural chaos of the climate system... " (Ruth Lea, Director, Centre for Policy Studies, "Attempts to Control Climate Change Resemble Quixote's Tilting at Windmills", FT, June 7, 2006).

The author blithely posits that governments shouldn't focus on carbon emission curtailment but rather should be "concentrating their efforts on assisting those regions that may experience climate-related damage. Like the U.S. government did after Katrina she must mean, except for larger swaths of the world, places like the country of Bangladesh. The most deleterious outcomes of global warming will be foisted upon millions of people who only incidentally use the technologies that significantly pollute the environment, millions of people living in low lying areas without cars or home heating, people who don't have the means to escape disaster when it strikes. If "The Break-Up" dwells relentlessly on the self-inflicted strife of two self-absorbed individuals, "An Inconvenient Truth" terrifies us with the immense and inescapable global effects of the very same self-indulgent, pursuits by heedless humans.

The idea that something as important as global climate change would be so steadfastly assaulted, denied and ignored that Al Gore would decide that a good way to get the point across would be to make a mainstream movie is discouraging, a fact not lost on the "used to be the next President of the United States". We would expect that the associated "think" tanks of certain oil dependent industries would deny the science in the movie -- or we wouldn't have needed the movie in the first place. But there are also critics who become distracted from the movie's main message in other ways (perhaps in part the movie's own fault), for instance by speculating that Mr. Gore is making a somewhat transparent bid for the presidency.

In the Financial Times last week, Jacob Weisberg opined that the ironic "inconvenient truth" is that Mr. Gore has been far more effective as a spokesperson for the environment in his current "freelance professor" role, than he ever was as a politician ("The Inconvenient Truth, Financial Times, May 31, 2006). It's entertaining to speculate about Gore's political aspirations, but Mr. Weisberg's "inconvenient truth" may not only apply to Mr. Gore. Our contemporary politics invites cynicism as to whether politicians consider any truly "public interest" at all. Especially if those public interests might cause business to pause...in its tromp to fossil fuel dependent profits, not to mention if those interests invite said businesses to revamp their ossified mindset.

Weiberg doesn't acknowledge that if Gore were president the movie (if made) certainly wouldn't have the same impact. It is these days in particular when it's suddenly so striking, shocking almost, to watch a politician actually engage us in a genuine manner about an issue that's so critical to our future. If only we were so fortunate that more politicians acted in the public interest, or that more politicians would fail in their election bids and then in the wake of their failures recoup a mission with the same grace and force and urgency as Mr. Gore.

The real challenge now seems to be not to silence the naysayers, who will forever revel in distorting the facts and distracting the goal, but to devise solutions, even if they seem inconvenient. The movie intersperses suggestions for decreasing individual energy expenditure with the credits at the end. Director David Guggenheim offered that discussing solutions was a larger feat that the movie allowed. Perhaps solutions were beyond this movie's scope, but we eagerly await the day that they are. According to the script, Al Gore's speech was delivered over a thousand times, an undertaking enabled by thousands and thousands of miles of plane and automobile travel. The true challenge for people who have only a smidgen of the resources Al Gore does is to conjure a solution to excessive fuel consumption. Once we accomplish that, then Al Gore's future environmental campaigns will be powered by a motorcade of Priuses (or better), and every day in every nation will be National Climate Change Truth day.

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