'AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH' BRINGS SCIENCE TO THE FORE IN ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS
CENTERING ON DECADES OF ADVANCEMENT IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH, DOCUMENTARY HAS REACHED MASS AUDIENCE BY PUTTING POLITICS ASIDE
25 July 2006
For a long time, conventional wisdom dictated that environmental issues were political in nature, and a matter of preference or opinion. The landmark documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' demonstrates conscientiously that the issue is beyond politics. The film takes pains to show that while priorities —and opinions about them— are at issue, not making ecological sustainability a top priority is not only foolish, but morally unjustifiable.
The former US vice president, Al Gore, presents in feature documentary film format a highly scientific and research-driven slideshow he has developed over more than two decades of environmental crusading. He has shown the presentation thousands of times since leaving office in 2001, and now speaks to world leaders, business leaders and the public at large about the need to take serious interest in the potentially disastrous effects of global climate change.
The film's strength is that it is not political; it addresses the problem of climate change as a fundamental human issue, based in science, common sense and the general moral code on which all civilizations are founded. It presents the issue as an ethical problem of potentially unprecedented proportions, and one which many people overlook because its causes seem at the individual level so utterly mundane.
The film has received a number of important accolades, including the backing of 19 of the world's most prominent climate scientists, who gave it a perfect score for accuracy in presenting the science.
While Mr. Gore is not himself the film-maker, it's obvious that his persona and his reputation bring weight to the film and may turn off some who disliked him for political reasons. But An Inconvenient Truth is the latest in a series of presentations designed to take issues of vital importance to all people beyond the reach of partisan politics or public controversy.
The film is interlaced with Gore's own story, his time as a young boy on a farm in Tennessee, his experience of war, the tremor of recognition that passed through his family, which had long cultivated tobacco crops, when his sister died of lung cancer, derived from chronic smoking, the moving story of an accident which almost killed his son and had then Senator Gore and his wife at the boy's bedside for months.
But the personal aspects of the film are not overbearing and they are not self-indulgent; they are tasteful representations, in confessional style, of an important idea: that they individual must come to a basic recognition of his or her debt to the rest of society and to future generations.
Mr. Gore explains how his son's accident fundamentally changed his perspective on the work of public service and his role in society. He came to view connections to other people and social activities as inherently ethical; he began to understand that if his son were to live a full life, many things his son could not control would determine his level of wellbeing and his freedom to pursue a fulfilling and contented life.
So the film portrays the problem of human-induced global climate change as a moral one: what we do now may so profoundly affect the global environment that basic ecosystem services may no longer exist in the future, climate regulating mechanisms may unravel, and much of what is now habitable or arable land, may no longer be so.
Deterioration of the global environment will likely lead to mass migrations, perhaps in the hundreds of millions, as coastal areas are inundated, suddenly or gradually, and the depletion of fresh water resources, a situation grave enough to cause wars, and which already has in at least two regions of the world.
The film is being billed as "the scariest movie you'll ever see" not because it presents shocking footage of disastrous consequences, but because it presents hard science in clear, eloquent phrasing, that leads clear-thinking people to the obvious conclusion, that failure to act on climate change now will have devastating consequences for the future of humanity as a whole.
At base, it is a film about humanity, and about the need to recognize one's own moral obligations, one's own ethical place in the fabric of life. Indeed, the title speaks as clearly as the film about its basic thrust: though inconvenient for that part of us that wants to believe we do no harm, it is vital that we recognize that many shortcuts we take as a species to fulfill our urge for convenience, can have dire consequences, if we don't learn to be smarter, more aware and committed to a sustainable future. [s]