Review of “An Inconvenient Truth: A Global Warning”

by Christine Frank / July 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth: A Global Warning” opened across the nation last month and is receiving considerable attention from audiences who want to get the lowdown on the most urgent question facing humanity in our entire history.

The movie is essentially a documentary of the former presidential candidate showing his extremely well-designed power-point presentation about the impacts of burning fossil fuels on earth’s climate. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, it intersperses scientific charts and graphs illustrating the rampant climate change we are experiencing with some entertaining animation and live footage.

We see scenes of shrinking mountain glaciers, receding polar ice, rising oceans—and more intense weather events such as Hurricane Katrina, whose devastation continues to be felt among the poor of New Orleans and the Gulf coast.

There is mention also of the 279 animal and plant species that are struggling to adapt to warming conditions by migrating further toward the poles. Sea gulls were first spotted in the Arctic Circle in 2000, and polar bears are drowning for lack of adequate shelf ice from which to hunt.

Gore also explains that disease vectors such as mosquitoes are moving to higher latitudes and altitudes in response to warmer temperatures and are threatening the health of millions. He makes it clear in an uncompromising fashion that sweeping changes are about to overwhelm us, and the planet is being altered minute by minute. Due to human intervention, all life on earth is currently under threat.

His lecture, delivered with occasional bursts of mild humor and in language for the lay-person, deals primarily with the facts as they are unfolding rather than with predictions, which have been known to be wrong. The scientific community is continually expressing its surprise at how much sooner events are occurring than their climatological models had predicted.

The proof for the anthropogenic causes of global warming that Gore presents is based on the most recent scientific evidence and is unassailable. Like others in the know, he is saying, “The debate is over.’

As an undergraduate, in the late 1960s, Gore was profoundly influenced by his professor, Roger Revelle, who recognized that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were rising. It was at Revelle’s urging that Charles Keeling set up shop at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, where he painstakingly took readings and recorded his findings.

The now famous Mauna Loa curve shows not only the seasonal fluctuations that occur when vegetation in the Northern Hemisphere is at its photosynthetic peaks and lows but also illustrates the dramatic rise of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is unmistakably the result of burning hydocarbons by capitalist industry, transport, and heating, and the historic beginning of that rise directly corresponds to the inception of the Industrial Revolution.

What Gore learned as an undergrad stayed with him through his political career. After his questionable defeat in the 2000 presidential election, he became committed as a private citizen to getting the message about global warming out to the public.

Make no mistake; with his being a prominent public figure, the film is also about the messenger, but in a less obtrusive way than one might think, given how obsessed this society is with celebrity. The director attempts to personalize the message by bringing out certain aspects of Gore’s life.

We learn that he grew up on a farm where his family raised beef cattle and tobacco and he learned to love the land and appreciate nature. The near-fatal car accident in which he almost lost his young son has become a constant reminder to him of what a tragedy it would be to lose earth as our only home.

The death from lung cancer of a close family member was related as a means to point to how slow we often are in “connecting the dots.” His father continued to plant tobacco long after the surgeon general’s report on the health hazards of smoking was issued in the sixties, but when the Gores ironically lost a loved one to it, he finally quit tobacco farming.

Guggenheim has mentioned in press statements, “These moments become sort of the inner voice of the film’s unspoken, emotional diary.” This provides the film with its subtle dramatic arc and narrative web that is woven through the factual material. Since people often come to certain conclusions about broad social issues through personal experience, it makes sense for the director to have used Gore’s private revelations to drive the points home.

Gore builds his case thoroughly with strong climatological science that is well presented and easily understood by American audiences, who tend to be poorly educated in that field of study. Stating emphatically that we have about 10 years before earth’s climate system reaches the tipping point because of a host of positive feedback mechanisms at work, Gore also wants to offer hope. He seems genuinely sincere in his belief that not only must we act now before it is too late to change things, but that it is entirely possible to change them.

He points to how the American people have risen to the occasion in our past history, citing the American Revolution that overthrew monarchy and feudal property relations, the abolition of slavery, suffrage for women and civil rights for African Americans. Yet, he does not say how we achieved those great advances even though the images we see imply mass action.

Gore envisions the development of a mass movement to stop global warming. However, the solutions he proposes are along individual and electoral lines—using long-life light bulbs, weatherizing our homes, driving a hybrid vehicle, considering the impact of our investments, voting for the right candidates, etc. The focus is more on energy efficiency that frees the U.S. from its dependence on foreign oil rather than what is really needed to end the horrible pollution that is poisoning all four of earth’s matrixes—the air, water, soil, and biota—and threatening life as we know it.

His proposed measures are feeble, pathetic attempts and wholly inadequate to the task, given the magnitude of the problem we are facing. Continuing to vote for the two capitalist parties is not the answer either since they are tied to the powerful economic interests that are making money from environmental destruction.

Independent political action is the only way to go, by building a powerful mass movement that stands firmly on the principle of putting planetary and human needs before private profits.

The film’s producers are the same team that created “Good Night and Good Luck” and “Syriana,” two liberal, thought-provoking pieces on the McCarthyite witchhunt and the relentless pursuit of oil by the United States, respectively. Their intention is that the motion picture not only be a wake-up call but a call to action for all who see it.

As the closing credits role on “An Inconvient Truth,” the filmmakers admonish the audience with a list of things people can do in their “Social Action Campaign,” such as reducing our personal impact. They tell us we should live carbon-neutral lives—but how is that possible, if the economy is not carbon neutral because the automakers, energy giants, and utility companies continue to belch forth greenhouse gases at exponential rates in a last ditch effort to profit from earth’s demise?

It would appear in the final analysis that Mr. Gore and his collaborators are more interested in saving capitalism than the planet.

Producer Laurie David has also launched the Stop Global Warming Virtual March, along with Senator John McCain and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. If one reads the list of campaign promoters on that website, one can see it consists primarily of the well-established reformist environmental organizations and a plethora of green-capitalist enterprises. This points to the filmmakers’ concern that market-based solutions be sought and nothing be done to threaten commodity production.

Needless to say, capitalism has had 250 years to prove that it can function without wreaking havoc on the planet, and it has failed the test miserably. Likewise, the Gore team has failed to provide a complete program for change.

Although they recognize that renewable energy technologies exist in the form of wind and solar power, the filmmakers default in their responsibility to call for getting wind farms and solar parks up and running on a massive scale as soon as possible.

Gore mentions how the American people heeded the call during World War II to defeat fascism, seeing it as a progressive action despite the fact that it was an imperialist conflict intended to win economic hegemony for the U.S. ruling class.

He falls short of drawing the most important lesson from that experience, which is how quickly industry was retooled, rationing and recycling were instituted, and the composition of the workforce was changed as men of fighting age were drafted into the armed services and women were drawn out of the home and into military production.

Within one year, our entire society was mobilized for war and destruction—but just imagine what we could do if we all pitched in, in a truly meaningful way, to Save Earth.

This could be achieved with absolutely no loss in jobs. Our oil, natural gas, coal, uranium, and electrical utility workers could be retrained to produce, install, and maintain wind turbines and photovoltaic cells. And we could melt down every one of those personal bubbles folks drive around in and produce clean, wind-and-solar-powered electric trains that could haul passengers and freight.

There is no need for Ford or GM to lay-off thousands because there is plenty for our auto, rail, and transit workers to do.

In addition to retooling, we should nationalize the energy industry, end all government subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear corporations, tax corporate polluters (not consumers) and use the funds to clean up the environment through a massive public works program to employ the unemployed. We must also seriously reduce our consumption of natural resources, reuse as much as possible, and recycle at the point of production.

This is the kind of effort for which we now should be marshalling our forces—not half-hearted, half-baked undertakings that only buy time for the powers that be to continue the rape and plunder of our natural resources while leaving nothing for future generations. We must guarantee that our children and grandchildren have a habitable planet on which to live a decent life.

In contrast to the first book Gore wrote on the environment, he has since made a much-needed change in his position and no longer calls for nuclear power as a means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This positive omission has caused pundits such as John Tierney of The New York Times to attack the documentary by falsely claiming that “nuclear power plants, which don’t spew carbon dioxide and currently produce far more electricity than all ecologically fashionable sources combined” are a viable alternative.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Being heavily subsidized, nukes are the most expensive and environmentally risky way possible to generate electrical power, producing only a small fraction of the energy used by capitalist production. Plus, they emit greenhouse gases in every step of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Given the constant threat of catastrophic accident, routine radioactive emissions, and the problems of safely containing the nuclear wastes for millions of years to come, there is nothing ecological or healthy about nuclear power stations. Every one of them should be decommissioned and all plans to build more scrapped immediately.

Those environmentalists who advocate nuclear power as a solution to global warming should be exposed for the traitorous healots they are and removed from their leadership positions by the ranks of their organizations.

Except for its weak solutions, Al Gore’s global warning is an inconvenient truth told well. For that reason, everyone should see it.

Despite his lack of a strategy, Mr. Gore looks forward to a “Century of Renewal.” Socialists, too, look forward to renewal. We say, “Let’s make peace and end the war on nature before it’s too late.” We can do that, but only if we get rid of the profit system that thrives off of ecological destruction. Then we shall be free to institute democratically controlled social and ecological planning, managed by the vast majority—the toilers of the planet.

Once we take control of the means of production, we can repair the damage done to earth’s ecosystems and produce the necessities of life in complete harmony with Mother Nature, ending the conflict between her and humankind once and for all. So let’s get to work!