An inconvenient sequel. PG. Starring: Al Gore. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. 98 min.
'The evening news has become like a nature hike through the Book Of Revelations,' says Al Gore, the politician-cum-climate activist who made waves with his Oscar-winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. His latest film, the follow up aptly called An Inconvenient Sequel, has some positive elements, yet like its precursor, leaves something to be desired. While horrible weather events can feel apocalyptic, it is arguable whether the dramatic tones Gore employs is ultimately helpful to his cause.
Certainly, as Gore alludes to in the film, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001—with 2016 being the hottest yet. Global sea levels rose approximately 8 inches in the 20th century, yet the rate in the last two decades—not even a quarter of a century—is nearly double that amount.
Figures like that, when properly understood, are disturbing enough and require no hyperbole. Yet Gore is a former politician used to performing, and as such he puts on a show to make his point. In the US especially, it seems that immediate and dramatic consequences work best to get traction on environmental issues.
One example (from this article about America’s struggle to face up to climate change) is the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969. The river, in Cleveland, actually caught fire because of extraordinary water pollution. The horror of the spectacle prompted widespread support for the creation of the Clean Water Act. It’s possible the theatrics of Gore’s latest film could have a rousing effect for the good of the cause.
As the camera lingers on Greenland’s ice melting in forceful torrents, gushing through the widening holes and channels, Gore makes a comment about its likeness to Swiss cheese. The scientist, a Swiss himself, remarks that he’d need to be more specific about the type of cheese—one of very few lighter moments to break up the film’s intense seriousness.
After, we see Gore in Miami, where rising sea levels have resulted in an entire street being submerged in ankle deep water. The short-term solutions are expensive; the long-term, non-existent.
While more awareness of the problem is good, one does wonder what the film is hoping to achieve beyond Gore signing up people for his Climate Reality Leader Training – referenced several times in the film.
"While more awareness of the problem is good, one does wonder what the film is hoping to achieve."
Certainly more people in such courses would be a positive. But when large sections of the film are spent exhibiting the sheer impossibility of Gore’s task—to negotiate with Indian dignitaries, broker drastic business deals on solar panels, campaign in conservative seats—we may be impressed by his bravado, yes, but potentially less confident of our individual ability to make an impact.
On the positive side, the film manages to touch on several complexities surrounding the issue. One is the difficulty of convincing developing nations—who have witnessed the US and the West become rich off filthy fossil fuels and high-emissions industries—to agree to wealthier nations’ proposed emissions targets.
This is an important issue and deserves the attention given by Gore; although it could have been treated more sensitively in terms of how these politicians were depicted. He also addresses the fact that climate change has been painted as a partisan issue, when in fact it should not be. There are plenty of issues where the scientific evidence is unequivocal, and that both sides of the fence can agree on.
Hence, Gore discussing renewable energy with the conservative Republican Mayor of Georgetown, Texas, is a standout moment. The Mayor explains that he is leading the town to 100 per cent renewable energy. He asks, whether one is a climate change skeptic or not, wouldn’t everyone prefer cleaner air and a less polluted environment?
The matter-of-fact simplicity helps bring a needed bipartisan angle to the case Gore is making. It also delivers a dose of hope for those who care about environmental issues, and a source of inspiration as many people try to depolarise the issue.
What’s arguably missing in the film is evidence-backed recommendations, or suggestions for viewers, that are not limited to just buying into Gore’s leadership program. Some obvious examples could be personal divestment from fossil fuels (including superannuation) and voting with your wallet by boycotting companies with a big carbon footprint.
Hence, as with the first film, it is hard to quantify the extent to which An Inconvenient Sequel will materially help the cause. While I felt inspired after watching it, I felt equally unsure of the concrete action I should be inspired to take.
That said, for those looking to expand their knowledge of climate change advocacy, it is probably worth watching to get an idea of where the conversation is up to from a US perspective.
Megan Graham is a Melbourne based writer.