Captain Planet and his Travelling Power Point Show
Over the past two or three years, my family’s dinner table conversation has been dominated by one issue more than any other: global warming.
My father is a mathematician, a man who has always believed that science represents humanity’s only hope in the face of superstition and intolerance. Since long before I came around, my father has devoured “hard” science fiction and spent quiet afternoon with his buddies debating m-theory. To him, the “global warming hysteria” he sees spreading throughout the land is enough to drive a gun barrel down his throat. Not because he doesn’t think we should all go out and buy hybrids or explore alternative fuels. But because, to quote Michael Crichton (as my father so often does), “the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics.” If eight out of ten scientists agree on something, that doesn’t necessarily make it so, he contends. In fact, history suggests that it often means the exact opposite.
“Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead,” Crichton argues in his now famous lecture, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”. “Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future? And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?”
Yes, it’s true. All the predictions scientists make concerning continued global warming are made using models. “Science,” if we’re going to call it that, requires testable hypotheses. Consensus among scientists is not enough. If it ain’t provable, it ain’t science.
Fine, I have always said. But the world is warming at a freakish rate. And throughout history, temperatures have risen and fallen in close alignment with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. And the Larsen Ice Shelf in the Antarctic is developing zebra stripes due to melting. And. And. And.
And then I sat down to watch An Inconvenient Truth. And it freaked the hell out of me.
It seems that, in the wake of Al Gore’s Presidential win-loss in 2000, he did some thinking. The young Congressman and Senator who’d pushed for increased environmental awareness and responsibility had helped the country make baby steps during his time in office, but the future of the planet still seemed in peril. So Gore hit the road with little more than his Power Point and his charm. Since then, he’s been refining his communication style and bringing in fresh data, trying his darndest to play Paul Revere—to incite what his recen essay in Vanity Fair called “The Next American Revolution.”
With An Inconvenient Truth, director Davis Guggenheim has tried to capture Gore’s passion. Not only has he given the audience a seat in one of Gore’s engrossing and deeply terrifying lectures, but he’s also given us what he thinks is a glimpse into Gore’s soul.
Unfortunately, in doing so he’s also given some of the people who should most see this film the ammo to discredit it in the popular press. You’ve probably already heard the film disparaged as a mere launching pad for Gore’s 2008 presidential campaign (Democrats aren’t making it any better with all their public salivating). Gore has denied he has any intention of running. (He opted not to run in 2004, despite ostensible support). But if that’s so, why does this film cut away from the meat of Gore’s lectures to overwrought sequences about the loss of his son? Guggenheim probably felt that the issue needed a human angle, but he should have known that, by focusing on Gore’s personal life, the film would come across as partisan and politically calculated.
When I talked to Participant Productions’ Jeff Skoll last October, the eBay billionaire-cum-activist film producer, claimed his company would make every effort to avoid partisan politics. “We don’t want to divide people. We want to bring people together.” More than any other film in Participant’s rapidly expanding roster, An Inconvenient Truth is the “new kind of action film” that the company’s marketing department claims they’re producing. Though you’ve probably heard the majority of the arguments Gore offers up in this film already, the effect of them being piled one atop another by an engaging and passionate speaker is almost numbing. But why did it have to be Al Gore? Why did it have to be someone who Republicans could finger as a political aspirant? Why is it that such an important film is so dismissible off the bat?
People will say that you can’t simply film a lecture and expect anyone to come. But in the case of Mr. Gore’s talk, that isn’t true. The lecture is good enough, the data persuasive, and the subject matter thrilling and horrifying enough that people would have come.
And you still should. Whether you are my father, a man deeply skeptical of the science behind much of what Gore argues, or, like me, a flaky, artsy liberal who doesn’t have a fact to hang his hat on, you should see it. People in the media like to claim that films and television shows can educate and empower people. Most of the time, they’re utterly full of it. In this case, despite the film’s flaws, such a claim might be justified.
I hope that my father sees it. I look forward to some heated dinner time conversation. Let’s just hope it’s about the state of the planet rather than the state of the Democratic Party.