ARGUABLY THE MOST famous documentary of the early 21st century about the issues of global warming and climate change, An Inconvenient Truth was directed by Davis Guggenheim, with former U.S. Vice President Albert A. Gore, Jr., as narrator and creator. Gore steals the show, and very few people remember the filmmaker's name. An Inconvenient Truth is in essence a filmed public lecture, one and a half hours long, delivered by a former politician, not a scientist, about the importance and dangers of global warming.
The main character, Al Gore, is progressively introduced in the first scenes of the film, just before the film's title appears on the screen. The opening images show only nature: a calm river. Then, Gore's voice is coupled with various images of individuals from the audience who listen carefully to his message. At this point, Gore is viewed only from behind. Reaction shots are taken from individuals in the audience: most people listen, applaud; in another shot, others have the chance to get nearer or to talk to him directly. A man who seems impressed takes a photograph of nearby Gore, another candidly films him with his mobile telephone, showing that this is an important person, and this rare meeting is to become a memorable moment for all those who had the chance to encounter him. In the background, soft, instrumental music plays in a New Age style.
Then, perhaps on another day, in another city, Gore is about to enter on stage; first his shadow, from feet to head, then his whole person is shown. Until that moment, his face is not visible; then the magnified Gore introduces himself in a general shot, declaring jokingly, but without a smile, to the audience in a serious tone: "I used to be the next president of the United States of America." This opening sequence lasts about four minutes, until the film's title appears; it constructs Gore's image and credibility for the forthcoming demonstration.
The first hour shows Gore explaining how the climate went out of control in just a few years. Graphs, photographs, data, short films, and anecdotes are shown. From the beginning, the film mentions a national disaster from 2005, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, as a patent case of a tragedy that was not considered very important by the U.S. Government. At some point in the argument, these terrible events in New Orleans are presented as the direct consequence of the global warming. It also explains that the administration in Washington, D.C., does not seem to be fully aware of the danger of global warming to U.S citizens.
Among many facts, mixed with some personal memories, Gore mentions his admiration for his former professor at Harvard, Roger Revelle (1909-91), who in 1957-58 was already doing research and teaching about climate change, with the help of his partner Charles David Keeling. Both men are seen as the pioneers in the research and measures related to global warming. Gore recalls he was in Revelle's class in the mid-1960s; later, in the mid-1970s, when sitting in Congress, Gore wanted to bring his former professor Roger Revelle in as an expert to explain his position, during a congressional hearing about the climate.
One famous scene is when Gore wants to show his audience the exceptionally high level of carbon dioxide concentration, but he is not tall enough to point out the curve on the board. He also shows two variables on another graph, which he analyses in his own terms: "When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer." He adds that the string of big hurricanes occurred the same year the United States had an all-time record for tornados. But at some point, Gore brings the debate into another field, far from science and data, arguing that "Ultimately this is really not a political issue so much as a moral issue. If we allow that to happen, it is deeply unethical."
After the first hour, the movie introduces stronger images: for instance, the floods and droughts in Asia, Darfur, and Niger; Lake Chad, which dried up; or permafrost thawing in the Arctic. Many countries face the consequences of climate change, and the two poles are changing as well: the problem is worldwide. However, Gore does not pretend to be a scientist; he keeps a distance between the academic world and himself, for instance, when he "translates" into lay terms the fact "that Earth's climate is a nonlinear system," Gore adds that this is "just a fancy way they have of saying that the changes are not all gradual."
Throughout the movie, Gore also brings up lessons from history, quoting other repeated warnings that were not widely heeded, such as those of Winston Churchill in the 1930s about the Nazi threat. He adds, "...there had been warnings that hurricanes would get stronger." There was alarm as well about the dangers of cigarette smoking in the 1960s, although some skeptics used to pretend there was no danger. This last example about tobacco is used again later in the film, and transposed to illustrate how opponents often try to transform the evidence made by clear facts into a useless debate, in this case about the real existence of global warming.
The film concludes with the explanation of its title, when Gore shows how many people who deny climate change, sometimes identified as the "so-called skeptics," often raise doubts with feeble arguments, sometimes because they are influenced by powerful lobbies, either oil companies or energy producers. Gore compares them to scientists who used to serve in totalitarian regimes or communist countries, who could not enjoy free speech in presenting scientific opinions. In other words, their scientific conclusions were in contradiction with the official discourse and dominant ideologies, and therefore, raised more questions than answers, and had to be silenced.
The final images carry a touch of hope, given past gains: in sum, many challenges in the past such as slavery, Apartheid, and even the hole that was found in the ozone layer above the North Pole have been resolved. Therefore, the narrator calls for citizen involvement and a stronger advocacy for environment. When the film's credits are rolling, positive messages of good will such as "Recycle," "Speak up in your community," "Call radio shows and write newspapers," "Try to buy a hybrid vehicle," and "Encourage everyone you know to watch this movie" appear. Although some U.S. presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. and George W. Bush are portrayed as not acknowledging the facts of climate change, the Clintons are not shown anywhere in the film (except for a few seconds, when George W. Bush becomes the new president in the presence of President Bill Clinton and other guests).
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