Here is a movie with a vital message, one that we all need to hear, with visuals we all need to see. Consider just one of many examples, but among the most important: a graph that former Vice President Al Gore shows in the latest version of the slide show he's now been giving for nearly two decades, showing in the plainest terms how global temperature averages have shifted higher, acknowledging that there are still colder than average days but -- and this is an important point -- they occur far less frequently, with an explosion of hotter than average and extremely hot days. Those who listen to politicians who hold up snowballs in Congress to supposedly prove global warming is a hoax would do well to take one look at an image like this.
The thing is, those people don't want to look at these images. This issue is even more politicized now than it was when the first movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was released eleven years ago -- when George W. Bush was still the president. And that film, in its context at the time, had the power to get people fired up, spreading information -- and visual proof -- about this issue to more people than had ever been managed before.
At the time, I wrote: Anyone who outright refuses to believe in global warming as theory rather than fact is likely going to be wasting their time watching this movie -- you might as well try and turn a fundamentalist Christian into an atheist in 100 minutes. But for anyone on the fence, who isn't sure what to believe -- and there are a great many -- then this movie is for you. If An Inconvenient Truth doesn't convince fence-sitters, then they weren't really sitting on the fence to begin with.
But who will even see this follow-up? Certainly not fence-sitters, of whom there are now fewer still. Therein lies the inherent problem with An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, with which comes an unmistakable feeling that we've long since passed the point of no return, and perhaps we had even when the first film was released. This would be the case even if Hillary Clinton were sitting in the White House right now -- and, of course, this film offers the 2016 election as a major sticking point.
To be sure, it's inspiring to see the passion in Al Gore and his talks. He is shown here leading Climate Reality Leadership Corps Trainings, showing others how to give these talks on their own -- although as presented onscreen in the film, it's basically an updated version of the presentation he gave before. He gets fired up, and when you're watching, he makes you want to get fired up too.
That said, Truth to Power falls victim to some minor pitfalls of many a movie sequel, just in terms of its presentation. Remember the dynamic impact of the "off the charts" graph he showed in the 2006 film, using an electronic life to show the dramatic difference in temperature increases? He does a similar thing here, although it's with the exponential increase in solar energy investments. It provides some much-needed hope, to be sure, but unfortunately having used the gimmick once already, its impact is diminished. He even opens his talk this time with an updated version of his "I used to be the future President of the United States" line, now offering an anecdote about a woman who mistook him for someone who looks like Al Gore. Beat for beat, An Inconvenient Sequel follows nearly the exact same format as An Inconvenient Truth. This was maybe not the best approach, because it lends an air to the "been there, done that" feeling that serves as a barrier to calls for action.
A lot of things have happened in the sphere of climate change in the past decade, of course, from the increased frequency of severe storms (long-ago predicted) to the milestone of the Paris Agreement. This film doesn't state it explicitly, but certainly infers that Gore himself was key to getting the most significant holdout, India, to come around. It basically presents Gore as the hero of the Paris Agreement, and I am left a little skeptical -- it could not possibly have been that simple. For an issue as critical, and as unfairly criticized, as climate change, this kind of borderline misleading storytelling is dubious at best.
This movie is still packed with plenty of updated, vastly important information, and most people who care about the environment will find it suitably compelling. Some might even find some surprising hopefulness in it. Even I did, in the midst of my lack of faith in effecting any real change on this issue at this juncture. After all, Gore visits Georgetown, Texas, where the mayor calls it "the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas," and it is poised to become the largest U.S. city to rely solely on renewable energy. The man makes the practical argument that should appeal to most conservatives: it's now the cheapest option for providing city utilities. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to contact your own local government and demand they work swiftly toward the same goals.
The point, which An Inconvenient Sequel arguably doesn't hammer hard enough, is that industry trends are bending quickly toward renewable energy, regardless of what the skeptics (and the outright ignorant) think. What the film doesn't quite address, on the other hand, is exactly what impact the "turning point" he feels the environmental movement is poised to make will have on the tipping point of irreversible effects and damage of climate change. When, exactly, will the streets of Miami Beach stop being flooded by high tides that never behaved this way before?
Again, I fear the damage has been done. An Inconvenient Truth made us feel like we could do something to mitigate the damage, and An Inconvenient Sequel shows us what we still can and should do, but doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the same kind of potential. It looks increasingly like that ship has sailed, and it sailed through waters that were once covered in ice. I guess there's something to be said for the idea of knowing the war is likely lost but still refusing to go down without a fight. That's a fairly cynical attitude that I will own, and which this film absolutely does not advocate. But neither does it inspire a proportionate amount of hope to combat that cynicism.
Al Gore can't be faulted for any of this. This is a man who fought hard for attention to this issue for decades, and for that he should be commended, and perhaps even rewarded with attention to both of his films. This second film's direction is not quite as focused, but its message is clear and transcends its storytelling flaws. It's just not liable to change anyone's mind, is all. We'll just keep on using severe winters as straw men until we choke on baked smog in the summer, as the world keeps turning until it sheds itself of this cancer called humanity. In the meantime, a few of us will vacillate between feelings of inspiration and futility, sometimes within the space of a 98-minute documentary.