Friday, August 11, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel: On the road again, with Al Gore

An Inconvenient Sequel (2017) • View trailer 
Four stars. Rated PG, for no particular reason

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 8.11.17

Accidentally or intentionally, justifiably or unfairly, in the moment or only through the lens of history, great events of progressive socio/economic change often become associated with a single individual.

Standing at the foot of Greenland's rapidly dwindling Russell Glacier, former U.S. Vice
President Al Gore sadly contemplates the implication of all this ice melt, and the impact
that so much water will have, throughout the world.
John Muir, and the modern environmental movement. Upton Sinclair, and working-class labor reform. Mahatma Gandhi, and nonviolent civil disobedience. Rosa Parks, and the civil rights movement.

Al Gore, and climate crisis.

That modifier is intentional and preferable, because the phrase “climate change” isn’t getting the job done; it’s much too passive. Human beings don’t respond to “change,” because it sounds slow, and therefore easy to ignore. Why bother, folks are inclined to think; it won’t matter during my lifetime.

A crisis, however, is an entirely different issue ... and the climate situation definitely is a crisis. At this point, nay-saying ostriches have about as much credibility as the Flat Earth Society, or those who believe Elvis still lives, or those who insist that the Moon landing was concocted on a secret Hollywood sound stage.

And yet there are so many nay-saying ostriches.

Everybody associates former U.S. vice president Al Gore with 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, although director Davis Guggenheim certainly deserves much of the credit; he’s the one who carried home an Academy Award, a Humanitas Prize and dozens of film festival and Critics Circle awards. But Gore remains most associated with the film — no surprise — because it profiled his relentless march on the lecture and conference circuit, sounding the alarm about the dangers of global warming and climate crisis.

For the most part, he preached to the converted; the film frequently was ridiculed, in many cases reflexively, along political lines ... as if a pending global crisis were something that affected only Democrats and liberals, and could be ignored safely by Republicans and conservatives.

But the mere fact that An Inconvenient Truth provoked debate, was good enough. There’s also no question that the film played an important role in what has come to be known as the “sustainability revolution.”

Plenty of people also jeered at 1989’s Roger & Me, but — similarly — there’s no question that Michael Moore started something, and opened a lot of eyes.

An Inconvenient Truth was slightly more than a decade ago. Some things have changed for the better — progress definitely has been made — while other things have become deplorably worse. The latter shift justifies the subtitle of this sophomore documentary: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

As even cursory involvement with current events demonstrates — and as Gore notes more than once, during the course of this film — American democracy has been hijacked by über-wealthy individuals and corporate entities that have rigged the game, and obfuscate crucial issues by overwhelming them with “alternative facts” (read: lies).

It has become necessary — nay, vital — to speak truth to power.

Co-directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk have assembled this sequel much the way Gore structures the seminars he gives to large lecture halls throughout the world, crowded with concerned individuals determined to join the ranks of his “climate leaders.” He starts with the “bad stuff” — the setbacks, the current climate crises — and concludes with his optimistic insistence that time has not run out, and that boldness, political will and smart investments still can turn the tide (literally).

Because, frankly, the situation has become impossible to ignore.

Cohen and Shenk begin this global journey with Gore’s visit to Greenland’s Russell Glacier, which is diminishing at a catastrophic rate. He stands, precariously, at the edge of cracking ice and watches the rushing arctic river pour incomprehensible amounts of water into the surrounding ocean. (The filmmakers wisely avoid any mention of polar bears or other wildlife, thereby avoiding accusations of shamelessly sentimental manipulation.)

I can anticipate the rolling eyes and snickers of contempt that this sequence will provoke from naysayers. Another melting glacier? Boo-bloody-hoo. It’s just water; who the hell cares?

Yes, it is just water. But it’s got to go somewhere ... and a good portion of it wound up flooding low-lying portions of South Florida and New York City, as dramatically revealed via newsreel footage. Huge swaths of Miami are shown inundated by surges of water deep enough to kill ... while Florida Gov. Rick Scott continues to ban the terms “climate change” and “global warming” by all state government entities, insisting that sea-level rise is merely “nuisance flooding.”

That level of arrogant intransience defies description. And people re-elected this clown?

As we soberly contemplate these newsreel images, Gore reminds us that his previous film took the most heat for a computer-generated model that predicted ocean overflow could fill the streets of New York right up to the site of the 9/11 Memorial, soon (at the time) to begin construction. “It’ll never happen,” people jeered.

He takes no pleasure, in this sequel, displaying newsreel footage that depicts precisely that catastrophic event.

Until recently, what already has happened in South Florida and New York — not to mention low-lying island countries such as the Maldives, in the South Indian Ocean — often has been described with the term “unprecedented.” But it’s increasingly obvious — from footage that depicts these and other catastrophes, such as the 2013 typhoon that devastated Tacloban, Philippines — that such events are the new normal.

2014 was the hottest year on record, globally ... until 2015, which was just shy of twice as hot. 2016 was hotter still. There’s a direct link between our atmosphere’s increasing carbon dioxide levels, and rising and warming oceans, and devastating drought, and the destruction of croplands and forests, and the widening swaths of dangerous insect vectors (Zika-bearing Aedes mosquitoes, as just one example).

These images of Nature’s fury are intercut with Gore’s facility for presenting facts and figures in an easily digestible manner, during his seminars; and with his activities during the slow march to the United Nations’ COP 21 climate conference, in Paris. The always engaging footage ranges from the amusingly intimate, to media-savvy interviews, to remarkably candid power-brokering conferences.

Gore is forced to peel off soggy socks prior to a presentation, after his boots weren’t nearly tall enough during a wade through Miami’s ocean-flooding streets. He spars with Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc and Miami Herald journalist Jenny Staletovich. He speaks passionately during private meetings with UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres and New York Attorney Gen. Eric Schneiderman.

We can’t help being impressed by the fact that all these people consented to being filmed (although it’s obvious that some on-camera subjects remain uncomfortable).

The most intriguing subplot, leading to the Paris climate conference, is Gore’s struggle to accommodate the argument put forth by Indian politicians who object to the obvious inequity. The United States and other “modern” countries built their glittering cities and economic prosperity by burning coal. Why shouldn’t India be allowed to do the same?

Gore extols the wisdom of investing in solar energy, pointing to this industry’s great strides throughout the United States (with notable, frustrating exceptions in states such as Florida and Nevada).

“I’ll do the same thing after 150 years,” replies Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Energy and Power. “After I’ve used my coal. After I’ve got my people jobs. After I’ve created my infrastructure.”

It’s a compelling argument. Gore’s response, depicted on camera, is fascinating. (No spoilers here.) I will note, however, that this is one time that Cohen and Shenk let us down a bit; we don’t get full closure on the outcome of this stalemate.

Even so, as the 98-minute film draws to its conclusion, we realize that the tone has shifted. Solutions do seem possible, via collaborative efforts that simply ignore even powerful holdouts. Gore’s encounter with Dale Ross, the Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas, isn’t merely uplifting; it’s refreshingly charming. When Ross says “We got something in common,” it’s hard not to cheer.

The film concludes as Gore demonstrates his most powerful weapon: the passion and sincerity with which he delivers this message, day after week after month after year, and the charisma that helps it go down smoothly. He’s a helluva speaker.

He jokes at one point, while responding to a question, that he only “embraced” this calling after his first-choice career was thwarted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But I can’t help feeling — as this film repeatedly makes clear — that God opened a window when that door was closed. Al Gore is absolutely in the right place, at the right time. And if this film, like its predecessor, preaches mostly to the converted ... well, “mostly” is better than “only.”

And this one’s similarly guaranteed to further the debate.

No comments:

Post a Comment