It is difficult to imagine a more persuasive, lucid, and well constructed presentation than is found in An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary featuring Al Gore’s campaign to alert the public to the dangers of global warming. It has been released on DVD, and I recently took the opportunity to see it. Using well chosen scientific data presented in a highly accessible and visually appealing set of graphics, Gore builds the case for the reality of global warming (does anyone truly continue to doubt that it’s happening?) and the necessity of taking steps to address it. Rarely have I seen graphs and statistics used so effectively. Much has been made of Gore’s stiff, stentorian manner, his tendency to lecture, but in this film, though he does lecture, his style is relaxed, personal, and informal. He makes an engaging teacher, with a sincere and humorously self-deprecating manner.
Although most of the film focuses on the subject of the title, we never lose sight of the narrator Al Gore. He jokes about his defeat in the 2000 elections and discusses how he first learned of global warming from a college teacher. He explains that a life-threatening injury suffered by his son at the age of six convinced him that he needed to do something to change and improve the world. He gets in a few jabs at the Bush administration. Clearly the subject has personal meaning for him. But for the most part he keeps us focused on the science of global warming, the causes and potential effects. The message is compelling and disturbing, but the film never allows us to forget the messenger.
It is difficult not to see An Inconvenient Truth as a kind of campaign film in sheep’s clothing. That it may be such does not invalidate its message. But the film does return Gore to the public eye. It’s been tempting to forget Al Gore. After 9/11 and the Afghani and Iraqi wars, the 2000 campaign became a distant and in ways irrelevant event. Although many persist in believing that the Presidency was stolen from Gore, the facts suggest that he lost Florida by a small margin. He won the popular vote nationally, but lost the electoral vote, and though the logic of the Electoral College has never been fully clear to me, it’s in the Constitution. The bungled embarrassment of the Kerry/Edwards campaign of 2004 moved us even further away from the Gore candidacy. He was an awkward memory from a lost century, the lead participant in a series of baffling and irrefutable events. And he was too easily lampooned--the Saturday Night Live "lock box" sketches were hilarious and accurate. Gore himself participated in one of them. What could he possibly contribute to the current mess we’re in? Banish him to the past. At least so that line of thought runs.
(We should stop to consider why, given the reality of George W. Bush, Al Gore should seem “awkward.” Our current President endows the term with new and unexplored meanings. It’s also difficult to conceive that Al Gore couldn’t have offered better leadership in domestic and foreign affairs than George Bush, who has created profound problems for our nation and left it considerably weakened as a result.)
An Inconvenient Truth reminds us of the great intelligence and imagination Gore could bring to the Presidency. Obviously, the ability to talk well about global warming is hardly the only talent we should look for in our next president. But Al Gore, stiff and uncomfortable as he may sometimes seem, is a person of substance with considerable experience in national leadership. As various Democratic candidates for the office emerge—John Edwards, Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, and others—the inconvenient truth is that we should not rule Al Gore out.