Saturday, May 20, 2006

Al Gore -- the Movie

If you haven't already heard about it just remember you saw it here first. If he's wrong this post will sink into oblivion and I can quietly delete it some day when no one is watching. But if he's right the voice of Cassandra will once again have been unheard. I would rather take note of a prediction that turns out wrong than ignore to my peril something on target (see tagline).

If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.... former Vice President Al Gore, who, in the wake of defeat in the 2000 election, re-set the course of his life to focus on a last-ditch, all-out effort to help save the planet from irrevocable change. In this eye-opening and poignant portrait of Gore and his "traveling global warming show," Gore also proves himself to be one of the most misunderstood characters in modern American public life. Here he is seen as never before in the media - funny, engaging, open and downright on fire about getting the surprisingly stirring truth about what he calls our "planetary emergency" out to ordinary citizens before it's too late.

With 2005, the worst storm season ever experienced in America just behind us, it seems we may be reaching a tipping point - and Gore pulls no punches in explaining the dire situation. Interspersed with the bracing facts and future predictions is the story of Gore's personal journey: from an idealistic college student who first saw a massive environmental crisis looming; to a young Senator facing a harrowing family tragedy that altered his perspective, to the man who almost became President but instead returned to the most important cause of his life - convinced that there is still time to make a difference.

I dunno. We have been hearing this stuff for a long time. But this much is clear to me. When he was running for president I got his book, Earth in the Balance, which struck me as a fairly well-done piece of work. Not overly scholarly, but with plenty of data backing up what he said that could be easily verified. Basically, I was impressed. But I was very UNimpressed when I saw the misrepresentations that were fired off by his opposition in the election. He was painted as one of the most dangerous and subversive politicians in recent history, with some hidden agenda as front-man for a global conspiracy promoting a One World Order. A hail of emails claiming to have quotes from his book were fabricated to smear his reputation as well as his message.

Being the skeptic that I am, and having a serious dose of sympathy for the underdog, I tend to lean favorably in the direction of anyone getting that much opprobrium. As the saying goes, it's hard to bullshit a bullshitter, and I found the link at BoingBoing by Mark Frauenfelder. Politics aside (if possible) this might be a case of one techie pointing to another, and saying he may be right. BoingBoing is over at the edge, popular place that it is, but it's definitely not part of the lunatic fringe. Too many eyes looking. If he get something wrong he will be pummeled.

Until I learn otherwise, I'm paying attention.


Lindsay Beyerstein saw the movie and wrote a good review.
Kevin Drum said her review was worth reading.
So did our frineds at 3Quarks, who grabbed it for a feature.

Update, June 3:

Roger Ebert quotes Gore...

Gore says that although there is "100 percent agreement" among scientists, a database search of newspaper and magazine articles shows that 57 percent question the fact of global warming, while 43 percent support it. These figures are the result, he says, of a disinformation campaign started in the 1990s by the energy industries to "reposition global warming as a debate." It is the same strategy used for years by the defenders of tobacco. My father was a Luckys smoker who died of lung cancer in 1960, and 20 years later it was still "debatable" that there was a link between smoking and lung cancer. Now we are talking about the death of the future, starting in the lives of those now living.
"The world won't 'end' overnight in 10 years," Gore says. "But a point will have been passed, and there will be an irreversible slide into destruction."

...and he adds...
...In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Update, June 4

The Sunday NY Times links to a Slate piece with an interesting take on the movie, that Gore as an advocate and awareness-champ for the dangers of global warming is more effective as a non-candidate than as a candidate. His message about science come across as more compelling than his appeals to political ambition. [Aside: The Times hasn't figured out yet that hyperlinks are the lifeblood of blogging, so even their hyperlinks are carefully locked behind the Times Select firewall -- only paid subscribers need apply. So this Times link will get progressively irrelevant with the passing of time...or vanish altogether. Oh, well. The blog world is still trying to tell them...]

An Inconvenient Truth is flawed in a number of ways. For those who have read a substantial book on the subject, such as Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers or Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes From a Catastrophe, it will contain little that is new. It is afflicted with a number of inconsistencies and exaggerations, such as the suggestion that polar melt could cause sea levels to rise 20 feet and leave much of Manhattan underwater. It suffers from Gore's labored, condescending manner and is cast too much in terms of his highly polished personal "journey" for my taste.

It is, nonetheless, fully successful in its effort to explain a tricky, technical issue of the greatest imaginable consequence. Gore's real talent has always been for popularizing science. His illustration of consequences we may face—drought, famine, and a mass exodus of refugees in South Asia, epidemics, catastrophic storms, drowning polar bears, and the possibility of a new ice age in Europe—are vivid and terrifying. "A nature hike through the Book of Revelation," he calls it at one point. One cannot leave the theater without understanding that climate change is real, man-made, and an urgent threat to everything we value.
With his political career seemingly finished after 2000, Gore returned to the issue with pedantic passion, lugging his laptop through airports and presenting his slide lecture—more than 1,000 times, he claims. This advocacy, which is both depicted and captured in the film, has, with the assistance of scientific unanimity, helped to transform public consciousness in a way Gore never accomplished in elective office. Because of this not-yet-triumphant crusade, Gore may eventually have the last laugh, coming to be seen as a more important leader than our 43rd president and perhaps even than our 42nd. He may one day be regarded as the political hero of his era—a man who saved the world not by winning the presidency, but because he lost it.

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