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An Inconvenient Truth

It's Getting Hot in Here

Former Vice President Al Gore, once the heir apparent to the presidency (he was often introduced as the "next president of the United States" at public speaking engagements), has spent the last six years since his controversial loss in 2000 to George W. Bush traveling the United States and foreign countries with an environmental message: the planet is rapidly moving toward crisis and only the concerted efforts of concerned citizens, popular democracy, and political will can halt the seemingly inevitably progress toward environmental catastrophe. Gore is both pessimistic about global warming and optimistic that information plus activism will make the difference in the near future.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, An Inconvenient Truth intersperses Gore's colorful presentation with a mini-biography, briefly covering his youth, his passion for politics, his political career, personal tragedies and professional losses, and his decades-long commitment to environmentalism and halting or slowing global warming. Gore's political career began in 1976 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but his interest in environmentalism began in college, when one of his professors, Roger Revelle, described the first efforts to catalog the effects of increased CO2 production from industrial production and fuel consumption. Gore helped to organize the first hearings on global warming in Congress.

Later, as a U.S. senator and vice president, Gore's interest led to his active participation in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the Kyoto Protocols in 1997 (among Western industrialized nations, only the United States and Australia failed to ratify the protocols). Gore's controversial loss in the 2000 presidential election led to his renewed desire in spreading the word about global warming. Using an array of visual aids, PowerPoint slides, animation and cartoons, plus a ready grasp of scientific facts, most of them alarming in their immediacy and breadth, Gore weaves a coherent, compelling narrative, one that he hopes can transcend partisan politics and positioning and instead accept the moral imperative to save the planet from environmental disaster.

As expected, some of the facts Gore mentions are nothing short of disturbing. For example, average temperatures could rise by three to nine degrees by the end of the century if the emissions that cause global warming (e.g., cars, coal-burning plants and forest clearing) aren't curbed by a significant amount. 2005 was the warmest year on record. Ten of the warmest years have all occurred since 1990. The arctic sea ice has been shrinking by close to nine percent per decade. The Larsen "B" ice shelf in Antarctica has disappeared into the surrounding ocean, raising water levels and temperatures (ice reflects sunlight, water absorbs sunlight). Mt. Kilimanjaro's glaciers will likely disappear by 2020. Storms (e.g., tropical rainstorms, hurricanes, typhoons) are heavier and more frequent, as Hurricane Katrina last year indicates. Droughts will be more frequent, islands and peninsulas will disappear under the rising water level.

Alarmist? Certainly, but with more than good reason. Gore points to a large sample of peer-reviewed science articles on global warming. Not a single article disputed global warming as a reality. The mainstream press, however, continues to run articles skeptical of global warming, with more than half of the newspaper articles favored falling on the side of skepticism. Gore suggests industry lobbyists are to blame for purposely spreading misinformation, as they were when the cancer-causing effects of tobacco were kept in dispute long after the scientific basis had been established. Gore also suggests that the fear that solving global warming will come at the expense of employment is unwarranted. He expects that new technologies, including alternative fuel research and deployment will more than make up the difference.

But what about the man who pundits and critics described in 2000 alternately as wooden or arrogant? He's nowhere to be found. An Inconvenient Truth gives us Gore 2.0, the Gore unfiltered by the advice of political consultants who convinced him to run toward the center during the 2000 election, effectively neutering Gore's passion for issues, policy, and solutions above ideology and partisan politics. This is Gore at his most self-deprecating, effusive, passionate, charismatic, but more importantly, genuine in a way hidden from the public during the 2000 presidential campaign by a press eager to create contrasting narratives (e.g., the "every guy" persona of the wealthy son of a former president vs. the elitist intellectual and policy wonk). Ultimately, An Inconvenient Truth suggests that Gore is the kind of smart, honest, competent, and dedicated presidential candidate (and president) the country needs in 2008 and beyond.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars