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The 11th Hour

A Global Warming Primer

Global warming (or, if you prefer a less alarmist phrase, climate change) is real. The question, at least within the scientific community and among environmental activists isnít whether global warming exists or not, but how long we have before climate change becomes irreversible.

Initially treated with skepticism by the mainstream media and denounced by conservatives as either speculative or fraudulent, global warming became a "hot" button last year when Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. But An Inconvenient Truth was a personality-driven documentary that centered on Al Gore delivering a PowerPoint presentation. As good as it was, Goreís detractors could and dismiss the film as the opinions, informed or otherwise, of just one man. Indeed, more was needed to convince both policy makers and the general public. Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen's documentary, The 11th Hour, hopes to fill that gap.

Produced and narrated by actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, The 11th Hour is meant to fill the gap between Al Goreís presentation and the broader scientific consensus on global warming. Despite what the media campaign might suggest, Leonardo DiCaprio has a supporting role in The 11th Hour, stepping in as the off screen and on screen narrator on occasion.

Scientists, environmental activists, businessmen, politicians, and government officials, including physicist Stephen Hawking to former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, self-help guru Andrew Weil, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, former CIA director James Woolsey, and sustainable design experts William McDonough and Bruce Mau are on hand to bring us up to speed on looming environmental catastrophe. Along with emotional appeals, these experts offer up a dizzying array of facts and figures, all accompanied by a steady barrage of images to underline their points about the environmental dangers we face through decades of untrammeled, barely regulated industrial pollution in the United States and the Western world.

While the parade of earnest scientists, activists, businessmen, politicians, and former bureaucrats can be impressive, the talking head approach has its limitations, regardless of how dynamic and charismatic the speakers are. To be fair to Conners and Peterson, they seemed to understood the limitations of this approach and interspersed rapid-cut images of the devastating effects of global warming between interview segments (and sometimes within the segments).

While itís not a problem per se, The 11th Hour certainly wasnít made for moviegoers with short-attention spans. With experts delivering facts and figures in bite-sized quotes at a rapid-fire pace, first on one side of the argument (i.e., global warming exists and is an immediate threat) and then on the other (i.e. proposed solutions to the global warming crises), serious focus and concentration is a prerequisite for getting the most out of the film.

Despite an approach that exhaustively amasses evidence to support the existence of global warming, the urgent need to respond constructively at the macro and micro levels, and, just as importantly, discussing practical solutions to the global warming crisis, what Conners and Peterson fail to discuss with sufficient specificity is how much time we actually have before climate change becomes irreversible. The collection of experts express dire warning after dire warning, but without agreeing to a specific timeframe (i.e., five years, ten years, or fifteen years) in which action has to be taken to halt global warming or face the catastrophic consequences.

Still, that's a minor problem in an otherwise thoughtful, thought provoking, challenging documentary that should become required viewing for policy makers at every level of government. Viewed along with Al Gore and Davis Guggenheimís An Inconvenient Truth and Mark Ackbar and Jennifer Abbottís The Corporation, The 11th Hour can serve as a primer for anyone interested in learning more about the science, politics, and economics involved in global warming.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars