The Wrack

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The Voice of Reason

Posted by | August 18, 2017 | Filed under: Opinion
former Vice President Al Gore

The 2006 climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, starring Al Gore, was the first movie ever based on a slideshow. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Powernow playing in theaters, is the first sequel to a movie based on a slideshow. The original film won an Oscar. The sequel will not, but it’s still a muscular reminder that we’re all facing a massive, creeping problem.

This second inconvenience continues on the heels of former Vice President Al Gore. He strides through conference halls and airports. Along the way he makes phone calls and broodingly looks out of windows. I wish I could say it gets more exciting than that but, aside from some exploding Greenland glaciers, it doesn’t.

Perhaps it shouldn’t get more exciting than that. Sitting here at the Wells Reserve, I can honestly say that science and policy and communal response are rarely cinematic. They are, however, necessary to dealing with the here/now/urgent challenge of climate change. The solutions to climate change’s “problem from Hell” will require, from all of us, the same kind of perseverance Al Gore has embodied for more than 30 years. An Inconvenient Sequel is at its explanatory best when it shows the grinding (dare I say glacial?) pace of environmental negotiations. That’s how change more often happens, with the drip-drip-drip thawing of entrenched positions that eventually leads to consensus.

Dramatic moments can serve as punctuation. A third of the way into the film, Gore’s awareness-building efforts are about to culminate in a worldwide telecast, live from Paris. And then the sirens begin and the November 2015 Bataclan nightclub terrorist attacks shut down the City of Lights and the climate telethon. Gore’s dismay is clear. What could have been a watershed moment before the Paris climate talks instead becomes what we have all become too familiar with: a rapid response to senseless violence.

But while a local emergency temporarily supplanted the global tragedy, it may also have spurred the international delegates to the Paris climate conference, two weeks later, to put aside more of their differences. In December 2015, one hundred and ninety-six countries agreed on a climate accord that takes measurable steps towards reducing humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement, decades in the making, was pushed over the finish line, at least according to the film, by Al Gore working the phones to broker a solar panel technology deal between Elon Musk’s SolarCity and the rightfully indignant government of India. To hear the movie tell it, the Paris accord came down to numbers and increments, frameworks and mechanisms.

Emotionally, the techno-fix portrayed in An Inconvenient Sequel is a letdown, even though the outcomes – India on board, an agreement forged, a better world to come – are worth turning cartwheels over. Charts and graphs and targets do not ignite the hearts of men, but they do seem to work at the highest levels.

That’s yet another problem with climate change: its challenge is so big, so global, that most of the solutions that are really meaningful are far out of reach of the common man. Major progress requires heads of states, energy ministers, boards of directors of multinational corporations, and yes, drawling Al Gore. Men and women, in suits, trusting each other and doing what’s right for the billions of people they represent.

The film doesn’t tell us to stop working on local solutions, and it does honor a number of recent advances (e.g.,the incredible progress Chile has made in adopting renewing energy). But An Inconvenient Sequel ends, unlike the first film, with today’s most favored form of action: a hashtag. The climate movement has evolved to the level of boardrooms and parliaments, and the rest of us are left to tweet? "Sad." In the end, all the slideshows in drafty community rooms, all the climate marches, all the individual actions and local adaptations are important, but they’re drops in the bucket compared to the backdoor conversations between President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China that really secured the Paris accord.

So perhaps the most important actions we can take are to push on those important enough to take action. That seems to be working on Congress this year. It’s a surprisingly simple tactic, the “speaking truth to power” of the movie’s title, and it’s one we all need to remember. Even a child can do it.

My wife and I dragged our kids to An Inconvenient Sequel, to see what our boys would absorb. “Pollution is not good for the earth,” declared our seven-year-old, Max, over dinner after the movie. I’d think that would be an inarguable point, but then, until last weekend I also thought that Nazis were universally condemnable. Some truths, no matter how inconvenient, can’t be repeated enough. Pollution is not good for the earth. Tell that to those in power.

 

Nik Charov is president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. His attempted monthly column, “Between Two Worlds,” ventures forth from the intersection of art and science, past and present, here and there. More at wellsreserve.org/twoworlds.

The above was published in the Biddeford-Saco Journal Tribune Sunday edition, 8/20/2017, and Making It At Home's 8/23/2017 issue.

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