Gore is in a unique position to play Chicken Little. In the '60s at Harvard, he was a student of Roger Revelle, a science professor whose research predicted that carbon particles spewed into the atmosphere would eventually wreak havoc on the earth's environment. The evidence displayed by Gore, that the rise of carbon has been followed by a nearly parallel rise in temperature, is little more than the realization of what Revelle foretold. But the implications excuse me, results are astounding.
There is a third factor in Gore's report, a third line that follows the rise in carbon and temperature, and that is the rise in environmental catastrophe. A recent increase in hurricanes, tsunamis and tornadoes is only part of the story. As Gore points out in picture after damning picture, things are disappearing all over the place, an increasing "not there" like something out of "The NeverEnding Story."
Bodies of water perhaps not as big as Lake Chad, but just as important are already missing. Mountaintops have been stripped of their snowy peaks. Gigantic swaths of arctic ice have vanished, leaving polar bears treading water and the scientists who watch over them panicked at the rapidity of their erosion. These are not predictions, but actual pictures of things that have already happened. In the three decades I've been alive, I've not gotten around to watching Gregory Peck in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," but in that time the real thing has almost melted away entirely.
The predictions Gore makes are chilling, or will be soon. To cite one example, he demonstrates how the melting northern ice cap, if left to wither unchecked, will plunge Europe into a 1,000-year ice age, because we are steadily re-creating the way it happened 1,000 years ago. And he is not talking about the distant future. The scenario could be complete in 20 years.
Despite the severity of his predictions, Gore refrains from the kind of spastic demagoguery that undid Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." He makes his points in measured, mostly unemotional tones, though not without some humor, however rueful. There are moments when the politician in him comes out and he sounds like a campaigner spinning hokey tales of life on the farm, but overall he makes his case in a thoughtful, convincing manner.
Still, it's difficult to review a movie like "An Inconvenient Truth," because one must take sides or, worse, fall into the trap of "balanced" reporting. This euphemism for bet-hedging shields a lack of knowledge and expertise behind a supposed desire to give equal time to all sides, without deference to the actual evidence. The fallacy is obvious: You can give equal time to criminals, too, but does what they say have equal value?
But taking sides is no easy task, either, with the Scylla and Charybdis of this unfortunate "debate." You either deny the overwhelming evidence or risk looking like a crazy person. With that in mind, Al Gore deserves credit for heroic courage in the face of ridicule. For is there a more iconographic image of a lunatic than a man standing on the street corner shouting about the end of the world?
For these reasons global warming has been an argument too easy to dismiss. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something," Upton Sinclair wrote, "when his salary depends on his not understanding it." Gore quotes Sinclair all too appropriately. For most of us, not just oil and gas lobbyists or shady congressmen, our salaries depend on not understanding global warming. "An Inconvenient Truth" is a devastating document of a swiftly approaching reckoning with that misunderstanding. The truth of its title will be irreversible within our lifetime. Our salaries may depend on our not understanding it, but our lives depend on the opposite. (PG) 100 min. ***** S
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