An Inconvenient Sequel – the science, history, and politics of climate change
Al Gore’s new movie ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ is, in some ways, similar to his groundbreaking Inconvenient Truth project, but different in other ways. Those key differences are why I recommend you watch it.
This movie successfully accomplishes a number of interweaving tasks. First, it gives some of the science of climate change. Gore gets his science right. I remember his first movie, which I thought was more steeped in science and data than this one, so based on my recollection this new picture is somewhat abbreviated. That’s a good thing because the science is settled on climate change. That is, the science is settled that humans are causing current climatic changes and the science is settled that we are observing these changes throughout the natural world.
Readers of this column who venture into the comments below will likely find people claiming, “science is never settled.” But the people making those comments are not scientists. They don’t work in this field every day, they don’t see the data, and they don’t know what they’re talking about.
The opening of the new film shows a sample of the misguided attacks on Al Gore, exclusively from conservatives in the United States. It was so clear to me, when watching and listening, that these attacks are the same ones that we climate scientists constantly have to endure. Most scientists have not been attacked as consistently or for such a long duration as Mr. Gore, but the types of attacks he has had to handle are close cousins to what my colleagues and I experience on a regular basis.
Many conservatives, and some progressives too, claim that Al Gore made climate change political. But I now realize he didn’t. Al Gore was simply the first major political figure that took a stand on climate change. He would have loved to have been joined by anyone of any political persuasion. I firmly believe that the denialism we see from conservatives in the USA is partly because they cannot bring themselves to admit he was right.
In many people’s subconscious, it is better to deny the science and damn the world than admit a liberal former vice president was correct. And that failure is on them. Better people would rise above gut emotions and follow facts faithfully to where they lead. Instead, most US conservatives have tied their legacy to a climate denial movement that is causing and will cause irreparable harm to the planet, its biology, and human societies.
A party that calls itself “conservative” has acted out of accord with its stated values. And this fact should anger true conservatives. How could they allow an entire party to be tarred with this damning legacy? It isn’t Mr. Gore’s fault that conservatives have made climate denial a litmus test for their party. It isn’t Gore’s fault that conservative politicians have been bought by fossil fuel industries who have attacked climate science and climate scientists. It isn’t Al Gore’s fault that the Republican Party has stood in the way of the development of clean renewable fuels in the US. That is on them. It isn’t Mr. Gore’s fault that the very few conservatives who have taken a principled stand have been cast out from their party. The politicization of science is their scar.
With respect to the science, this new movie focuses on actual implications of climate change. Whether Mr. Gore is discussing Greenland’s crumbling ice sheet with scientists Eric Rignot or Konrad Steffen, or conversing with Miami city planners on ways to handle rising waters, the movie brings the implications of a changing climate home. Mr. Gore reminds us of projections for the future. For instance, South Florida may see 7 feet of sea level rise by 2100. City planners are considering ways to raise parts of the city to deal with this. Oh by the way, yes the best evidence shows we really may get 7 feet by 2100.
Later, Gore meets with people who have suffered through terrible and super-charged storms, such as recent typhoons in the Pacific. He lays clear the science that climate change is warming our oceans, providing extra fuel to make storms like
Irma, Harvey, Sandy, and Maria more powerful. In these spots, his science is dead on.
This may make you wonder why I recommend people watch this movie. Isn’t it just more doom and gloom? Well, this is the exciting part. While the politics of climate change, at least in the USA (with a President and Congress in full denial mode, not only rolling back progress but sabotaging the science), what reason is there to be hopeful?
First, other countries are taking the lead from the US. I see this in my own work. Not only in basic science but in deployment of renewable energy. This is one area of great potential. Even though, as shown in the movie, fossil fuel companies and some conservative politicians are trying to sabotage clean energy markets, they cannot deny the economics. It just makes sense to use clean and renewable energy.
Do you remember that iconic scene from his first movie, where he followed greenhouse gas data upward using a lift? The gas levels were literally off the screen? Well, that gloomy image is replaced in the new movie by an equally iconic but optimistic animation of how countries are installing clean energy.
A large part of the story does deal with Al Gore’s personal journey. In many ways, this is mirrored in the journeys of climate scientists and people who care about the Earth’s environment. We have all experienced the ups and downs of this crisis; in fact, we’ve experienced them together whether we knew it or not. Interestingly, I have come around to a cautious optimism that is identical to Al Gore’s.
The election in the US was a climate disaster and it is turning out to be worse than we could have feared. The US President and Congress are doing everything they can to ensure more rapid and devastating climate change. They are doing everything they can to ensure more California wildfires, more Marias, more Harveys, and more Irmas. They are doing everything they can to bring us more California droughts and wildfires and Texas floods. They are doing everything they can to cut funding from climate science so we won’t know how bad it is. They are doing everything they can to make the USA a pariah nation. In fact, on the day I write this, the US has become the only country to reject the Paris Climate Accord. That is a stunning fact. What kind of country does this?
What they are doing is so un-American; so un-conservative.
But what these forces cannot do is turn back the tide of the economics. People are investing in clean energy because it makes economic sense. And this is the inflection point that makes the clean energy revolution unstoppable. That’s why I am optimistic. That’s why Al Gore is optimistic. That’s the threaded message in his movie. And it’s why you should be optimistic too.
Former US vice president Al Gore delivers his speech during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo International Film Festival in Tokyo on November 3, 2017. Gore’s latest movie, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” was chosen as the closing film at the film festival. Photograph: Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images