An In­con­ve­nient Se­quel – the science, his­tory, and pol­i­tics of cli­mate change

The Guardian Australia - - The Guardian View / Environment - John Abra­ham

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

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