“An Inconvenient Truth” is a riveting journey into one of the most ignored issues on the American landscape, one that demands our immediate attention, especially for those who belong to the community of truth.
I needed little convincing. I had read for some time what scientists were saying. I knew my own little post stamp of Earth had changed profoundly as evidenced by the declining need to mow the lawn weekly in the summer. Yet I had to wait another 34 minutes to discover that the film ended without a clear agenda for environmental reformation.
But where I am is not where most people are. Al Gore knows most people still need to be brought up to speed about climate change.
That’s why his documentary is a riveting journey into one of the most ignored issues on the American landscape, one that demands our immediate attention, especially for those who belong to the community of truth.
With a handful of other Nashville-area writers, I had been invited to a special screening as a prerequisite to interviewing the former vice president a few days later.
What I was unprepared for in the documentary was the methodical stacking of compelling visual images about the crisis we are in.
A frame of snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro 30 years ago was followed by a frame of the famous Kenyan mountain with almost no snow. “Within a decade there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro,” Gore calmly warned.
A frame of Glacier National Park was followed by visual images of disappearing glaciers. An old picture of the Italian Alps was followed by a current picture. A picture of Peru 15 years ago was followed by a recent picture. An image of Patagonia 75 years ago was followed by an updated frame. The images were disturbing evidence that Planet Earth is warming.
“There’s a message in this,” said Gore. “It’s worldwide. And the ice has stories to tell us.”
Another compelling aspect of the documentary was its autobiographical nature.
Gore began with his sense of failure to get the message across about global warming. He referred with self-deprecating humor to his 2000 presidential run. He referenced a childhood educational experience and talked about studying at Harvard University, where he was first exposed to the early study of climate change.
Weaving in the life-threatening accident to his young son, Gore said that episode turned his world upside down and then shook it. That experience led to a self-reflective, theological question: “How shall I spend my time on this earth?” His answer was to dig deeper into global warming.
But the hardest hit from Gore’s autobiography came with the story about his sister’s death.
With growing confessional tones, Gore recalled that his family raised tobacco on its Tennessee farm and how he used to love working on the farm in the summertime. He admitted that they kept growing tobacco after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report that connected smoking cigarettes and lung cancer. He said they stopped after his sister’s death from lung cancer.
“The idea that we had been part of that economic pattern that produced the cigarettes that produced the cancer, it was so painful on so many levels,” said Gore. “My father, he had grown tobacco all his life. He stopped. Whatever explanation had seemed to make sense in the past just didn’t cut it anymore.”
“It’s just human nature to take time to connect the dots. I know that. But I also know there can be a day of human reckoning when you wish you had connected the dots more quickly,” he said.
Gore then connected the dots between those who deceive the public about the science of global warming and their ideological and economic cousins who deceived the public about the science that cigarettes caused cancer. He referenced a decades-old, leaked tobacco industry memo that said, “Doubt is our produce, since it’s the best means of creating controversy in the public mind.”
As the movie quickened toward its conclusion, Gore laid out his strategy for countering the obstacles toward understanding global warming.
“I set myself a goal: Communicate this real clearly. The only way I know to do it is city by city, person by person, family by family. And I have faith that pretty soon enough minds are changed that we cross a threshold,” he said.
“I believe this is a moral issue,” he concluded. “It is our time to rise again to secure our future.”
A few days after watching the documentary, I interviewed Gore for an hour and then attended Nashville’s red-carpet screening.
Invitees received a metal dog tag with an ominous warning. On one side, it had a quote from Winston Churchill: “The era of half-measures is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences.”
Robert Parham is executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics.
For more information about the documentary, click here.