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Film Review

An Inconvenient Truth (2005), directed by Davis Guggenheim

This film is advertised as ‘a passionate and inspirational look at one man’s commitment to expose the myths and misconceptions that surround global warming and inspire actions to prevent it’. That one man is Al Gore: company director, author and professional politician for the Democratic Party of the USA. Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that a substantial portion of this so-called documentary feels more like a political broadcast. The film is based on footage of a lecture on climate change given to a sympathetic audience, interspersed with short asides on Gore’s career as a professional politician, his privileged upbringing, his personal life and accounts of him driving and flying around the world to lecture on the effects of fossil fuel usage.

Gore presents quantitative and anecdotal evidence for climate change in an easily digestible way. Some time is spent on the history and methodology of atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature measurements. The data is clearly presented in graphs, diagrams and photographs but Gore doesn’t distinguish between measurements and extrapolations. Some of the graphs are presented in a way that magnifies small differences in data, and effects of climate change that are speculations are presented as inevitable with no reference to the likelihood of their occurrence or other theories.

At one point Gore seems to be arguing that Ice Ages are caused solely by declining greenhouse gases; he says ‘when there is more carbon dioxide the temperature gets warmer’. He does not point out that among the theories for the causes of Ice Ages changes to the composition of the atmosphere are seen as just one component, or even as a result of the Ice Age not a cause itself.

As the film progresses Gore increasingly overstates the effects, or evidence for the effects, of climate change. Species loss, re-emergence of suppressed diseases and the emergence of new diseases such as SARS are all implied to be a result of climate change without evidence. The importance of the climate change issue does not need to be exaggerated.

In an aside, Gore reflects on his time in Congress promoting action on climate change, he laments: ‘the struggles, the victories that aren’t really victories, the defeats that aren’t really defeats, they can serve to magnify the significance of some trivial step forward’. He blames the present administration of the state and their links with the oil and gas lobby. For Socialists it is obvious that the government will rarely go against the interests of capital, especially a section of the capitalist class as powerful as the energy industry.

Gore states that climate change ‘is really not a political issue so much as a moral issue’. His remedy for the problem is to advise people to exercise their power as consumers in choosing energy efficient appliances and cars and use ‘our political processes, in our democracy’, and he just happens to be a professional politician concerned about climate change. He states it is a false dichotomy to say that the choice is economy or the environment, we can have both: ‘If we do the right thing, then we’re going to create a lot of wealth and we’re going to create a lot of jobs . . .’. The details of this were left sketchy but it seems that hope triumphs over experience and he still has faith in capitalism.

In conclusion Gore states, to rapturous applause, that ‘We have everything we need save perhaps political will . . .We have the ability to do this . . . The solutions are in our hands’. He is correct, but for him this means more of the same old futile politicking. Socialists realise that profit will always be the priority for capitalism, the solution in our hands is to bring the means of production under direct democratic control so that everybody can take part in deciding how global resources are used.

This documentary film follows a novel format and is visually impressive. It is a good introduction to the basics of human-made climate change problem, but is tarnished by the lack of convincing solutions.