In this summer movie, the world isn't saved by the hero in the end. In fact, there are no heroes, special effects, stunts or anything else we've come to expect in our summer blockbusters, except one thing: a villain. And that villain is us.
An Inconvenient Truth, which is based on a slide show about the dangers of global warming given by Al Gore more than 1,000 times all over the world, carries a simple message: carbon dioxide emissions are destroying the climate, thereby destroying the planet. We have the power to stop it. No one is taking action to stop it. And if things remain this way, in about 10 years the earth will reach a "tipping point" that will trigger the beginning of the end for civilization as we know it.
If your initial reaction is to believe this is somehow part of Gore's political agenda, you would be mistaken. He has repeatedly denied all insinuations that he's interested in running for office again, and as the film plays out it's clear that this is a very real problem regardless of where your political affiliations lie.
Director Davis Guggenheim structures the brisk, 90-minute film around one of Gore's slide show presentations, and intersperses footage of Gore either on the road or in Congress, where he tried (and failed) to pass legislation that would lessen the impact of global warming.
What is exactly is global warming? As Gore explains it in the movie, it's when the sun's rays that ordinarily reflect off the ocean and back into outer space become trapped in the atmosphere, causing temperatures on earth to rise. With the higher temperature, the glacial ice caps will melt faster, which in turn provides more water in the ocean and causes a vicious, self-sustaining cycle.
The solution, Gore says, is to use alternative energy sources such as solar power and wind, which seem like credible options that would indeed lessen the congestion in the earth's atmosphere. However, with some viewers, Gore loses some credibility when he suggests that more people need to use electric cars and other non-economically feasible energy plans.
There are more statistics and facts that burn in the truth of global warming, all of which Gore rattles off with the aplomb and candor of a college professor who knows how to keep his students' attention. A sample: The 10 warmest years in history have occurred in the last 14 years; the reason Hurricane Katrina was so devastating when it hit New Orleans was because it found unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, which fed into its strength; and current carbon dioxide emission levels far surpass any previous level in history, with the United States contributing 30 percent (by far the most) of the world's total.
The longer Gore recounts one alarming statistic after another, the more concerned about global warming you're inevitably going to become. We'd like to think our elected officials are listening and wouldn't let things go too far, but we would be wrong.
Very little is being done to combat global warming, Gore says, even though there is unanimous agreement amongst scientists that it is a real and pressing issue. Gore suggests that, similar to the tobacco industry in the 1960s, a "disinformation campaign" was started in the 1990s to raise doubt about the actual validity and dangers of global warming, something he dismisses as a political ploy that protects the finances of those who stand to lose from the decreased use of fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas, etc.).
It is in these moments that Gore treads on risky ground. While the movie is decidedly non-political, he does throw in a few unnecessary political jabs and personal anecdotes that could easily have been done without. For the most part, though, Gore is surprisingly personable and engaging, a far cry from the stiff and taciturn politician who sat in the Vice President's chair for eight years. "I used to be the next president of the United States," he says to introduce himself, eliciting laughter from the audience. He then deadpans: "I don't see why that's funny," and cracks a smile.
Hopefully one day he'll be able to smile about global warming like it too is a distant memory.