Features

Convenient spin

Climate | Al Gore's film may win an Oscar, but it won't gain many converts

Issue: "Death blow," June 17, 2006

To his credit, Al Gore sheds the wooden persona of the 2000 presidential campaign in his newly released documentary An Inconvenient Truth. In making the case for immediate action to stop global warming, the former vice president is articulate, concise, and even winsome, at times.

But Mr. Gore's radical political agenda and tendency for half-truth have undergone no such makeover.

In what amounts to a filmed slideshow, interspersed with indulgent autobiographical footage and voiceovers, Mr. Gore employs stage tricks, straw men, and well-rehearsed rhetoric to contend that opposition views on climate change are rooted in callous profiteering. The dissents of such distinguished climatologists as hurricane expert Bill Gray of Colorado State University and former NASA scientist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville are provided no air time.

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Mr. Gray, who has worked in the field for 50 years, has labeled global warming "one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people." Mr. Spencer, a contributor to the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has called the science uncertain and warned against radical action that might devastate national economies. Numerous other highly credentialed sources have offered similar criticisms of alarmist reactions to the planet's warming trend-often at dramatic personal and professional cost.

But Inconvenient Truth insists the debate is over. Conflating the undisputed fact that the earth is warming with more controversial speculation that such warming is human-induced and will destroy civilization, Mr. Gore claims scientific consensus for his doomsday scenarios. Audience members present for his slideshow gasp with horror when computer-animation models demonstrate the effects of sea-level rise were the ice of Antarctica to disappear. Mr. Gore explains with solemn certainty that the threat of flooding in downtown Manhattan poses greater potential for calamity than the terrorist acts of Sept. 11. Few scientists would endorse such an extreme contention.

Nevertheless, nonscientific film critics have rushed to shower Inconvenient Truth with praise. Roger Ebert went so far as to declare his unabashed support for the message, writing that "to be 'impartial' and 'balanced' on global warming means one must take a position like Gore's. There is no other view that can be defended." Most major reviewers throughout the country have displayed similar enthusiasm, betraying the documentary's likely place of high honor come this year's Academy Awards.

Early box-office returns suggest the less-than-scintillating formula of Mr. Gore delivering slides has not deterred moviegoers. Inconvenient Truth made close to $2 million its first two weeks out, cracking the top 10 despite a limited release in just 77 theaters. Such favorable numbers reflect partially a concerted marketing effort to already convinced environmentalists. The film is not likely to maintain such momentum when released more broadly.

Nor does it contain any new material to assuage the concerns of even moderately educated skeptics. Mr. Gore dismisses the feared economic impacts of the Kyoto Protocol without a single mention of the struggles European countries are facing to live up to their Kyoto commitments. He chides the United States and the Bush administration for resisting international pressure to adopt Kyoto and impose radical restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions-a decision increasingly proved proper as the economic impossibility of Kyoto becomes clear around the globe.

Inconvenient Truth concludes predictably with calls to action. Despite repeated partisan jabs throughout the film, Mr. Gore claims the issue is not political but moral. The closing credits implore those who believe in prayer to pray that people will change. They offer new lifestyle choices such as recycling, hybrid vehicles, use of energy-efficient appliances, and support for renewable energy sources.

Such focus on individual responsibility is admirable, but the film's moral imperatives quickly descend into governmental solutions. Mr. Gore promises that industry-wide federal emissions regulations will not cripple the economy, because doing the right thing will move us forward. Such vague platitudes may play on Oscar night. But the Oscars, Joes, and Brians of Middle America are bound to remain unconvinced.

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