By Alberto Sclaverano
There are many documentaries about climate change. Some of them are big-budget Netflix production, others are independent, smaller films made far away from Hollywood. Often, they are narrated by famous actors like Leonardo di Caprio or Cate Blanchett. But there is one documentary about climate change that remains unique: Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth. The film translated on the big screen former United States Vice President Al Gore campaign tour to sensitize people about the climate crisis.
Gore, defeated by George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election after a very controversial recount of Florida’s ballots, decided to leave politics and dedicate himself to climate change activism. What seems common today was less frequent in the middle 2000s. We are accustomed to hearing politicians talking about climate change and the great risk it is creating. Today the problem is less about discussions and more about doing concrete things. The politicians are becoming experts in what Greta Thunberg labelled as “bla bla bla”. Serious actions rarely follow.
But at the beginning of the century things were more complex, climate change denialism was even more rampant than today and in general climate change was not seen as the greatest challenge humankind had in front of itself. People like Gore played an important role in bringing the climate debate to average people. The film is his one-man show, and it is great. Gore is no doubt a gifted public speaker. He talks calm but at the same time, the gravity of the situation he is describing can be fully perceived. An Inconvenient Truth is a science lesson that everyone can understand. And it is also a lesson that politicians, both yesterday and today, should listen to.
Gore’s conference is very cinematic. Data, slides, videos and music are mixed in a way that aims to entertain alongside informing. But this is not a bad thing. We desperately need to reach a wide audience and make people understand the great disaster we are headed to. Today have no problem accepting that there is a direct link between climate change and the increase in great hurricanes. It was not so accepted in 2006. Gore underlines how Hurricane Katrina, which stormed the USA in 2004, was only the beginning. From the greenhouse effect to the melting of the Ice Pole, the documentary covers all the major climate change-related consequences. Gore mentions also how the climate crisis will create millions of climate refugees. While the world was focused on Bush’s War on Terror and the first signs of the incoming Great Recession had started to appear, Gore denounced climate change as the main challenge to humankind’s future.
The satirical cartoon South Park mocked Gore’s effort to warn people about climate change, portraying it like an imaginary monster that does not exist in a famous 2006 episode, ManBearPig. In 2018 another episode, again featuring Gore, played like an apology to him. The monster this time is real, and the characters (and the authors) of the show need to apologize to Gore, that once tried to tell the truth.
The film was a hit at the box office when it opened in May 2006. A sequel was made by the same team in 2017, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, and it was much less successful. Perhaps this reflects the fact that Gore themes have finally become mainstream and An Inconvenient Truth is no more an anomaly. It is great, though unfortunately not sufficient. We have finally come to understand what is happening and the impending catastrophe. But we need to act. If we won’t, having being warned won’t save us.