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What’s Missing from “An Inconvenient Sequel,” Al Gore’s New Climate-Change Documentar


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Michelle Nijhuis

July 29, 2017

 

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The news, the former Vice-President says, has become “like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.” But is fear enough to spur us to action?

Photograph Courtesy Paramount Pictures

 

In one of the most memorable moments of Al Gore’s new climate-change documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel,” Gore refers to a sequence from the film’s 2006 predecessor, the Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth.” The most criticized scene in that movie, he tells an audience of climate-change activists, was an animation showing how a combination of sea-level rise and storm surges could flood the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, then under construction in lower Manhattan. “People said, ‘That’s ridiculous. What a terrible exaggeration,’ ” Gore recalls. A moment later, on the screen behind him, the animated flood is replaced by news footage of Hurricane Sandy, which in late 2012 flooded the main floor of the unfinished museum with seven feet of black, debris-filled water. Several days after the storm, in a briefing on recovery efforts, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “There is a wakeup call here, and that is climate change and our vulnerability to it. It was true ten years ago, it was true five years ago. It is undeniable today.”

 

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Today, both the causes and the effects of climate change are clearer, and while some people have been harder hit than others, few of us are totally untouched; the news, as Gore puts it in a practiced bit of dark humor, has become “like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.” The former Vice-President is still giving, and constantly updating, his presentation, and it is now filled with footage from climate-related disasters, ranging from the 2012 inundation of the 9/11 memorial to the painful, ongoing recovery from Typhoon Haiyan, the intense 2013 storm that killed more than six thousand people in the Philippines and affected some eleven million others throughout Southeast Asia. After a 2015 heat wave killed more than twelve hundred Pakistanis, Gore reports, cemeteries in the city of Karachi prepared for the following summer by digging anticipatory mass graves.

 

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Psychologists have studied the dynamics of what advertisers call “fear appeals,” and they have found that while fear is very good at getting our attention, it’s not very good at keeping it. For that, the scary stuff must be followed by solutions that are small enough to be practical but large enough to be meaningful. Wallace-Wells’s article, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” successfully got attention, quickly becoming the most-viewed article in New York’s history. But it offers little in the way of fixes, nodding briefly to the allure—if not the wisdom—of geoengineering and suggesting that civilization will eventually cobble together a substantive response to climate change, if only because the alternative is so appalling. “An Inconvenient Sequel,” which is a work of advocacy rather than journalism, pivots efficiently away from its disaster reel and toward solutions, cheering the rise of cheaper renewables and the promise of the Paris climate accord, even in the wake of the U.S.’s withdrawal. But its tight focus on Gore means that grassroots climate activists—many of whom were galvanized by Gore’s first film, and by the hundreds of trainings he has held in the years since—get short shrift. For the most part, they are shown sitting in auditoriums, listening raptly to Gore’s presentation. A long segment of the film is devoted to Gore’s behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Indian delegation at the Paris conference—which, while procedurally interesting, is hardly the sort of thing that most viewers can try at home.

 

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You will notice the underlying presupposition...WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!

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