It’s basically a glorified slideshow, by former US vice-president Al Gore, which means it doesn’t have much in the way of cinematography. But the message he gives about climate change is convincing and powerful, even if I’d heard most of it before.
I did still learn a lot. I’ve seen lots of diagrams of how a rise in sea level will devastate low-lying areas across the world like India, but had never thought about the effect of a warmer climate upon mosquitoes. Cities like Nairobi and Harari were built above the ‘mosquito line’, he says, but as the Earth arms up, mosquitoes will survive at higher and higher altitudes, bringing malaria with them.
The other point which made a real impact on me was the image of Earth by night. I’ve seen lots of images which show light pollution from space, but he showed a slide with huge red areas – swathes of forest being burned each night.
Gore’s film received a lot of criticism at the time and since. Critics highlighted inaccuracies in the science he presented, for example:
He shows an animation of a polar bear not able to find any ice to rest on, so it drowns. Tom Moriarty points out that in the cited study, four dead polar bears actually died in a storm, not from lack of ice.
The way in which Gore links Hurricane Katrina to global warming is a matter of dispute.
His prediction on how much the sea level could rise this century is massively greater than that predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Lake Chad in the Sahara desert is also said to have been shrinking way before CO2 levels started to rise.
The film has now been put on the National Curriculum here in the UK, and I was interested to read about the opposition to this. A court finally ruled that if teachers do show the film, they have to make pupils aware that it is a political work, promoting only one side of the argument, and they have to draw attention to nine specific, complicated, inaccuracies. That must take longer than the film itself.
I was a bit surprised that An Inconvenient Truth is not the highest-grossing documentary ever in the US. It is only fifth, after Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins (which I loved), Earth and Sicko. More people went to watch a penguin love-story at the cinema than went to see An Inconvenient Truth.
So my final verdict on the film?
It’s definitely worth a watch. It’s well-presented, funny in places, and strikes a good balance between shocking the audience and giving hope for the future.
It’s a shame that some of the science he presented has been so successfully contested. I think his argument would have been plenty strong enough without the Hurricane Katrina references and so on which have weakened his case.
And did the movie have the massive impact that Al Gore hoped?
It would appear not. Matthew C.Nesbit in the States says “public opinion on climate change has changed very little over the past two years”. There seem to be rumours that An Inconvenient Truth Part II is on the way….I hope it makes a greater impact than the first one if it is.