“We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence.… We have no such right.”
– Pope Francis
The people behind “An Inconvenient Truth” can be forgiven for indulging in a bit of “I told you so” in their follow-up film, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” Among the devices used in the original, Oscar-winning documentary, released in 2007, were animated sequences that predicted what rising sea levels and radical storms would eventually do to New York City. “Ridiculous,” said the film’s critics—to which Hurricane Sandy said, “Oh, really?” In 2010, the superstorm delivered about $20 billion in damages to the city, virtually matching what the movie had predicted.
The people behind “An Inconvenient Truth” can be forgiven for indulging in a bit of “I told you so” in their follow-up film.
“An Inconvenient Sequel” is a sequel, it seems safe to say, that no one really wanted to have to make. The film picks up with Al Gore and his seemingly ceaseless campaign to educate and motivate people about the environmental catastrophe toward which we earthlings seem to be barreling. The cause is the same, but it is a very different film. It is, for one thing, surprisingly intimate. The directors this time are Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen, a husband-wife filmmaking team with a number of well-regarded documentaries behind them (including “The Island President,” about the disappearing Maldives, and “Audrie & Daisy,” about the lethal effects of online bullying). They are social-issue filmmakers, and the Gore story is close to their interests. They are certainly close to him: They may not be with the former vice president when he wakes up or when he goes to bed, but otherwise, they are on him like a progressively liberal rash.
“Inconvenient Sequel” is, inevitably, the Al Gore story. The former vice president’s passion for the environment is not a means to an end, unless the end is the salvation of the earth. He is “post-politics,” as has been said by many regarding the Nobel peace laureate. He might not articulate it as such, but he is doing what he sees as God’s work.
“Inconvenient Sequel” is, inevitably, the Al Gore story.
The film is also a survey of what is happening to the environment, how people are organizing to stop its destruction and what goes on behind the scenes among world leaders who are often trying to balance environmental protection with economic development. One of the criticisms leveled at “An Inconvenient Truth” (by people, one suspected, who had not actually seen it) was that it was just a “slide show.” Indeed, a considerable amount of the content was rooted in the presentation that Gore continues to deliver to global audiences and which Cohen has described as an “accordion”: Gore can expand it and contract it, lengthen and shorten it, and accommodate whatever group he is addressing or adjust the point he is aiming to make. But both films are much more than lectures on climate. They are, in their different ways, portraits of one oft-derided public figure who is also a man on a very profound mission.
The soul of Al Gore and the fate of the earth are the essential subjects of “An Inconvenient Sequel.” As the film was nearing completion, a different kind of environmental cataclysm was visited upon the United States: the election of Donald J. Trump. The Paris climate accord—how we got there, what it means—is a key part of the movie and President Trump’s withdrawal from that pact (which will not actually be effective until the day after the 2020 elections) was an indication that, for all the efforts and activism behind the environmental movement and the rise of an entire economy based on alternative power sources, the fossil fuel industry will not go gently into any well-deserved good night.
Gore might not articulate it as such, but he is doing what he sees as God’s work.
What is poignant and perhaps even a little confusing is the moment when Gore calls our inability to reach a climate change solution a “personal failure.” It is, in one regard, a presumptuous thing to say. But it indicates how deeply he is devoted to the cause. As Gore says in the film, “I had a plan for my life.” Then he quotes Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until he gets punched in the face.” The punch he is talking about was not delivered by the Supreme Court with its decision to send George W. Bush to the White House. It was delivered by Donald Trump.
“An Inconvenient Sequel” is a highly entertaining and educational experience, unless the idea of man-made climate change is totally contrary to one’s worldview. The movie assumes the science is right. It does not wring its hands and bewail our fate; the point is to celebrate what has been done and to encourage viewers to get involved. And they just might. The movie provides remarkable insight into the behind-the-scenes frustrations and often quite reasonable reservations expressed about climate solutions. For instance, the Indian energy minister responds to Gore’s overtures about using renewable entreaties by saying his country will rid itself of the kind of coal-burning plants that built the Western industrial world “in 150 years” —in other words, after they have caught up with the developed world. That Gore makes inroads in these negotiations is a credit to his tenacity; he finds ways around obstacles to an agreement between parties that seem unalterably opposed to each other.
One of the more infuriating aspects of watching the film is knowing how the current administration has tossed its warning aside in a seemingly casual way and recognizing that certain constituencies in this country will not care what the movie or Al Gore or even Pope Francis has to say about climate change, despite the footage of Miami’s streets flooding or Indian streets melting or ancient glaciers dripping into an arctic sea.