Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

On Larry King Live last night (June 20th) Al Gore appeared to talk about his film, the book, and the web site ( see   for An Inconvenient Truth. Someone emailed him a question that went something like this: no one has died of global warming, so what are you talking about?



The fact is, as Gore pointed out, tens of thousands of people have died because human practices have caused drastic changes in weather patterns with consequences showing up in drought, heat waves, and so forth, notably the heat wave that struck Europe in 2003. 20,000 people died in Italy. I know; I was there. It was so hot in Rome that I didn’t even go out of one house to the main house for dinner at night. The heat was unbearable, especially to someone with MS. The nightly news was filled with the number of deaths that had occurred because of the heat. Then when we consider Dafur – it’s not only the genocide that is killing people. It’s the effects of global warming, too.


An Inconvenient Truth is a film that makes you want to take notes because it connects the dots of information about science, the economy, human suffering, and the future of the planet all together. In reality, it is a filmed version of a lecture that Al Gore has given a thousand times. It’s a documentary - one that will get under your skin.


I kept thinking: if Michael Moore had used this style, would his messages have been more acceptable to people? Would they have thought about what he was trying to say as he pulled slight of hand with the facts to make his points about the truth as he saw it? Would they have acted upon the messages of his films by the way they voted or how they spend their money, live their lives?


Now we have An Inconvenient Truth that is well-produced; the delivery is calm, well-reasoned, and supported by science. Gore’s inner conviction, that he take the message of global warming to the world now because there is still time to make a difference, emerges softly through his personal reflections that break up the tenor of the lecture. Which, by the way, is like no lecture I have ever seen. It’s obviously being delivered to a studio audience because no one is taking notes as people are not allowed to bring anything into a structured filming like this. However, for its slick production values, Gore’s message is accessible, credible, and convincing.


This doesn’t mean we should not ask questions of the film: is the science real? Has anyone challenged Gore’s facts? In whose interest has this film been made? Is global warming real? What are the consequences for not investigating his premise that global warming is killing us? (Check out National Geographic's analysis of the film:


Gore quotes Winston Churchill who told England in the 1930’s about the growing political [Nazi] threat in Europe: “The era of procrastination is coming to a close; in its place we are entering a period of consequences.” Gore says that if we do not move to stop global warming now, in fifty years the polar ice cap will melt and the earth will not be able to sustain life.


A few things in the film impressed me deeply. One was when Gore said that U.S. cars cannot be sold in China because they do not meet the ecological standards of China. Here we abhor China’s human right violations, but aren’t the air and earth we all share the context for human rights? Isn’t a lack of care for the earth the ultimate human rights violation?


Then Gore spoke about the economy: that to change our environmental standards will improve the economy, not damage it. The one visual, as simple as it is, that expresses this fully is of the scales: on one side there are blocks of gold bullion, on the other is the earth. If there is no earth (which seems like such an extreme, right?), gold won’t matter.


The third thing that hits rather hard is that the United States is the worst offender of the environment of all the countries, and some continents, in the world.


I just saw a commercial with a little girl saying that we have coal reserves that will last another couple hundred years. Maybe she was speaking pro-environment; I couldn’t hear it all. But even if we have coal and petroleum to last for decades, it won’t matter if the polar ice cap is gone. No one is contesting how much natural fossil fuel we have; the issue is global warming and what we can do to change the consequences.


Michael Moore criticized the culture of fear that the media and the government promote; meanwhile his rhetoric generated some fears as well. Gore does not seem to want to make us afraid; he wants to motivate us to take action now, from recycling to supporting candidates who support the environment.


Americans do not like to be inconvenienced. We are into immediate gratification, and heaven help us if the DSL line goes down. I don’t like to be inconvenienced when I have my plans all made and someone calls and all of a sudden my day, my week, my month changes because I am asked to do something for someone else or just do something other than what I had planned.


In the case for the earth, however, to be inconvenienced by the truth of global warming is a choice for others – and for self.


Gore calls the environmental situation a moral imperative in the film, and some aspects of the solution are political. Last night on television he called it a spiritual imperative. This made me think of the Principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and how they relate to the Beatitudes. All of a sudden, the moral and the spiritual nature of our care for the earth become clear. The balance of freedom and responsibility in how we live our lives on the earth (the common good, human dignity, stewardship, etc.) touch the deepest recesses of the human person


Congratulations to Hollywood for making another film that matters. Kudos.


Awareness                   Reflection                     Dialogue                       Action


Make up the process Gore implicitly asks us to enter into; this is also the process of theological reflection. Whether we believe in God or not, the earth is ours to save or to lose.


(PS Prophets don't tell the future; they teach, they tell the truth. But in point of fact, prophets are not listened to in their own country; and no one likes them very much because their teachings ... afflict the comfortable.)

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