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An Inconvenient Truth

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An Inconvenient Truth (PG), directed by Davis Guggenheim, is now playing at The Little and Pittsford Cinemas.

Frying and dying with Al Gore

The great state of Kansas poises to declare the Earth is flat; school boards and legislatures around the country call for the teaching of creationism; a movie theater chain, reacting to protests, cancels a documentary on planetary geology; majority leaders in both the Senate and the House diagnose, via videotape, a woman in a persistent vegetative state as capable of gainful employment; as part of its war on science, the Bush administration cuts funding for research, forbids stem cell research, and blocks the release of drugs and vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases; and, by the way, more Americans believe that aliens have landed in UFOs than accept Darwin's theory of evolution.

No wonder that Albert Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, arouses so much controversy and condemnation --- too many Americans regard science as a belief system rather than an attempt to analyze and explain all phenomena we call nature, the world we live in, the universe around us.

Like an even more controversial film, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, An Inconvenient Truth functions most successfully when it simply show its subjects, without resorting to prolix voiceover narrative, intrusive discussion, and the inevitable talking heads. Both works, not coincidentally, also present a considerable quantity of solid, irrefutable evidence in a generally clear and entertaining manner to demonstrate the truth of their particular arguments, most of which concern matters that hardly demand debate.

Because of his position as former Vice President of the United States and the winner of the 2000 presidential election, Gore of course commands a good deal of attention around the world. His movie won applause and awards at both the Sundance and the Cannes film festivals, a reasonably rare duet of distinctions. Even rarer, An Inconvenient Truth opened across the nation in the sort of wide release usually connected with mainstream Hollywood feature productions.

As probably everybody knows by now, the movie mostly shows Gore lecturing, in a rather professorial manner, with that familiar excessively precise diction and singsong cadences, to an audience composed largely of young people about the dangers of global warning. To illustrate his points he employs a wide variety of visual resources --- cartoons, clips from previous documentaries, films of scientific expeditions and discoveries, laboratory reports, photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, and of course, the usual charts and graphs. He talks clearly and fully about the evidence for global warming, resulting especially from the enormous increase in carbon dioxide from industrial pollution, automobile emissions, and the great constellation of mechanisms that both define and clutter modern life.

Some of the most compelling images simply show the equivalent of before and after photos of some prominent geographical locations --- a great Russian river now a trickle in the sand, some inland seas reduced to scattered puddles, the disappearing glaciers in GlacierNational Park, the legendary snows of Kilimanjaro melted away. Gore also discusses the delicate balance of ecosystems, where in one example the warming of the earth causes certain insects to appear too early for the birds that normally feed on them, which then means the birds will die out from an insufficient food supply. He also raises the more familiar issue of drastic climatic change, which increases the number and severity of hurricanes, most notably in the case of Hurricane Katrina.

Although Gore accumulates mountains of evidence from innumerable objective sources, the film has provoked angry commentary in the usual hate media, and at least one priceless commercial singing the joys of carbon dioxide, which has apparently replaced flatulence as the favorite gas of the right wing. Having politicized science, medicine, history, and religion, the conservative movement also regards a concern for the environment as some sort of left-wing, subversive plot against capitalism, America, and the Republican party.

Sadly, neither Gore nor his supporters realize that when he shows an ice sample from the Antarctic, for example, most of his potential audience rejects the notion that it displays 160,000 years of climatic conditions because, after all, they know that the Earth was created in six days some 5700 years ago. The greatest obstacle to the film's arguments remains the rich context of recalcitrance and ignorance that overwhelms thought and knowledge in contemporary America. That context may unfortunately blunt the message and diminish the importance and urgency of An Inconvenient Truth, thus allowing the possibility of even greater natural and human catastrophes in the future.

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