One of my first significant introductions to environmental issues such as pollution and global warming came from a very unexpected source: I was a teenager eager to see the latest brainless b-movie action vehicle from martial arts master Steven Seagal. It was 1994 and the movie was On Deadly Ground, a popcorn actioner which kept me entertained right until the last ten minutes. And then something strange happened. Seagal, having defeated all of the bad guys, took the stage behind a podium and started to lecture a small crowd - and, of course, the large crowd of cinemagoers watching - on what we were doing to our own environment and how we need to make some drastic changes before it's too late. And how we have to persuade our Governments to make significant changes as well. I'm sure that many of my fellow audience members just balked at the very sight of the big, mumbling action star talking to us about environmental issues - and I could totally understand why - but that did not take away from the horror of some of the issues he raised which have stayed with me until this day.
Twelve years later and we are now in an age where documentaries are a really big thing. It seems that the public now truly crave more knowledge, on issues regarding health, politics, war, crime or the environment. Hence we have some fabulous documentaries like Super-Size Me (on why McDonalds food is bad for you), Bowling for Columbine (on the dangers of gun legalisation), Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Corporation. With documentaries on nature, like March of the Penguins and Planet Earth, also being increasingly popular, it was inevitable that we were eventually going to get something that focuses on the environment.
An Inconvenient Truth is more than just a study of global warming, it is a documentary on the life's work of the American ex-vice-president, Al Gore. Since that fateful day when he lost the election to the illiterate child who currently resides in the White House, he has returned to his original lecture tours, where he goes from country to country giving speeches on the state of the environment, in a desperate bid to raise awareness before it is too late for all of us. Relying largely on a startling series of statistics, various slideshows and shocking images of the state of the world now when compared to just a few decades ago, his biggest selling point was his blunt honesty, a word which I suspect many of the British and American public don't usually associate with a politician.
The documentary gives us a condensed version of his lecture, interspersed with biographical elements that focus more on Gore's childhood, his upbringing, his introduction to environmental concerns and his personal voyage through politics. The lecture itself is never too tough to take in, with Gore using plenty of pretty pictures, funny analogies, CGI and even Simpsons cartoons to get his scientific points across. The main issue is, of course, global warming (infrared rays trapped by pollution in the atmosphere which end up bouncing back and heating up the earth), and the effect of the rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels in pivotal areas around the globe - most significantly in Antarctica and other ice-based regions.
The facts are astounding. Snow levels are rapidly reducing on Kilimanjaro and on the Alps, with age-old glaciers now fracturing and the ice caps now melting to such an extent that polar bears have to swim for miles and miles to reach ice. We hear about other effects of global warming - storms, droughts and hurricanes - and how it is just going to get worse. The blame appears to lie mostly in the U.S., although China and Europe's contributions to pollution are also significant. And what are the current administrations doing about it? Well, apparently nothing.
An Inconvenient Truth raises all of these issues, and does not avoid the fact that things may have been significantly different had the dubious election gone the other way. The journey we take through Gore's eyes is a very personal voyage, but it never gets overly sentimental, despite the emotions that it will evoke in most viewers. When you hear how the sight of 9/11 will be submerged in a few decades, you realise just how bad things have become and just how pathetic this extended 'war on terrorism' really is. The end result of all of this is that this documentary is truly enlightening and definitely raises awareness amongst those who know little about what is going on to the very planet we inhabit. Unfortunately, but somewhat understandably given its runtime, it does not go any further than that. This is not a documentary about solutions, it is one about problems, of which there are many. In terms of solutions, we are left with the feeling 'what can we do now?', which is surely the desired effect, but I do wonder whether Gore is avoiding one key fact: the limit to which the public can change without assistance from the Government. Sure, we can write to the politicians, recycle our waste, and use different light-bulbs, but most people are aware of the fact that the internal combustion engine carries much of the blame in this whole affair. And so we return to Seagal, all those years ago, giving his own paltry lecture on the environment. His comments still ring true, even in light of what Gore has put together here. With oil companies as big as they have ever been and clearly having a negative influence on alternative fuel technology, what can joe public actually do? The answer is not here. Luckily, thanks to this documentary, many more people are likely to be asking the question.
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