Two and a half years ago, in the company of a professor of atmospheric sciences, I went to see the former U.S. senator and vice president deliver the lecture that is the basis of his film, An Inconvenient Truth . It was classic Al Gore. He did the best job of presenting and illustrating the basics of global warming that we had ever seen. But he delivered the talk on what was more or less the coldest day of that winter in New York City, making him the butt of jokes by late-night television chat-show hosts.
The filmed version of the talk, which Gore has now delivered—by his reckoning—close to 1000 times, opened in the United States on 25May, and it has something of the same odd combination of Gore’s professorial brilliance and political clumsiness, only more so. The talk itself and the illustrations are even better—so good, indeed, that they should not be missed, whether you look at them in the film or in the companion book now on sale: An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It .
But it wouldn’t do to just film a 1''hour lecture for a movie intended to be shown in commercial theaters. So the segments of the talk are interspersed with vignettes and reflections from Gore’s personal life, which inevitably will strike many viewers as self-serving or just irritating.
That’s too bad, because Gore’s message and the evidence he musters to support it deserve to be seen and heard by all. The lecture treats every crucially important aspect of climate change and in almost every case hits the nail right on the head.
Questions Gore answers include how we know what the earth’s climate was like going back 650 000 years and how we know just how much greenhouse gas concentrations have increased. He explains the empirically proven direct relationship between carbon dioxide levels and temperatures and shows that levels of that gas in the atmosphere today are unprecedented. He also discusses the sharply higher atmospheric and oceanic temperatures of recent years and the increased ferocity of hurricanes and prevalence of droughts. The film illustrates how the possible breakup of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets would affect the world’s sea levels, and it covers the pernicious roles of coal and oil and the potentially benign impacts of green technologies.
Gore presents what is probably the most important set of facts about global warming with especially dramatic effect. Standing in front of a chart showing the lockstep relationship between carbon dioxide and temperatures through the most recent ice ages—a chart that’s arguably the most important scientific diagram produced since Watson and Crick’s double helix—Gore steps into a cherry picker and has himself rise with the curve showing the CO 2 levels as they are projected out to the end of this century.