Socialist Worker

An Inconvenient Truth: a warning to the world about climate change

Al Gore’s documentary about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, is very important, but has political limitations, argues Martin Empson

Issue No. 2019

An Inconvenient Truth, the new documentary based on the multi-media lecture about global warming given by former US vice president Al Gore, had its mainstream release in Britain last week. The previous day Nasa revealed that the Antarctic ice is melting 14 times faster than expected.

Not a day goes past without more evidence being released proving that climate change is a reality.

Drastic action is needed by governments all around the world. In particular, the world’s biggest economies must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent if we are to have any hope of avoiding environmental disaster.

For a number of years, Al Gore has travelled around the globe, lecturing and speaking on climate change. Gore’s personal commitment to raising public awareness of the dangers of climate change is in no doubt. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he campaigned in public and at senate committees to raise awareness of the issue.

In fact, this documentary leaves the viewer at times with the feeling that Gore was almost the only person in the world worrying about the environment during this time.

An Inconvenient Truth makes it wonderfully clear not just how serious climate change already is, but how bad things could get and how quickly.

The film uses the simplest of techniques - graphs, statistics and photographic evidence - to show the indisputable scientific evidence that climate change is with us.

Gore is a slick speaker, his presentation is straightforward and he gets some complex scientific ideas across very clearly to his audience.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better presentation on climate change. Certainly some of the photographic and video footage is immensely hard hitting.

Such is the strength of Gore’s presentation technique that even the rather dry figures and intricate graphs become illuminating rather than confusing.

At one point, Gore shows a long graph showing the world’s temperature going back through to the ice ages - the rise and fall of atmospheric temperature running parallel to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air.

Standing at the far end of the graph, representing the present day, Gore mounts a hydraulic platform, carrying him high into the air above the audience.

Then the screen expands to show how much greenhouse gases have been pumped into the atmosphere in recent times.

Rising even higher he shows how much the world’s temperature could rise if the world doesn’t reduce its emissions rapidly.


Switching to imagery of melting ice, floods and hurricanes we see the consequences of such a temperature rise.

Before and after images of glaciers and mountains from around the world show just how far the ice has retreated and how much snow has disappeared.

Seeing the images from Kilimanjaro taken in the last few years, it’s easy to believe Gore’s prediction that the famous snowcapped mountain will be clear of snow very soon.

We also learn how even relatively small changes in atmospheric temperature have already destroyed some ecological niches.

An important, if relatively unacknowledged, consequence of global warming is that pests such as mosquitoes can now spread to cities deliberately built above the line where such insects could survive.

Rising temperatures will bring the threat of malaria to millions of people, who previously lived in an environment safe from the disease.

Gore doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to predicting the human consequences of unrestrained global warming.

Imagery of the effect of Hurricane Katrina last year on New Orleans brings home the individual suffering of people in the face of extreme weather.

Gore also shows just how far sea levels could rise if the permanent ice of Greenland or Antarctica continues to melt.

We watch as computer animated floods spread across the low lying areas of India, China, north west Europe and the US.

Gore points out just how many millions of people live in those areas. He muses about how badly the US coped with just a few tens of thousands of refugees from New Orleans, asking the question of how a world would cope when millions of people flee rising waters.

But I think there are more important issues with the documentary that those who want to fight to save the planet need to discuss.

Gore is, after all, about as mainstream a politician as it gets.

“My name is Al Gore. Up until recently I was the former ‘next president of the United States,’” he quips, to cheers from his audience right at the start of his film.

He was Bill Clinton’s vice president from 1993-2000.

Missing the mark

I think it’s this contradictory position that means while his warnings about climate change are passionate and heartfelt, and far in advance of other mainstream politicians, his lecture misses the mark when looking at the causes and the solutions.

The vast majority of greenhouse gases that we pump into the atmosphere are due to energy production and heavy industry - the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity in particular.

Transportion is a second key factor. At the heart of these two industries are massive multinationals, based around the oil industry and associated companies, such as car manufacturers, the rubber industry, road builders.

Gore shows us just how powerful these organisations are in a very

interesting bit of his presentation towards the end of An Inconvenient Truth.

The US car industry produces some of the most inefficient cars with some of the lowest mileages per gallon in the world.

Gore demonstrates how countries such as Japan are building cars that are much more efficient, and how the European Union has imposed legislation to force manufacturers to make better and more efficient cars.

Finally he shows how California tried to introduce similar, but very minimal laws, to improve vehicle efficiency. They were prevented from doing this when the car industries sued them.

This is Gore’s problem. He has no way of confronting these powerful corporations, even though he makes it clear a political solution is needed.

This contradiction is writ large when Gore talks about how we have changed the world in the past.

Images of mass protest flash across the screen - Martin Luther King addressing thousands of demonstrators, the suffragettes, and Indian leader Gandhi defying British rule - as examples of how men and women have done the seemingly impossible.

Challenge system

But Gore doesn’t acknowledge that these people had to defy the law and challenge the system to win their struggles.

So his powerful presentation and his tremendous call to arms to act to stop climate change doesn’t go far enough.

He doesn’t point the finger at the problems with a political and economic system prepared to destroy the earth in the name of profit.

Gore talks about how some figures from the petro-chemical industry worked within the Bush administration to suppress scientific reports highlighting global warming.

He quotes US socialist and author Upton Sinclair saying, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

But there is grim irony here - the profits of entire multinational corporations depend on them ignoring the issue of climate change.

I suspect that some viewers will come away from this documentary thinking how much better the world would be if Gore had defeated George Bush in the “stolen presidential election” of 2000.

But for someone so passionate about climate change, voters didn’t see the difference between Gore and Bush, over this or many other issues in that election.

I believe that we can stop climate change.

But it will require ordinary men and women in their millions forcing states and governments to confront some of these powerful companies.

In doing so, those people will also confront the priorities of the society we live in.

Firstly we have to convince millions of people of the need to act.

An Inconvenient Truth is a very important first step in doing so, even if its conclusions are limited.

One thing I felt was missing as I left the cinema was the opportunity to discuss the documentary and the conclusions it makes for saving the planet.

I would recommend that you organise to see the it with colleagues from your union branch, your Respect group or your college course.

Then go to a cafe and discuss and debate it.

Saving the world will need a collective solution, and we’ll need to discuss that through in great detail - luckily this documentary creates the perfect opportunity to do just that.

The Socialist Worker pamphlet Climate Change: Why Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer by Martin Empson is available for £1 from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to An Inconvenient Truth is out now

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 23 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2019
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.