Revolution #52, June 25, 2006
Film Review: An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth is a provocative documentary on global warming by director Davis Guggenheim. The film, based on the multi-media presentation given by former Vice President Al Gore in over 1,000 cities around the world in recent years, presents a disturbing picture of the destruction that global warming is doing to the earth and the horrific future that we are facing if global warming is not addressed. Despite some serious weaknesses, anyone who is concerned about the future must see this film and join in discussion, debate, and action over what is needed to save the planet.
At a time when believing in scientific truth is under attack, and when the Bush administration is gagging government scientists from telling the truth, censoring official reports, and sabotaging international treaties, An Inconvenient Truth defends, popularizes and makes accessible to millions the basic science of global warming. Because of this, the film has come under attack. Right-wing talk show host Glenn Beck compared An Inconvenient Truth, to Nazi propaganda. Holman Jenkins wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Gore’s narrative isn’t science, but science fiction.”
The movie presents scientific concepts and evidence about global warming in a clear, concise and often entertaining way. It features great nature photography, graphs, and animation to visually express complex evidence. It even has a clip from Futurama.
Effects of Global Warming
“I can’t think of another movie in which the display of a graph elicited gasps of horror, but when the red lines showing the increasing rates of carbon-dioxide emissions and the corresponding rise in temperatures come on screen, the effect is jolting and chilling,” A. O. Scott writes in the New York Times review of the movie. In the movie Gore shows a graph that demonstrates a link between CO2 levels and temperature over the last 600,000 years as revealed by samples from polar ice cores.1 During this entire period CO2 levels have varied between 180 and 280 parts per million (ppm). The level today is nearly 400 ppm, well above anything that has been seen in over a half million years. And Gore points out that the CO2 levels will rise to 600 ppm if something isn’t done quickly.
Gore describes the dramatic changes taking place in the world as a result of global warming. He shows pictures taken 15 to 30 years ago of glaciers that have existed for the last 10,000 years or more and compares them to pictures taken in the last year or two. It is shocking to see the rate at which the glaciers are disappearing! The film shows the famous “snows of Kilimanjaro” in 1970. A picture from 2005 shows only a tiny sliver of ice remaining.
The movie describes how many new scientific studies are confirming that warmer water in the top layer of the ocean caused by global warming is producing more powerful hurricanes. While it is not possible to attribute any specific storm, like Katrina, to the effects of global warming, an MIT study indicated that as a whole major storms spinning in both the Atlantic and the Pacific since the 1970s have increased in duration and intensity about 50%.2 And all of this means hardship and suffering for the people.
While in the world as a whole it appears that global warming has contributed to a 20 percent increase in rain over the last 100 years. However this increase in precipitation is not uniform, and some areas of the world have suffered from drought.
It was striking to see the role this drought plays in the horrors now going on in Africa, which are generally written off in the imperialist press as the inevitable nightmares of “uncivilized” people that the West has no responsibility for. Famine is killing many children and putting millions of lives at risk in the Niger area. In Darfur, a horrific genocide is being carried out. While the causes leading to the genocide and famine are complex, a contributing factor to these nightmare situations is changes brought on by global warming. Lake Chad, once the sixth largest lake in the world, which has shrunk to one-twentieth of its former size, with sand dunes covering its bed. The disappearance of the lake has led to collapsed fisheries, lack of irrigation and crop failures, and millions displaced by hunger.
While the climate changes produced by global warming are beginning to show themselves today in shocking ways, these are just a glimmer of the changes that scientists predict may come about due to global warming: mass extinction of species, flooding in coastal areas due to melting polar ice, spread of infectious diseases, and the destruction of coral reefs caused by rising CO2 in the ocean’s water.
The destruction of glaciers due to global warming does not mean only that our children may never be able to see a glacier. The Himalayan glaciers, which provide more than half of the drinking water for over 40% of the world’s population, are among the most affected by global warming. Within the next 50 years these people may face a massive drinking water shortage as well as food shortages due to lack of irrigation.
This is a one scary movie, made all the more so because the threats it depicts are real. And, unlike so many summer blockbusters, no superhero is going to come to save the day.
A Profound Disconnect
There is a profound disconnect between the analysis Al Gore has of the problem of global warming and the political program that he advocates for dealing with it. One minute Gore is talking about the magnitude of the crisis—of the possibility of large coastal sections of countries being flooded—and the next he is saying that the problem of global warming can be solved fairly easily by producing more energy-efficient cars and by individuals conserving energy by turning down their thermostats and turning off the lights.
While an analysis of Gore’s motives in making this film and how it may fit into the strategy of the Democratic Party in 2006 or 2008 are beyond the scope of this review, we do need to be clear that Al Gore himself is a representative of the capitalist/imperialist class in the United States and approaches the issue of global warming from that perspective. It is not fundamentally a question of whether Gore really cares about global warming or is “using” the issue for political purposes. The central point is that Gore’s class position and perspective blind him from being able to really get to the truth of the causes and solutions to the global warming crisis.
In his analysis of the root causes behind the climate crisis, Gore cites three issues: rapid population growth, increased technology, and people’s thinking about the environment. While these factors are part of the picture, what Gore leaves out is actually the central point: that global warming and the destruction of the environment is rooted in a global system of capitalism and imperialism, where production is determined not by social needs or environmental sustainability but by profitability and where a few countries dominate the world economy.
For example, Gore talks about how almost 30% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere each year is the result of burning brushland for subsistence agriculture and wood fires for cooking. But the burning of forests is not being done by peasants in the third world for no reason. It is happening because imperialist globalization is forcing people off of lands where their families have farmed for centuries and, in order to survive, people are driven by necessity to burn down forests for farmland.
While Gore cites statistics that show that the U.S. is responsible for over 30 percent of global warming, he does not question the division of the world where the United States, with four and a half percent of the world’s population, account for such a huge percentage of the world’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Besides the morality of such a small percentage of the world’s population consuming such a large amount of the world’s resources, it is doubtful that such a lopsidedness in the world is sustainable from an ecological standpoint.
Gore does not situate the problem within the current necessity facing U.S. imperialism. These are not times where imperialism is likely to pump large amounts of resources into retooling industry with a green orientation! The strategic goals of the U.S. today are centered around restructuring the world, with U.S. control of the Middle East and, in particular, the large oil reserves there, central to their plans. And the Bush regime is willing to wage unbounded war in the pursuit of this goal.
Urgently Needed: Real Resistance to Stop Global Warming
Gore begins the movie by saying that dealing with global warming is a moral imperative. He asks us to think about what we will tell our children who have inherited an earth that has been ravaged and destroyed. While An Inconvenient Truth is valuable in sounding the alarm about global warming, the solutions that it poses do not meet the moral imperative of what is really necessary to deal with the problem. If things are left on the level of the political program put forward by Gore in the movie, it will be very bad for the environment and for the people.
Much more is demanded of us than conserving energy or voting for Democratic Party politicians. It is necessary to break out of the stifling confines of voting and protest-as-usual and to go up against and reverse the current trajectory of U.S. society. To do this will require millions of people in the streets saying that we will not accept a government that is destroying the future of the planet in pursuit of profit and global domination and that is suppressing scientific evidence when it conflicts with their political agenda.
As the call from The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime says, “The point is this: history is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined. The future is unwritten. WHICH ONE WE GET IS UP TO US.”
Only Revolution Can Save the Planet
“From the standpoint of higher economic forms of society [socialism and communism], private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the globe. They are only its possessors…they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.”
Karl Marx, Capital
About the time when capitalism was first putting humanity on the road to the risk of global warming we face today, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like a sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”
Over 150 years later the truth of this statement still stands out sharply when confronting the issue of global warming.
While we need to fight every possible battle to force companies and especially governments to implement measures that can make a big difference, nothing short of making revolution in every country when the opportunity arises and overthrowing the global imperialist system can fully unleash the powers of humanity to face this problem. The magnitude of global warming crosses all geographic, national, cultural and social boundaries, and the solution lies in a radical political and social rupture with the world as it is now organized.
1. CO2 or carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun in the atmosphere contributing to global warming. Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are increased when fossil fuels, oil and natural gas are burned, when forests are burned or cut down and when cement is produced.
2. This is similar to the relationship between lung cancer and smoking. Someone may have lung cancer and may have smoked for 20 years but you cannot say with certainty that the smoking caused the cancer, because some people who never smoked and get lung cancer, while others may smoke for many years and never get cancer. But you can say that overall the more someone smokes the more likely they are to get cancer and that the smoking rate in the population as a whole directly effects the rate of lung cancer. For more on the relation between global warming and hurricanes see the series of articles, “Hurricanes, Climate Change, and Global Warming,” by AWTW News Service reprinted in Revolution.
From the Bush Crimes Commission:
Suppressing the Evidence for Global Warming is a Crime Against Humanity
The Bush Crimes Commission, which heard testimony in 2005 and 2006, found the Bush Administration guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for its actions on global warming, as well as in other areas. In its preliminary findings the Commission wrote: “The testimony of scientists and the scientific reports and other documents submitted during the inquiry support a conclusion that the Bush Administration has committed crimes against humanity by its environmental policies and practices. These policies and practices appear to support corporate interests while denying the overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gas emissions are irreversibly damaging the world environment and causing present day injury to people throughout the world.”
Daphne Wysham, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, testified before the Commission saying, “Secrecy enforced by repression has been the foundation of public deception on climate change. Illegal gags have sprung so routinely throughout the government bureaucracy that weather experts are gagged from talking to the media because they might talk about global warming.” She also documented efforts to dismantle the decades-long multi-lateral U.N. framework convention on climate change.
She went on to describe the effect of these actions: according to the United Nations, 160,000 people are dying every year as a result of climate change related to floods, hurricanes, droughts, disease, and food shortages.
Ted Glick of the Climate Crisis Coalition concluded his testimony to the Commission saying: “For the last five years Bush has engaged in a deliberate, willful and reckless course of action, which is causing great damage to the ecosystem upon which all forms of life on this planet depend…. The extensive disruption of the basis for all life, the destruction of our natural environment done willfully and with full understanding of the consequences is I believe the greatest crime that could ever be committed.”
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