Rachel Carson on pesticides, Jonathan Schell on nuclear weapons, Chicken Little on atmospheric disturbances of indeterminate origin Ã?' with Davis GuggenheimÃ??s gently hair-raising documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore joins the long line of Cassandras whoÃ??ve reminded us over the years that itÃ??s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. Only this time, instead of falling down, the sky is filling up with greenhouse gases, which trap the sunÃ??s rays, which raises the temperature, which melts the polar icecaps, which floods the...well, you know the scenario. Or do you? Because one of the reasons Gore, who (in his own words) Ã??used to be the next president of the United States,Ã?? decided to make this movie was his admitted failure, in all his years of public service, to get the word out on global warming. No matter how many times he told us the sky was filling, we kept blowing him off.
And we may keep blowing him off, because, although we love disaster movies, weÃ??re a little slow on the uptake when it comes to preventing actual disasters, especially those that involve turning off the air-conditioner. Gore knows this and has nevertheless mounted a valiant campaign to knock some sense into us. An Inconvenient Truth, which takes off from the multimedia presentation that Gore estimates heÃ??s given over a thousand times in the last 17 years, is perhaps the most alarming dog-and-pony show of all time. Using charts and graphs and even the occasional Ã??SimpsonsÃ??-like cartoon, Gore lays out his argument, one that (as he points out) is accepted by virtually every leading scientist in the world. And he does it with a self-deprecating folksiness that was largely absent during his campaigns for national office. Not really losing to George Bush may be the best thing that ever happened to the environment.
ThatÃ??s if enough people heed GoreÃ??s call. But thereÃ??s a quixotic air about him now Ã?' the knight errant tilting at wind-powered mills. Some have argued that heÃ??s not just trying to save the world, heÃ??s running for president. And parts of the movie Ã?' his recollections of his son being hit by a car, his sister succumbing to lung cancer Ã?' do have a campaign-bio feeling. But if he is running for president, this sure is a weird way to go about it. No, Gore seems quite comfortable in his new role as the Carl Sagan of Climate Change, laser-pointing to the billions and billions of carbon-dioxide molecules girdling the globe. He can still be a little stiff, as if he learned everything he knows about public speaking from Toastmasters. But a little stiffness, even a little humility, may not be such a bad thing when prophesying the end of the world, or what Gore, in a wickedly evocative phrase, calls Ã??a nature hike through the Book of Revelations.Ã??