This review was originally published January 20th.
There’s a scene early on in An Inconvenient Sequel where former Vice President Al Gore is providing testimony in front of a senatorial committee. Badgered by Jim Inhoffe (R-OK), the man behind the best-selling novel The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, Gore is asked a series of leading questions. When finally given a moment to respond, he pauses, holding back what clearly is a series of epithets running through his mind. He gives one of his trademark loud sighs that were lampooned during his presidential run, and then asks, with a somber seriousness, that he and his inquisitor would be best served by going away from the cameras, talking as people, trying to find some common ground about what he has spent a lifetime trying to bring attention to.
Naturally, we never see this conversation occur, nor does An Inconvenient Sequel ever come close to capturing such a moment truly changing the minds of the intractable. Even a subtle echo later on, where Gore enters that famous, brass-lined elevator to ride to the top of Trump Tower, cameras do not follow. For the film itself isn’t a conversation or even an invitation to those entrenched into an alternative to Gore’s point of view. It’s not even a particularly striking film in terms of documentary, save for some fascinating negotiations that occur during the Paris climate talks.
No, this is a victory lap for the Nobel Laureate – part evangelism, but mostly propagandistic, singing rich songs to a choir of believers.
Most troublingly, Gore at times evokes faith to account for the urgency of his plea, speaking of how he “feels” himself to be right, with a belief that there are those that will share his fervor. Speaking to armies of like-minded individuals who attend his lectures on how to spread the gospel, it all feels very much like a form of missionarian proselytizing.
This isn’t at all to say, of course, that the fundamental points Gore and his Powerpoint makes aren’t scientifically accurate. None of the “debate” about climate changed is couched in epistemological certitudes, after all, but in an intransigent hubris fueled by skepticism that itself is often funded (financially and intellectually) by those individuals and industries most at risk of a shift of economic and environmental policy. The most depressing thing about the film isn’t just the escalation of global doom but that the poison of the naysayers seems to be deaf to anything approaching a rational argument. The film shows Gore traversing the world spreading the word, but all in his congregation seem to be doing little else but reinforcing their pre-existing beliefs.
The “debate” about climate change and the contribution of man-made pollution is as preposterous as flat earth proponents or moon landing deniers. The spectre of Trump lies over the film thickly. For those outside the American bubble, the “no shit, Sherlock”-ness of it all proves grating. The climate change denier will abrogate the film on ideological grounds, the superficial environmentalist will celebrate the warmth of feeling mollified by a shared community of beliefs. For others, where the complexity of the situation requires adult solutions, and questions raised by the likes of the Indian environmental minister are mollified by simple bribery, the film will feel little more than the tedious ramblings of a well-meaning politician extolling his views upon his constituents.
The saddest part of the film, of course, is that there are those that need Gore to tell them something that’s already achieved scientific consensus, and it’s equally appalling that a near majority in the U.S. will regardless of evidence “feel” that this can’t be truthful. The film, despite dancing around this gulf of opinion, does little to bridge the gap, offering platitudes and stock footage along with some statistics rather than having that conversation with an entrenched opponent that Gore suggested would be beneficial.
Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk do their best to make the work glossy and engaging, but in the end it serves little else than a campaign video for Gore’s mission. As he told the audience he’s a “recovering politician”, yet his rhetoric still flows with the same flowery pretense. To his credit, there’s real anger and passion at play, something previously absent in his presidential runs. Plus, the Bush v. Gore Supreme court decision is referenced a half dozen times just to rub that wound a bit more.
There are those that will revel in the film’s attempt at engagement, following the directions at the end to join the crusade. As a recruiting tool it may be effective, but as a genuine contribution to the discourse surrounding climate change it’s sorely lacking. Inconveniently this Inconvenient Sequel feels redundant, even if the battle that Gore has been gamely waging for decades is a vital, important one. For some it may take this kind of spoon-feeding to become activated in the discussion, for others they’ll be put off by the pandering. And for those increasingly closed minded to the truth of the situation? This flood of imagery and soundbites will do little to shift them from their intractable, irrational ways. And, distressingly, their contagion of ignorance continues to spread despite the best efforts of Gore and his minions.