Global Warming Conventional Wisdom

I went to see An Inconvenient Truth (a. k. a. the Al Gore movie) at the Uptown last week, and I found it engaging and blunt. If you don’t know about the film, you might be surprised by it’s relatively un-ambitious, straight-ahead style. It’s a big change from other message-movie documentaries like Supersize Me or Fahrenheit 9/11. In fact, I’d say it most resembles an old-fashioned educational video that might be used for something like corporate training, albeit one with very high production values. It’s a filmed version of Al Gore’s global warming stump speech – he’s apparently been giving this same speech for years now, all around the country – with a little bit of biographical detail interspersed into the speech. The film relies heavily on voice over, and probably lionizes Gore a bit too much. That said, the movie is a very effective argument that we need a national plan to prevent global warming.

What I took away from the film, aside from how I should never ride in a car again, is how difficult it is to explain the global warming issue. The complexity of both its causes and effects makes it a tough issue to talk about without going through a whole lot of explaining. And that’s exactly what Gore’s movie so elegantly does. Still, questions remain. How pessimistic should we be about the future? Who deserves blame for carbon dioxide emissions – hundreds of millions of consumers, or a hundred corporations? Are developed and developing nations equally responsible for fixing the problem?

I thought Gore struck a good balance, putting just enough scare into the movie without resorting to doomsday scenarios. And, even though corporations and governments have the most potential to effect positive change, Gore ended the film with a call to individual consumers to change their habits. It’s a necessary move, because there’s very little chance that our governments or corporations will make top-down change without a great amount of political and economic pressure from people like you and me. To that end, Gore’s film ended with a series of suggestions as to how each of us can reduce our carbon emissions (check out the website at climatecrisis.net).

After the movie, though, I went up to the rooftop of Stella’s Fish CafĂ©, just down the street from the Uptown Theater. It’s an over-hyped, yuppie restaurant, but none of that matters because they have the nicest rooftop patio in the Twin Cities, and from there you can see for miles in all directions. (I don’t understand why more places in the T. C. don’t have rooftop patios, given the flatness of our landscape.) I gazed down at the uptown landscape and saw nothing but cars. They were parked, stuck in traffic, advertised on billboards. As I was walking to my car, a guy in a blue Hummer H2 with post-market chrome trim cruised past, and I couldn’t help but give him the finger. (Question: Is this the kind of “action” we need to be taking?) The U. S. has such a long way to go to build a low-carbon society, and given that any real change needs start with individual consumers, the presence of so many fat, happy people driving their cars all around me was not a bit discouraging.

Maybe I’m a pessimist, but in order to really advance the debate on global warming, I think it’s necessary to broaden the argument past strictly moral grounds. We need to start talking about why our low-carbon future will be good for the economy, and good for jobs. That’s why I thought that one of the more innovative parts of Gore’s speech was when he talked about American automakers.

About three-fourths of the way through the film, Al Gore uses one of his ubiquitous powerpoint graphs to show how fuel efficiency standards are rising quickly in every country except the United States (even California, which has separate standards). It’s pretty well documented that the U. S. reluctance to raise fuel efficiency is because the U. S. auto makers in Michigan make most of their money off of large, heavy trucks and SUVs.

Gore’s point was that GM’s and Ford’s attitudes are counterproductive in the long run because, by focusing on cars that can only be sold in the United States, they’re abandoning the rapidly growing global auto market. Not only that, but as oil becomes scarce and foreign automakers develop better low-carbon technology, American automakers will quickly be edged out of an increasing portion of the domestic market.

This is only one example of how embracing clean energy and transportation options is good for the U. S. economy in the long run. If we took even half the money we are currently spending on the Iraq War and spent it on developing clean energy technology (for example, switchgrass ethanol or plug-in hybrids) we’d be the world leader in low-carbon power by the end of the decade. It’s hard to see how our current conservative approach will pay off financially in the long term, but there seem to be many ways that the U. S. could use its current wealth advantage to benefit both our economy and our environment. That might be a message that can form a broader coalition of interests in support of Al Gore’s principles.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Sounds like a good film, one that I have been meaning to see for a while now. Is it only playing at ther Lagoon? Another thing we have to worry about, is the subsidizing of conspicous consumption with the free gas that Ford and GM are giving consumers that purchase less fule efficient vehicles such as the Expedition and the Suburban, Hummer etc.

Great post