29 October 2006
Al Gore and the future politics of climate change
Review of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth
More than 1000 times, Al Gore has given the slide show on the reality of climate change that forms the narrative for this film. He’s helped vanquish the deniers of climate change. But for British Greens, that might not be enough.
By flying round the world, British Greens might say, Gore has joined those disreputable men who fly to stag nights in Tallinn. He’s personally helped make aviation the fastest-growing source of CO2 – the greatest future cause of global warming, and the one that’s least tractable in technological terms. So though the overseas conferences Gore goes to may be important, that’s too bad: from now on, he’ll just have to appear at them over the Web.
Rightly noting that the era of climate change denial is over, British Greens now threaten to outbore Gore. There will be fewer of his Before and After slides of glaciers and ice caps melting; fewer, too, of his gorgeous maps, or of his not-always-watertight charts. Instead, expect more attacks on the Gores who won’t walk the talk. (1) Feinting toward Old Labour, one top British Green has already proclaimed that it’s rich bastards who, through their consumption, do most to visit floods on poor Bangladesh… however much they feel good about their eco-safaris. (2)
What are we to make of all this? Well: in the first place, Al Gore’s youthful prescience about climate has more recently been replaced by slow reactions. He only made the issue a big deal after his failed campaign against George W Bush in 2000, not during it. And now Gore shows yet more tardiness: decreasing US dependence on foreign fuels, one of the recommendations with which he ends Truth, has in fact been Dubya’s policy since August 2005. The only time Gore now looks modern is when he tells kids to admonish their parents for bad behaviour.
Second, British Greens would agree with Gore’s closing calls for more efficient appliances, lower thermostat settings and hybrid cars. But for them, full-scale atonement is required: a stop to new airports in the UK, and, instead, a start to the closure of the nation’s runways. (3)
I don’t go along with that. Gore is right to remind us that mankind got the better of CFCs. He is also right to say that political will ‘is a renewable resource’. With will, innovation will take priority over the Greens’ authoritarian calls to tighten our belts.
Loss is the main theme of Truth: loss of elections, of Al’s sister (to smoking), and, almost, of his son (to an accident). Indeed this sensation of loss is widespread in the world of design, too. What else explains the relentless search for the primitive in the aesthetics of artefacts today?
With will, we could rid ourselves of that endless slide show, too.
(1) For an example of this approach, see George Monbiot, ‘The threat is from those who accept climate change, not those who deny it’, Guardian, 21 September 2006, on http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,1877284,00.html
(2) George Monbiot, ‘For the sake of the world’s poor, we must keep the wealthy at home’, Guardian, 28 February 2006, on http://business.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1719820,00.html; Heat, Allen Lane, 2006, extracted on ‘On the flight path to global meltdown’, Guardian, 21 February 2006, on
(3) Monbiot, ‘We Are All Killers’, op cit.
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