An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is an unsatisfying followup to An Inconvenient Truth, more interested in Al Gore himself than the multi-faceted approaches needed to mitigate climate change.
When An Inconvenient Truth opened in 2006, it ushered in an age of climate change documentaries. The film, directed by Davis Guggenheim and starring Al Gore, was centered around a powerpoint presentation that explained the causes and consequences of climate change for a lay audience. The best climate change or environmental documentaries that followed have helped to change the way we think. This Changes Everything (2015) reframed climate change as the result of the imperialist goals of taming lands for human purposes. The Ice and the Sky (2015) explained how we found scientific evidence for climate change and how that process created passionate advocates for climate mitigation (plus some stunning footage). Last year’s How to Let Go (And Learn to Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change) served to energize its audience out of depression and paralysis by showing the joy that can come from organizing and acting.
Ten years later, the Sundance Film Festival has decided to open both the festival and its New Climate program — a spotlight on environmental documentaries ostensibly about climate change — with An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, this time directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. What better way to start than with a followup to the film that started the conversation about climate change on film, at this very festival? Get Al Gore to Park City!
But it’s unclear to me what An Inconvenient Sequel aims to contribute to the conversation. The film seems more focussed on responding to the skeptics of the previous film than offering a considered argument for those who returned for this one. The film begins with a montage of climate deniers’ pontifications, chief among them Donald Trump, and returns to this nonsense repeatedly. This screen time could have been put to better use. Gore shows us evidence that the climate predictions from An Inconvenient Truth that seemed far-fetched, at the time, have since come true. Yet the film never bothers to really explain why this is the case, assuming a working knowledge of climate change from its audience that seems highly unlikely.
Can viewers really understand why renewables are so important if the basics of stock-flow principles, as they apply to climate, are never even mentioned? Carbon accumulates in the atmosphere much like water in a bathtub — if we stop emitting entirely now, we’re already committed to a certain amount of warming, which will be only exacerbated by continued fossil fuel dependence. Unequipped with this information, climate change mitigation supporters are unlikely to fully understand what action is needed; the film has little hope of getting through to deniers even with its excellent footage of recent extreme weather events.
Of course, had the film explained this, it would be harder for it to pedal its black-and-white solutions, which ignore that many different approaches are needed to combat climate change. Because Gore’s focus is on promoting renewable energy solutions, An Inconvenient Sequel suggests that switching to solar and wind energy — instead of fossil fuels — is practically a panacea. But no attention is paid to the other sources of carbon emissions, like vehicles, or other components of the climate solution. For example, if we don’t design pedestrian-friendly cities, or “sustainable cities”, then there will be a continued rise in personal vehicles. Even if we stop emitting now, how do we deal with the carbon already in the atmosphere? The importance of projects like reforestation are equally ignored.
Read more: Review: This Changes Everything >>
The main reason the film has such blinders on about the climate change problem and solutions is because it’s most interested in Al Gore himself. lf. We take frequent detours into anecdotes about Gore’s political career and personal life, always to showcase his winning charm and ability to unite unlikely partners. What makes An Inconvenient Sequel a follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth catches us up with Gore’s life in the intervening 10 years. The film isn’t a powerpoint presentation, but we do get glimpses of its updated version that he continues to give worldwide and update. Some of the film’s best footage is of Gore doing on-the-ground research, about glacial retreat in Greenland or flooding in Miami, which will inform his presentation. We get glimpses of his presentation, though it fortunately does not form the backbone of the film as it did in its predecessor. It’s an effective cautionary tale.
Yet An Inconvenient Sequel does try to offer hope for the future. It repeatedly shows us how quickly major change can happen when people put their minds to it. The inside look at Gore’s work at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference negotiations, to get India to sign, is fascinating: a few phone calls to a few acquaintances and he’s able to arrange for a major World Bank loan to India and a crucial solar PV technology transfer from a silicon valley startup. An Inconvenient Sequel also emphasizes that allies can come in unexpected places. Gore visits one of the most conservative cities in the U.S., Georgetown, Texas, run by a conservative republican mayor, which is on its way to converting to 100% renewable energy.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power never really lives up to its title. We see Gore, a celebrity with an existing audience, speaking out about climate change, but there are no real examples of what the average person can do to “speak truth to power”.Perhaps, most disconcerting of all, I was looking at my watch before the halfway point, wondering when the film would end. I spend my days working on how to reduce the food system’s contribution to climate change. If even my patience is tried by the film, what hope is there for the average, less invested citizen? The best climate change docs speak to both the converted and the neophytes by giving us a new way of thinking. An Inconvenient Sequel feels like a whole lot more of the same.
Read more: Sundance 2017 >>