An Inconvenient Sequel marks the return of tireless eco-guru Al Gore

by Helen Barlow / 30 August, 2017
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Firefighters attempt to push back flames in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Photo/Getty Images

Indefatigable climate-change campaigner Al Gore is renewable energy personified.

When Al Gore fronted the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, the film’s climate-change message came as a shock to audiences and indeed to much of the world.

Sparked by a slide show about global warming that the former US Vice President had presented around the world after his 2000 election defeat by George W Bush, the film went on to win the 2007 Oscar for best documentary and make US$50 million at the box office.

Later that year, Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

A decade on, Gore was keen for a follow-up that would explain some solutions are in sight.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Its directors, couple Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, say they aimed “to personalise an issue that’s so impersonal” by following Gore on his ongoing global mission.

They tagged along with Gore, now 69, grey-haired and stockier than the man who fronted the first film, editing and forming the narrative as they went.

“Bonni and Jon were omnipresent for almost two years and I often was unaware they were there,” Gore says on the promotional trailer for the film. “I was genuinely surprised when I first saw some of the scenes, because I didn’t know they were filming them. Occasionally I’d say, ‘Do you have to show that?’, and they patiently described how it was important for their narrative. It’s their movie.”

Al Gore. Photo/Getty Images

The sequel gets Gore away from the extended PowerPoint presentation of Truth, taking him to see melting glaciers in Greenland, wade through floodwaters in Miami and meet survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

It also shows Gore, a seemingly tireless eco-guru, educating people about the progress in energy solutions – wind and solar power as a replacement for fossil fuels.

Many of the 12,000 people Gore says he’s trained have become influential as climate activists. Among them is Christiana Figueres, the leader of the Paris climate summit.

Figueres, a Costa Rican UN official, appears in the movie’s third act at the December 2015 conference, where the film becomes a ticking-clock drama as Gore tries to convince US companies to help fund India’s shift to solar energy at a time when that country was about to build 400 new coal plants. Cohen calls the movie “a high-stakes political thriller”, noting that “Al trying to find a way to salvage a deal is unique in any documentary”.

Gore’s Southern-gent charm is in full effect as he deals with politicians – and fans – ranging from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Dale Ross, the star-struck Mayor of Georgetown, Texas, and a clean-energy enthusiast, despite his Republican background.

“In one of the most conservative Republican cities in the US, in the heart of oil country, they’ve already accomplished the transition to 100% renewable energy, because it’s now cheaper,” Gore says.

Christiana Figueres. Photo/Getty Images

An optimistic Gore had hoped US President Donald Trump would stay in the Paris Agreement. When he withdrew, the film was re-edited.

Still, Gore notes that the President “isolated himself from the overwhelming majority of public opinion” and that progress is being made in the US in spite of the White House’s position.

“Large states such as New York and California and many others are now moving faster than the commitments made by President [Barack] Obama during the Paris Agreement. Cities are now deciding on 100% renewable energy, most recently Atlanta, Georgia. That’s a huge commitment, but it should be possible everywhere in the world. The message of this movie is that it’s a time of action and individuals have to apply more pressure for faster progress.”

Cohen and Shenk say Gore seems to possess a personal supply of renewable energy.

How does he maintain it?

Gore says: “Truthfully, anyone who has work to do that feels as if it justifies pouring every ounce of energy you have into it experiences a certain feeling of joy from being able to have such work. And seeing the progress gives you more energy.

“I never imagined as a young man that this would become a kind of mission for my life. When you lay that hope alongside the danger that we face and the fact that the stakes are far higher than with any challenge humanity’s ever confronted, how could you not pour your energy into it?”

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is in cinemas now.

This article was first published in the September 2, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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