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Warming up? 

click to enlarge CO2 anyone? - PHOTO COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES

It's impossible, watching An Inconvenient Truth, not to think how different the world would be today if the Supreme Court had let the counting continue in Florida--if Al Gore, who won the 2000 presidential election, had been elected president, too.

But if there is a Hidden Plan (and you'll sure be hoping She's got one after you see this film), perhaps it calls for Gore--sanctified by what they did to him six years ago and liberated from mere politics because of it--to rally the People and save the Earth.

Truth opened in major markets two weeks ago, but won't be shown in the Triangle until Friday, June 16. I saw it thanks to a press preview, and I came away with three conclusions. One, it's a film you must see. Two, when you see it, you're going to want to know a whole lot more about global warming, and just how bad a fix we're in thanks to all the carbon dioxide (CO2) we've spewed into the atmosphere. And three, Al Gore is not going to run for president again. Not in 2008. Not ever.

If Gore had prevailed over George W. Bush, doubtless we'd still have gone into Afghanistan, and maybe we'd have caught up to Osama bin Laden by now. We would not have invaded Iraq. What else would be different? Your guess is as good as mine.

But one thing I don't think would be different is our national indifference to global warming. Yes, Bush and Dick Cheney both are tools of the oil industry, and Gore isn't, and wasn't. And where Bush-Cheney virtually conspired to keep America addicted to carbon-based fuels to the point of occupying one oil-rich nation in the Middle East and threatening mayhem to another, Gore would have tried to wean us from oil, and from coal, and pressed the case for conservation and the development of alternative energy sources.

He'd have tried. But given how debased politics has gotten as a means of changing anything or reforming anything that Big Money interests don't want changed, just how far do you think Gore would've gotten? Would he even have survived the '04 election, do you suppose, once the oil industry decided he had to go, and his refusal to do what obviously needed to be done in Iraq--that is, conquer it and its oil--became fodder for the John McCains and the Joe Liebermans and their shills in the Corporate Media?

But Gore is above all that now, which is what makes An Inconvenient Truth not just possible as a film (and book, to be released on Tuesday) but impossible to ignore as polemic. Its subject, after all, isn't just global warming. It's also Al Gore's 30-year-long crusade to awaken the country to the dangers of global warming, and its refusal to heed him--until now.

The presentation that Gore makes in the film--striding a stage, showing his various charts and graphs and pictures of the polar ice caps melting and glaciers receding--is the same one he's been making, albeit with constant updates, since he first went to Congress in 1976. He's given it, he says, more than 1,000 times.

But if global warming, as he also says, was Gore's passion since college, it got mixed up with another one, which was to be elected president. (And maybe a third as well, which was--by his election--to be shown to have been right. About everything.) Perhaps a better politician could've married the two things. (And lost the third.) Gore, not so good at being selfless or self-promoting, failed at both.

Which, in the film, he pretty much says. And with a rueful smile that tells us he's not planning to fail any more.

So now, my friends, when he talks about the threat to Earth itself from greenhouse gases, he's no longer a politician peddling a line, but rather a statesman who's been laughed at and dismissed and cheated out of what was rightly his, but who's come back--and is born again--as a truth teller and a prophet.

Is the Earth in peril? The film doesn't prove it, exactly. But what it does prove is that Al Gore, a smart man no longer concerned with proving it to you, is absolutely convinced that it is.

THE WEATHER MAKERS BY TIM FLANNERY

Writer-scientist Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, will speak next Thursday, June 15 at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. I recommend the book. In fact, I recommend we all go and listen to Flannery, who's Australian and writes with a lilt; then you can see the Gore film, read Flannery's book, and if you're like me you'll probably want to see the film again.

Do I sound like I've gotten religion? Hell, I'm scared to death. Which, five days ago--and not to my credit--I was not.

The scariest thing about The Weather Makers, in fact, is the easy, unadorned way Flannery tells Earth's story, starting before the first ice age and going right on through the millions of years it took for our planet's atmosphere to support human life. And not just life, but civilization, which Flannery describes as a state of living in which a few can grow food for the many, and the many can live together in cities where great institutions (universities, symphonies, museums) are possible.

Our civilization, he observes, grew up over 1,000 years of recorded history in which the Earth's temperature and climate remained essentially unchanged. But then the industrial age began, with factories and power plants and automobiles emitting enormous quantities of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the air.

This is the same story Gore tells. Greenhouse gases get trapped in our atmosphere and thicken it, which slows the Earth's ability to shed heat. And they stay there a long time. Consequently, the Earth's temperature is going up, and it's going to keep going up at least a few degrees even if we cut back dramatically on our gaseous emissions.

And if we don't cut back dramatically? Well, here's where Flannery augments Gore, by carefully reviewing the science to date, which is uncertain on the question of how bad things could get, but in no doubt that they will at least get very bad, and maybe much, much worse than you can imagine.

You've heard the Bush administration say it needs "more certainty" about global warming before it maybe gets around to doing something--but not, heaven forbid, ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which is the only carbon-reduction scheme in the world right now, and the one everybody else is going by.

But certainty about whether continued warming will or will not kill humanity, as with any terminal diagnosis, isn't possible until the patient is dead, Flannery says. That shouldn't be an excuse to do nothing, however. We know enough to act wisely. "We have seen that human health, water, and food security are now under threat from the modest amount of climate change that has already occurred," he argues. "If humans pursue a business-as-usual course for the first half of this century, I believe the collapse of civilization due to climate change becomes inevitable."

Americans, the biggest carbon-emitters by far, have been lulled to inaction by industry groups pushing fake science and by the absence of political leaders willing, or able, to shake us from our stupor. Global warming? It sounds vaguely comforting, since nobody wants to be cold, Flannery remarks. But the best scientific models warn that the Gulf Stream could die, and the Amazon rain forest disappear, unless we do something--and do it now.

Right now.

Right now, governments should ban coal-fired power plants.

Nukes? Maybe. If the waste problems can be solved.

Right now, you and I should install solar panels on our roofs to heat our water.

We should buy hybrid cars. Or if they're too expensive, small cars--as small as possible.

We should walk. We should take mass transit. We should rebuild our communities around mass transit.

We should elect politicians who promise to curb greenhouse pollution--starting with their own.

Developed nations should cut carbon emissions by 70 percent over the next few decades; poor countries, in exchange for not starting to emit carbons, should be paid by the rich ones via a system of "carbon trading."

Eventually, we can all use wind power--our own, or owned collectively in the neighborhood--to generate and store compressed air, which is the best alternative source in view for powering automobiles, Flannery thinks.

Like Gore, Flannery says there's still time. Just not very much of it.


Flannery's talk at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh is Thursday, June 15 at 7 p.m.

An Inconvenient Truth opens Friday, June 16 at the Colony in Raleigh, the Carolina Theatre in Durham, and the Chelsea in Chapel Hill.

The UNC School of Public Health is hosting a special showing--free (donations accepted)--on Saturday, June 17 at noon at the Varsity theater in Chapel Hill. A discussion led by Professor Douglas Crawford-Brown, director the Carolina Environmental Program and head of the U.S. branch of the Community Carbon Reduction Program, will follow.

Write Citizen at rjgeary@mac.com.

  • Al Gore's film, and Tim Flannery's book, will light a fire under your global complacency

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