A response to “An Inconvenient Truth”
The effect that “An Inconvenient Truth” had on the modern environmental movement is very similar to the effect that Rachel Carson’s, “Silent Spring,” had on the environmental movement in the 60s and 70s. It brought the environmental movement to the forefront of the mainstream media, making environmentalism the chic topic of conversation. Where “Silent Spring” in many ways began the mainstream environmental movement, “An Inconvenient Truth” revitalized it. The movie expertly capitalized on Al Gore’s popularity to gain ethos while simultaneously using captivating imagery of the environment in peril to appeal to a person’s emotions and sense of wonder. Together, those two factors attempted to break down the mental barriers that people put up when thinking about environmental issues.
Yet, the true strength of the movie lies with the message that is presented. There are several important concepts and ideas that are presented in the movie that are designed to dispel prevalent myths about global warming and climate change. These myths that are attacked include the narrative of the economy vs. the environment, the belief that it’s already too late, and myth that climate change is a debate at all. By focusing on these myths that cause inaction, Gore aims to energize and educate a new generation of global citizens that are willing to take action on this critical issue.
Gore addresses several times throughout the movie, the idea that concern for the environment and concern for the economy cannot exist together. There is a classic narrative in environmental issues of jobs and wealth vs. nature, as exemplified by the northern spotted owl case we have discussed in class. Gore explains that we do not have to sacrifice jobs or the economy to protect the environment, but instead, protecting the environment will open up new jobs and new opportunities to grow our economy. The example he uses is the national MPG standard of car manufacturers across the world. He shows that the car companies that are currently growing all have MPG standards far above those of America. By not increasing the MPG standards of our cars, all we are doing is preventing our car companies from being able to sell their cars overseas.
The next myth that Gore addressed was the belief that the environment is already too far-gone and we can do nothing but sit back and watch it all fall apart. This belief is what Dryzek would label as “survivalism”. Survivalism believes that because humans have shown such a lack of empathy or willingness to change, we are on an irrevocable path to our own destruction through climate change. Gore shows a graph that shows were we will be headed in terms of CO2 levels if no change is made. The graph depicts a staggering increase that would obviously have huge effects on the climate. However, he then shows what would happen if everyone began to make small changes to be more environmentally conscious. The effect that it has is remarkable. The graph shows that by making a few small changes, we could reduce the CO2 production levels to what it was in the 70s.
The final myth he challenges is the concept of the climate change debate as a whole. He shows evidence that there is not a single credible study that has found that humans have not had an effect on climate change. In other terms, there is no climate change debate. The only reason that many people believe that there is a climate change debate is because businesses believe that by discrediting climate change, they can have reduced regulations and higher profit margins. In class, we recently discussed what effect that businesses can have on climate change policy and how they go about affecting it. Gore posits that the main way businesses can have an effect on the policy is by proliferating the belief that climate change has not been proven. If there were no debate over climate change, policy makers would have no choice but to act on the issue. However, because businesses have spread this doubt, policy makers have an excuse to not act, believing that more evidence needs to be found before any action can be taken.
“An Inconvenient Truth” was an attempt to change the direction of climate change discussion. To make it mainstream and more understood so that citizens can apply direct pressure to policy makers. Historians could one day see this movie as being the start of a new generation of environmental activists.
About Christopher Johnson
Chris is a sophomore environmental studies and political science major at Davidson College. He is interested in pursuing research in environmental policy and law.