The Narratives of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”
Almost a decade ago, former Vice President and presidential nominee Al Gore presented our country with startling scientific evidence of humankind’s imminent presence in the looming environmental crisis. “An Inconvenient Truth” parallels Gore’s lecture campaign to spread awareness of global warning with his own personal narrative. This juxtaposition presented the audience with two distinct narratives to which individuals could relate. For some, the hard scientific evidence of the lecture series provided jarring, indisputable (by and large) reasons to take action. For others, it was the softer call-to-the-heart of Gore’s personal narrative that served as inspiration. While there were and still are many skeptics whom Gore directly addresses in his story, his use of narrative was powerful enough to empower multitudes. Narrative analysis helps us understand the intentions and goals of the film (Cronon 1992). By analyzing the narratives employed in his documentary, we can further understand the tactful way in which Gore mobilized Americans towards a heightened environmental conscience in “An Inconvenient Truth.”
The movie opens with Gore detailing the beauty of an encounter familiar to many of us; that of being in nature. With this, he introduces the first of his two narratives: we are morally charged as humans with the task of caring for the environment, yet it is other humans that serve as our impediment for change. By employing the use of applicability framing, Gore connects the environmental crisis to the green romanticism view, valuing nature with human life (Smith 2009). This narrative effectively entices people for a couple of reasons. First of all, the narrative is set primarily on Gore’s family farm or his presidential campaign trail. Both of these invoke humanistic feelings within the viewer. The farm helps us feel sympathetic to and connect with Gore by introducing us to his childhood home and hearing his personal tragic stories that inspired him to make a difference. The campaign trail portrays Gore’s fight for the presidency, his subsequent loss, and its impact on environmental legislation. These settings help portray Gore, the protagonist, as an American made man fighting the ignorant politicians to preserve the values of America. The plot is full of conflict: his presidential campaign loss, watching his six-year-old son battle for his life after an accident, his sister’s death from cancer. Each of these events help shape his character, making you trust the intentions of the protagonist and therefore the message he is sending.
The second narrative is set on stage at one of Gore’s lectures. This narrative is one of more impending doom: humankind has caused enormous harm to the earth and if we do not change our ways soon catastrophe is inevitable. This narrative is presented with accessibility framing, with Gore providing the audience with hard evidence of his case (Cronon 1992). Here, we understand Gore as an academic, an intellectual, an amateur scientist charged with telling the world about the irreparable harm we are causing to our environment. The narrative begins with Gore presenting the audience with his initial interest in the cause, a graph that his professor formulated measuring startling atmospheric CO2 increases over the span of a few years. The plot is exponential, presenting new information to the audience with each new “scene,” building up to a climatic ending. Intertwined with the scientific information are compelling narratives on the resulting effects each will have on the earth and consequently humankind. He addressed many criticisms from skeptics and dispelled them with scientific bodies of knowledge. This narrative is effective because of the balance of scientific consensus that calls for a need to change.
Both narratives serve as a call to action that merges at the end of the documentary as a tail of cautionary hope. In the final scenes, Gore takes a promethean viewpoint, suggesting that humans are capable of solving any problem that has come our way thus far, and with the right mindset we can overcome this as well (Smith 2009). Throughout the narration Gore is admonitory, warning of the doom to come save we do not change our ways. He changes tones at the end to one of hope. This changes the feel of both narratives and leaves the audience feeling empowered. For all of the harm we have caused, we sit at the crux of an opportunity to not only improve ourselves but overcome our damages. Instead of leaving us with a feeling of despair, Gore challenged us to take matters into our own hands. Further, to challenge our politicians. Until we as a public care, Gore posits that most politicians will not take charge. Gore’s juxtaposition of these two narratives served as an effective way to motivate the public. The balance of the two narratives provided an opportunity for Gore to present scientific knowledge with a plea to our morality. We have the evidence in front of us and every reason to act accordingly if we want to save the things we value most.
Cronon, William. 1992. “A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and Narrative.” The Journal of American History 78 (4).
Guggenheim, Davis. 2006. “An Inconvenient Truth.” .
Smith, Zachary. 2009. “Public Opinion and the Environment.” The Environmental Policy Paradox:26.
About Polly Ukrop
I am an Environmental Studies senior at Davidson College interested in Corporate Sustainability and the always complicated balancing act of interests that businesses, politicians and society face in working towards a greener tomorrow.