There are two groups of people who should see former US vice-president Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel. First up are the producers on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Earlier this week, the radio show asked Lord Lawson, a renowned UK climate sceptic, for a response to Gore’s latest message on climate change. The online environmental community then took a collective gasp as the show’s presenter failed to challenge Lawson’s series of inaccurate claims.
Perhaps most maddening of all was the idea that the global temperature has “slightly declined” in the last ten years. Those who have seen Gore’s new film would know that this is barmy. And for those who have not, this graph from Carbon Brief is essential viewing:
The fact the BBC is still struggling to get on top of this issue is perhaps justification enough for the film’s release.
But the second group of people who should see An Inconvenient Sequel are those who are probably already up to date on the latest science and politics. That’s because one of the movie’s most striking insights is into how high-level operatives stay inspired when the going gets tough.
Having lost the presidential election to George Bush in 2000 (despite having won the popular vote), Al Gore knows what a disappointment feels like better than most. “I have seen a lot of setbacks over the years and I see this as another one,” he says of Donald Trump’s election. This allows him to put Trump’s climate-sceptic presidency in context. It’s “not the worst” upset for action on climate change, he says, pointing to the resolve of many across the business community and local government to meet the country’s commitments on emissions regardless.
He even has room for optimism: “The damage [Trump] is doing is turning out to be less than what I feared he would do. I think he’s isolated himself. I think that, even today in the US, members of his own political party in the house and senate are beginning to separate themselves from him, and why wouldn’t they?” Before stopping himself and adding: “I need to calm down here!”
The former US vice-president is sharing the above thoughts with a small group of journalists gathered inside London’s Claridge’s hotel. He sits at the head of the circular table, lion-like in his corporate American poise and expensive suit. He’s a little late, but that’s OK – he’s charming and impressively tall.
I tell you these details because much of the new film shows exactly this: Al Gore on stage at the many climate change talks he has given over the years, Al Gore backstage, Al Gore speaking to journalists, Al Gore on TV, Al Gore on the phone and Al Gore on stage again.
And while this risks feeling like the climate change movement has been turned into the Al Gore show, the film’s sobering take-away is that powerful political individuals do make a big difference.
Thankfully, in many cases, that difference is for the good. The film’s second half is a roll-call of the many brilliant figures who made the 2016 Paris Conference a success, such as the “incredible” executive secretary of the UNFCC, Christina Figueres. There’s even a cameo handshake from a dashing Justin Trudeau.
Gore’s story also provides an important lens on the reach of American power. As the film builds towards the triumphant climax of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we learn how he helped secure the all-important support of the Indian government – pulling strings and putting in calls to banks and business leaders. “Let’s call up Elon,” he says at one point, referring with impressively casual panache to Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Solar City.
Yet there are also points at which this all-American saviour story feels outdated; a “sequel”, if you will, to a historical zeitgeist that peaked a decade ago – and in which politicians of Gore’s generation sometimes feel a little stuck. I’m sure, for instance, that the development-focused Indian government would have a different account of the movement. As might the new generation of climate activists.
But Gore’s worldview is still poignantly insightful in one particular regard – and that’s the power wielded by the White House and how its weight still falls so heavily on one pair of shoulders alone. “I do not know of a position in the world with [the ability to bring about] positive change that is like the position of the US president,” Gore says in response to a question about whether he has any personal regrets – a rare moment where you can feel his statesmanlike persona stretching at the seams.
Ultimately his film’s message is not a new story – Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Before The Flood covers similar science, and the optimistic end delivered by the Republican Mayor of Georgetown is almost identical to the one the same man gives in From the Ashes. But at least in Gore it has one of the best climate storytellers the old world has to offer.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is in UK cinemas from Friday 18 August.