“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” offers motivating hope in the fight against climate change but obsesses on the ‘recovered politician’

By Bliss Bowen

Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” tracked former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental work, for which Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, and helped make the issue of climate change measurably real for legions of viewers.

Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s sequel, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” delivers sobering updates: 14 of the 15 hottest years in recorded memory have occurred since 2001; air pollution in northern China has lowered life expectancy by five years; about two million refugees fled climate-assisted drought in pre-conflict Syria; “the link between climate change and world peace is clear” (per Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo).

Instead of charts, the sequel favors visually arresting images of floating icebergs and fearsome storm clouds — and greater focus on Gore.

That choice — to make the “recovered politician” Gore’s journey as a climate crusader part of the story — invites deserved criticism, and may undercut what Gore calls the “first stage” of climate change awareness: waking people up.

The camera follows him to his family farm, through numerous media interviews, through climate leadership trainings in various countries, and — most dramatically — through Paris before and during the 2015 climate summit, where his sensitive gravitas in the wake of the Bataclan shooting reveals humanity and political skill. He draws thoughtful connections between the summit and the massacre, saying the bonding world leaders felt in its aftermath motivated them to “make that solidarity real.”

That approach works best when The Man Who Would Have Been President dispenses avuncular wisdom: “In order to address the environmental crisis, we have to fix the democracy crisis.” Seeing Gore shoulder-to-shoulder with CPA and Republican Mayor Dale Ross of Georgetown, Texas (“the reddest city in the reddest county in a red state”) as the latter explains why the city’s using 90% renewable energy to save taxpayer money validates Gore’s contention that green energy is affordable. It offers hope, as does later discussion of Chile’s massive investment in solar energy.

Elsewhere, a whiff of sanctity disturbs. Connections and deals he seems to facilitate behind the scenes in Paris are illuminating, and a tense conference with India ministers declaring they only want the carbon space the West used for 150 years handily explains conflicts bedeviling developing nations; Gore’s measured, respectful response highlights the value of diplomatic language.

But was he the only activist talking renewables with then-Secretary of State John Kerry? Was his the only late-night phone call to SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive encouraging him to offer technology to India so the country would change from coal to renewable energy and thus sign the climate accord? Inquiring minds want to know.

Yet to see Gore’s righteous anger and commitment despite personal despair is humanizing. “If I said there weren’t times where this felt like a personal failure on my part, I’d be lying,” he admits, touching on frustrations deflating activists and scientists. Witnessing the physical and emotional toll exacted by his globetrotting service underscores his dedication — and the enormity of the task at hand.

A brief meeting with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman brings up an investigation into corporations and denialists uniting to subvert public will with ads insisting that green energy programs will “cripple the economy”; Exxon/Mobil is mentioned, but no further probe is shown onscreen. “An Inconvenient Sequel” would have benefited from deeper exploration of such political context. Perhaps painting in broad strokes was necessary due to the film’s scope, but it suffers from lack of granular detail.

My viewing experience during a private screening on the Paramount lot was disrupted by derisive laughter from a middle-aged writer I’ll call Rude Clown.

Scenes of pieces of the Jakobshan Glacier in Greenland exploding during a heat spike; of turquoise “moulins” of water tumbling through the browning ice sheet; of Gore stepping carefully across the melting surface as scientists identify cliff-side rings marking meters of ice lost in the past five years — all delivered factual data with compelling visuals.

So did scenes of Gore, wearing two-foot-high waders over his jeans, standing in flooded Florida streets as Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and friends explain pumping systems and plans to raise roads until sea level rise necessitates more drastic measures. “It’s not a simple fix,” Levine acknowledges, while a fellow native says, “Anyone who wants to argue it’s not happening? It’s happening.”

To Rude Clown, that was cause for juvenile-grade snark and thinly camouflaged profanity. News footage of residents losing shoes to melted street asphalt in India? Mass graves dug in Pakistan in anticipation of heatwave deaths? Superstorm Sandy flooding the World Trade Center site? Gore walking through a cemetery with the mayor of typhoon-devastated Tacloban City in the Philippines, and talking of helping victims translate catastrophic loss into focused action? More laughter.

Instead of responding to the message of profoundly challenging problems with reasoned disagreement, Rude Clown dissed the messenger.

Meanwhile, Gore’s respectful manners when confronted by similarly anti-science attitudes (from esteemed citizens like Sen. James Inhofe) are instructive. Small wonder so many people treat the former VP like he’s the most grown-up person in the room.

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” screens nationwide on Aug. 4 but opens locally on Friday, July 28, at the Landmark Theatre, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A. See listings for screening times. Call (310) 470-0492 or visit landmark-theatres.com.

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