What Gore leaves out
The day before the Fourth of July, my family and I took Ed Johnson-Ott’s advice and went to see An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s cry of the heart about the state of Planet Earth. Ed was right: An Inconvenient Truth is an important film and you should take the time to see it.
Gore makes a number of important points throughout the course of An Inconvenient Truth.
First among these is that “global warming” is not a theory, but a fact. Our population growth and energy usage have placed dangerous stresses on Earth’s carrying capacity; these stresses are beginning to manifest themselves in the form of extreme weather events like hurricanes, tsunamis and droughts. And while there is a cyclical aspect to some of this, a look at the long trajectory of the Earth’s history makes it clear that we’ve never seen anything like the frequency and intensity of these events before. In part this is due to the fact that the degradation of the Earth’s polar ice packs is happening more quickly than anyone predicted.
Al Gore is a compelling figure in this film, a man who has independently researched and mastered a formidable body of knowledge, and who is now able to convey that knowledge in his own, plain-spoken, yet passionate, terms. He wants us to wake up. He wants us to save the planet — and ourselves.
But there is something that Gore leaves out of this equation, another truth that’s just as inconvenient. What Gore doesn’t mention in his presentation is that if we fail to generate a grass-roots effort to change the ways we use our natural resources we will surely lose whatever we have left of representative government.
I suspect that a lot of folks who see An Inconvenient Truth have running conversations similar to the one my family members engaged in once the movie was over. We talked about the practical things we could do to cut waste and use energy more efficiently. Mention was made of writing our representatives in Washington, D.C. Eventually, the scope of our talk widened to address the bigger picture, whether or not we believed people would have the will or the vision to do what was necessary to salvage the planet before it’s too late. In the movie, Gore likens our situation to that of a frog in a cooking pot. The frog’s tendency is not to notice things getting hotter until it’s too late. My son said he doubted that we, as a society, would mend our ways until there was some catastrophic event.
It has been observed that our form of government, with its emphasis on short-sighted election cycles and process-oriented compromise, is ill-suited for dealing with a gradually unfolding problem like global warming. We tend to be reactive, not proactive and so, like that frog, we wait until things get really bad before taking action. Gore himself says that he spent years trying to talk his fellow congressmen into taking global warming seriously, thinking that the facts were so compelling his colleagues would be moved to do the right things. He admits that this didn’t work.
What Gore doesn’t say is that eventually, as the pot heats up and our quality of life is actually diminished, something else is likely to happen. The government will take action — whether we like it or not.
Implicit in Gore’s presentation is the sense that we may be living through the last best time to legislate our way toward a healthier planet. If we fail to take remedial steps now and conditions continue to degrade it is easy to imagine a time in the not-too-far-distant future when constitutional principles are set aside, a state of emergency is declared and policies that once were debated are mandated. If you think paying $3 a gallon for gas is a drag, think how you’ll feel to find gasoline being rationed.
The so-called War on Terror could turn out to be a preview. The Bush Administration has put the country on a seemingly permanent war footing against an enemy that can never be defeated because it can always be redefined. In so doing, Bush has awarded himself powers to ignore laws and treaties and to disregard legislation he disagrees with. Bush says he has to do these things because this is an unprecedented situation.
Well, imagine what’s going to happen if salt water starts lapping around the base of the Empire State Building, or if the next city we lose to a hurricane after New Orleans is Miami. What will we do if our air quality gets so bad that we can’t venture outdoors for days at a time during summer?
Al Gore says that coming to grips with global warming isn’t a political issue, and he’s right. If we fail to do the fundamental things we know will help now, we won’t just see the end of polar bears and whales. Republicans and Democrats will both go to the top of the endangered species list.
Hear Hoppe each week on the Naked NUVO podcast: www.nuvo.net.