Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Warming to Gore

It is probably the effect of stopping work after finishing a major, mind-bending, nerve-torturing process like the PhD, but I'm struggling to be interested in anything at the moment. I have about five books on the go, all of which have bookmarks at about p. 6, and anything more than half an hour of TV makes me want to sit in a dark room for the rest of the evening.

All that said, I've just been jolted out of my temporary moribundity - if I can abuse the English language in that way - by Al Gore's recent film An Inconvenient Truth. At 1h30, it is shorter than most films, but it packs the punch of something much longer. Yet if the film is short, it is nevertheless timely. I suppose we should be grateful if it proves not to be timeless.

My reservations about the film are more cultural than anything else. I cannot be alone in feeling that tinkling piano music or upbeat, driving rock songs are a bit underhanded in a documentary. I liked the fact that a lot of the film simply shows Gore presenting his case to an audience in an auditorium but I won't be the only Englishman to cringe at some of Gore's posturing, especially the largely irrelevant portrayal of the accident that nearly killed his son and the cancer that killed his sister. And I surely won't be the only political cynic to feel that the last person I want a lecture from is a career politician whose digs at the current US administration sound not unlike sour grapes (or they would do, if sour grapes could make a sound). But gradually, the messenger stopped getting in the way of the message, and I found myself warming, somewhat unnervingly, to his theme.

It is amazing how passionate some people can get about this topic. Playing devil's advocate a few years ago during a debate with a group of young Lyceens, I effectively destroyed my relation with them by suggesting that environmentalism is just another means of generating a new market. They wanted to lead me to the guillotine, convinced of that French truism that he who is not my friend is necessarily my enemy. It was easily done on my part. For some reason, these themes simply leave me cold...

...but not Gore's account of global warming. There is some degree of faith required to take the story on board. Once you get down to the fine-grained detail, the consensus that Gore claims exists in the scientific community will doubtless be shot through with hesitations, reservations and vested interests. All scientific positions that could detract from his message are subtly passed over.

But Gore's adept toccata of observations and conclusions, drawn from various fields of science, leaves one with no reasonable doubt about the indictment. Gore gives a precis of the dramatic shrinkage of Greenland's ice blanket, the crack in the Arctic's principal ice shelf, and the major icefield in Antartica that simply melted like butter in a matter of weeks. All these make for an eloquent illustration of the geeky graphs he shows us with temperatures, CO2 emissions and the global conveyor of ocean currents. Yes, he concedes, global warming is a cyclical process, but, he argues, we are now on a trajectory that takes us out of the previous cycle and into unchartered territory. 'Coo', I said, turing to my fellow viewer, 'so it's nothing to do with bovine flatulence after all.'

There is a degree of restraint - I could almost say misdirection - in Gore's depiction of global warming. We see lots of pictures of Chinese factories pumping out noxious gases, and not so many traffic jams in the downtowns of American cities. But at least the statistics seem to be fairly presented, and Gore does not shy away from underlining the US's failure to ratify Kyoto. Whether its ratification by Perdition, Wyoming or Crapville, Rhodes Island - or some such places - deserve the whooping reception they receive from Gore's audience is a matter of debate.

So, all in all, An Inconvenient Truth deserves a good 7/10, as long as such a mark does not contribute to global warming. I'm still waiting for a scientist seriously to take up the late Auberon Waugh's hypothesis that global warming is unquestionably made worse by the wearning of running shoes and the playing of computer games. If you have ever been in an internet salon dedicated to computer gaming, you will know there is definitely something in that hypothesis. Oh, Auberon, where are you when we need you? Hopefully, you are nowhere that is too warm.
Is it me or is it getting warm in here?