Truth to Power on Climate

Kendrick Frazier

Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Al Gore. John Shenk and Bonni Cohen, directors. Documentary. Actual Films/Participant Media, 2017. 1 hour 40 minutes.

Eleven years after his much-discussed documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore returns with his follow-up, Inconvenient Sequel, released in theaters nationwide this past August.

In this film, Gore devotes less time to educating us all on the science that demonstrates the reality of a warming world, on the valid assumption, I’d think, that anyone who cares about the evidence clearly knows that already. There are some good summaries of the scientific evidence, but Sequel ’s emphasis is on the effects of global warming, already happening around the world, and the politics, diplomacy, and moral power of efforts to mitigate it.

Right-wing critics of climate science have always gone into a frenzy at any mention of Al Gore, trying their best to vilify him and his work. And they are attempting to do the same with this film. But make no mistake about it: Gore was perhaps the most scientifically informed vice president in U.S. history. His interest in and knowledge of climate issues is legitimate and serious and goes back four decades. He does his research. He respects science.

In An Inconvenient Truth, Gore worked closely with leading climate scientists, and it was firmly anchored in the science. Beyond that, Gore found powerful ways to illustrate both the latest scientific data and the effects. Sequel does so as well, returning to the Greenland ice cap to show us rushing rivers of meltwater plunging into huge holes in the ice where it descends to lubricate the ice’s flow to the coast. Time-lapse images show vast realms of the ice crumbling before our eyes. A research station is shown resting on the ice cap surface a year earlier; now the ice beneath it has disappeared to such an extent that the station stands high in the air on its foundational stilts. Where is all that meltwater going? A quick segue to Miami Beach, its ocean-side streets flooding under high tides. Coastal cities such as Miami are at great risk (in Miami Beach efforts are underway, at considerable cost, to raise that thoroughfare just one foot higher, a stopgap measure at best), and populous third world cities that can least afford to protect themselves are next most at risk.

On a 120-plus-degree day in India, a woman’s sandals stick to the melting asphalt, and she falls. As was long ago predicted scientifically, a warming world leads to more frequent and much more intense heatwaves, storms, and rainfall, and, in dry areas, more severe droughts. Sequel ’s dramatic footage of the devastation from a powerful typhoon in the Philippines, and other recent natural disasters, is evocative. Syria’s current civil strife was preceded by its worst drought in 900 years—another sign of how climate change affects world history.

The film is built partially around Gore’s talks before groups of hundreds of climate science trainees he has helped organize all over the world. Some of these are already leaders in climate mitigation efforts.

Gore’s experience in climate diplomacy is shown in the film in his determined effort before the 2015 Paris climate accords to get India to change its plans to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants. Gore learns that the obstacle India faces in going more solar is financial. He works to arrange access to both World Bank credit and to America’s latest high-tech solar technology at affordable costs; this is where a skilled politician can get things done in ways that scientists can only imagine.

The film is not perfect. There’s a lot of Al Gore talking, and, for my taste, not enough of scientists. Yet it is effective in showing—sometimes in a visceral way—what is already happening as the world warms.

Gore works very hard to not have this movie be a downer. The United States may now be an outlier, a politically backward nation in our current government’s stubborn resistance to science and to climate change. But the rest of the world is going ahead without us. He is exuberant in the film showing vividly how Chile is undergoing exponential growth in installed solar capacity. He lists countries that have, at least for periods of days, gone 100 percent alternative energy. Even some scattered cities in the United States have done so.

In one powerful scene near the end of the film, Gore goes to meet with the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, in, as the mayor says, “the reddest county in the reddest state” in the country. The mayor himself says he is a conservative Republican. Yet he has proudly led his town headlong to 100 percent use of alternative energy, using wind and solar to supplant fossil fuels. The mayor says it is a responsibility he feels—that we should all feel—toward future generations. Wow!

Gore himself breaks out of his normally measured demeanor at times to passionately argue for doing what is right. When our grandkids look back at us, will they ask: What in the world were you thinking? Didn’t you see what the scientists were telling us? Didn’t you see what nature was telling us? In that sense, we see that climate change transcends all borders, all politics, all economics, and even science. It is, in fact, a moral issue.

Kendrick Frazier

Kendrick Frazier is editor of the Skeptical Inquirer and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is editor of several anthologies, including Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience.


Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Al Gore. John Shenk and Bonni Cohen, directors. Documentary. Actual Films/Participant Media, 2017. 1 hour 40 minutes. Eleven years after his much-discussed documentary on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore returns with his follow-up, Inconvenient Sequel, released in theaters nationwide this past August. In this film, Gore devotes less …

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