Monday, June 19, 2006

An Inconvenient Planet

So yesterday I celebrated my first Father's Day as an honest-to-goodness dad (well, "celebrated" is probably a bit highfaluting for a day created by the greeting card industry), and, in the spirit of that newfound responsibility, Mrs. Chase and I also took the weekend to see the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

And let me tell you: This is some kind of frightening. As mawkish as it might sound, I actually walked out of the movie theater thinking about my 6-month-old daughter, and what kind of a world she would inherit as the result of all the myopic generations before her. Generally, I leave movie theaters thinking about waffles, so this really was kind of a pivotal moment.

In all seriousness, I cannot stress enough what a compelling and important documentary this is. And yet I also realize that plenty of would-be audiences will understandably be wary of a movie that is essentially a Powerpoint presentation by Al Gore.

Don't let that deter you, dear friends. Granted, Gore-haters will have to bite down hard and tolerate several self-aggrandizing biographical vignettes that director Davis Guggenheim weaves through the film. Those irritants, however, are tangential in a work that covers -- succinctly, starkly and, yes, with a generous dollop of entertainment -- perhaps the paramount issue of our lifetime, global warming. Gore has been giving this multimedia presentation for more than a decade, but cataclysmic events of recent years have added urgency to his warning.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mike LaSalle puts it eloquently:

"An Inconvenient Truth ... treats audiences like adults, presenting a detailed, lucid and intelligent explanation of a serious issue. It doesn't preach to the converted. On the contrary, it directly and respectfully addresses the questions and concerns of skeptics, methodically piling evidence on top of evidence, until the truth becomes obvious and unmistakable.

"For some, the tipping point will come with the charts showing the rapid increase in global temperatures and the accompanying increases in greenhouse gases. For others, it will be the sight of polar bears struggling to find ice in the Arctic, or of shots of glaciers reduced to almost nothing in a span of only 30 or 40 years. It's a shock to see photographic evidence that the snows of Kilimanjaro have been reduced to a light dusting.

"Through these pictures, Gore shows that global warming is no longer a hypothetical. It's here already, and the evidence is everywhere, not least in the floods, hurricanes and droughts that we're seeing all over the world -- our 'nature hike through the book of Revelations,' as he calls it."

The issue is not open for legitimate debate, as Gore's plethora of data makes clear. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe can grouse that global warming is a "hoax" and The New York Post can blather on with a ludicrous savaging of the documentary -- but, at some point, even the most obstinate contrarian must face a day of reckoning. "It will be interesting," David Denby recently wrote in The New Yorker, "to watch how skeptics will deal with Gore's bad news on the environment without making themselves look very small."

Gore correctly likens global warming's so-called "debate" to the nicotine-smudged days of yesterday, a time when Big Tobacco had actually produced enough smoke and mirrors (mainly smoke) to blur questions of whether secondhand smoke was an actual health hazard. Don't think the energy industry isn't every bit as resourceful as R.J.R. Reynolds.

In An Inconvenient Truth, the ex-veep takes several justifiable swipes at the current administration, but Gore also hastens to add, correctly, that global warming transcends political debate. It is a moral issue, he intones, and cowardice and temerity infect both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

While it's true that Republican zeal for deregulation can be anathema to the concerns of environmentalists, it is equally true that plenty of Democratic officeholders are loathe to take the long view necessary to protect our planet. The oil and gas industry doles out more campaign contributions than the scientists charting the melting of the polar caps, and American automakers, with their continued insistence on SUV mania amid plummeting profits, apparently have the awareness and imagination of roadkill.

And, lest we forget, Gore himself had the privilege of holding the nation's second-highest office for eight years -- and still the planet is on a collision course with Armageddon-styled dangers.

I'm no dummy (I like to tell myself that, anyway), but the evidence that Gore lays out in An Inconvenient Truth is more than a little eye-opening. We no longer have the luxury of inaction.


At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

"While it's true that Republican zeal for deregulation can be anathemaa to the concerns of environmentalists..." Have to disagree with you on that point, Chase.

Over-regulation rarely works, and usually backfires. Take my small decision to use a push-reel mower instead of a filthy gas mower. In aggregate, gas mowers are one of the worst polluters. On a given summer weekend, they have a terrible impact. But the DEQ or EPA didn't knock on my door and mandate my decision to go gas-free. I made it with my own free will, and now neighbors are on the cusp of doing the same.

And in fact, there are some tremendous free-market solutions to reducing greenhouse emissions that we as a nation have yet to implement that would take advantage of a natural human penchant for greed to actually clean up our act.

I agree that there are plenty of people with myopia on environmental issues. But that includes those on the left who see big government as the solution to everything.

Big government and big business.

Both deserve our skepticism. Both ultimately fail us.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Point taken, Red Dirt. That's why I added the always-convenient "can be" to the anathema point.

But I would add that you cleverly make the jump from my "deregulation" to "over-regulation." There's got to be a happy medium somewhere in between. But yes, I don't mean to suggest that the antidote is solely with government. In fact, that's why I think it is so important to see the movie; I completely agree with you that raising awareness in the populace is inherently more valuable than over-regulation.

At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Ratus said...

"The issue is not open for legitimate debate, as Gore's plethora of data makes clear."

Here is another "Inconvenient Truth" for you,

"Scientists respond to Gore's warnings of climate catastrophe"

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Um, yeah. Tom Harris, who has made it his life's work to refute global warming, scrounges up a few marine biologists to support his thesis that "hundreds" of climate experts disavow global warming. Yep, that's sure legitimate debate, all right.

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Cassandra D said...

Hey, Ratus. I'm guessing you either have doubts about global warming or don't believe it is real. Perhaps it isn't real, but there sure is a lot of data that says it is. And can we afford to be wrong? If there is even a 1% chance that what Gore says is true, we'd better act like it IS true and do something before it is too late. What if someone said that there is a 1% chance that a nuclear bomb will hit the US unless we build a missile defense system now. Aren't we spending billions for such a scenario? On systems that don't work well?

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

You know, I think debates about whether global warming is true or not really miss the point.

It doesn't matter if it's true - we should still be taking steps to wean ourselves from hydrocarbons as a source of energy.

Reason number one: because most hydrocarbons happen to sit under the ground in very bad places where very bad people sit around in the desert eating hummus and dreaming up new horrific ways to kill innocent Americans.

Reason number two: But also, because, well look, we don't still spew out filth into our air from the "dark Satanic mills" of the 19th century, as poet William Blake termed them. Right?

And why?

Because people saw that the Satanic mills were dirty, vile things fouling our skies with blackness.

We progressed as a civilization. We moved beyond that stage of technological development.

So let's move ahead some more. If we can maintain health and wealth on alternative sources of energy, let's go for it.

Move beyond the debate about global warming. Focus on this: let's make America energy dependent, and let's do it with clean sources of energy.

Then we can tell the murderous mullahs and the totalitarian sheiks and the nihilist jihadists to have fun trying to digest petroleum as a nutrition source.

What's wrong with that?

At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

You know, I hate the blogosphere because it encourages itchy-trigger-finger typos... that next to last paragraph should have been "...let's make America energy INDEPENDENT..."

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Daniel Gale-Grogen said...

Yeah, we need to do something about that hummus eating.

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

Well, truth be told, I like hummus as much as the next snotty Gen X cultural elitist. But when paired with death-loving nihilists, eh, not so much.

At 10:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Chase, considering all of this earth-on-a-hibachi evidence, in the words of Sean Connery from "The Untouchables" ... "What are you prepared to do?"

Curious minds would like to know in a future post...

At 10:48 PM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Well, I'm going to start with a push mower.


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