Guest Commentary

Al Gore's still a faux progressive--and he still wants to be the president

The other day, I went to see An Inconvenient Truth, the newest global-warming flick, with my partner and her visiting mother. The mother-not-really-in-law is easily excited by mainstream political figures who pretend to be progressive, while I am easily excited by cool graphics and apocalyptic portents, so it seemed a good fit for a potentially awkward evening.

We were both satisfied by the film, to a degree. But mostly, what we got was the unofficial announcement of Al Gore's candidacy for president, version 2.008. In fact, this film pretty much lays out his entire campaign strategy, along with incredibly sappy and annoying digressions into Prince Albert's life on the tobacco farm, his cancerous sister, blah-bitty-blah-bitty-blah. (Hey, Al--next time, gimme the graphs, and hold the cheese!)

They used to call him Prince Albert around D.C. when he was the young, virile senator's son who thought he was quite simply entitled to be president.

These days, post-Florida 2000, I believe we can safely call him Uncle Al. Older, but not yet a grandpa. Wiser, but not yet a crusty guru squatting atop an irrelevant rock.

Uncle Al may never formally declare a 2008 candidacy, but make no mistake: He is preparing to run. And it appears he has decided to attach his public-opinion sensor to the global-warming balloon and send it soaring above the nation in the form of this film, while laying low enough to pretend that, hey, it's just a movie.

Ah, but like Al, I digress. The film! The majestic, hyperbolic, downright ejaculatory graphs! The stunning satellite images of melting ice, swelling deserts and leviathan vortexes of angry weather! Portents of planetary doom! Yes, if you can stand Uncle Al, and you don't mind cheese, I highly recommend it.

The graphs are the key. Every one of them sports a line that is literally rocketing off the charts. Concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Average annual global temperature. Glacier retreat. Ice-cap melt. Ice-shelf collapse. Aggregate power and intensity of major storms. Insurance claims. Weather-related destruction, deaths and displacements. You name it--all the graph lines are headed for the ceiling: not just slightly higher peaks on the jagged graphic horizon of geologic time, but sudden, alarmingly drastic disruptions of millions of years of relatively stable and predictable climatic history.

Of all the gory statistics in the film, here's my favorite: In a survey of 928 recently published, peer-reviewed scientific papers on the matter, guess how many did not support the conclusion that global warming is a real, manmade (and I do mean "man") phenomenon? Exactly zero. Meanwhile, a survey of more than 600 recent newspaper articles on the matter showed that fully 53 percent of them cast doubt on the authenticity of that conclusion, an amazing tribute to the efforts of corporations and politicians. And no doubt, this is why many of you reading this piece will dispute its arguments, ignore its facts and dismiss its conclusions, despite overwhelming evidence that we are, to use Uncle Al's analogy, the proverbial frog in the soon-to-be boiling pot of water.

Uncle Al's slide show stopped short of attaching dire scenarios to his ejaculatory graphs. (Perhaps the film should be called A Convenient Partial Truth--he will, after all, be running from the center.) Instead, it offered the usual breezy bromides (turn the air conditioner down; buy a hybrid) for "saving the frog" as the credits rolled.

As we strolled out of the theater into the Tucson night, thick with heat and parked cars, the mother-not-in-law briefly engaged in an animated, if rather surreal, debate with some of our friends about the energy efficiency of icemakers in your freezer. Then I enviously watched our friends ride off on their bicycles, while the three of us climbed into the "compact" rental (which gets a scant 26 mpg). In the back seat, I ruminated on three words that did not make it past Uncle Al's lips: positive feedback loop.

I exchanged doomed looks with my biologist partner, who has taken an entire course on global climate change and found Uncle Al's graphs to be insufferably boring. We shared our own strategies for dealing with global warming. She: "Learn to drink from puddles." The better to develop resistance to waterborne pathogens. I: "Learn to eat insects." The better to maintain some small means of clinging to life when our planet mother finally decides to shake us off like so many fleas.

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