Back in the spring of 1992, I caught Al Gore during an appearance at the Center City Borders in Philadelphia. He was supporting his book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, but the event wasn't billed as a routine reading and book signing.
Instead, Gore announced that he simply wanted to talk to the gathering crowd, which was spilling over from the top floor of the bookstore down to the first level. While not exactly preaching, the man was easily converting patrons as they crossed the threshold.
Gore was still a few months away from being tapped for the second spot on the winning Democratic Party ticket. He was the well-known senator from Tennessee and a candidate for his party's top spot in 1988, a man with a penchant for speaking in hard facts with little warmth or feeling.
Yet here he was, obviously relishing the role of storyteller with his shirtsleeves rolled up and his suit jacket casually slung over the chair. Gore was sharing the grueling personal drama of his young son's car accident and the ensuing time he took off to support his family through the crisis.
With much water over the dam, Gore now returns with the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. And once again -- perhaps because he's not working in a strict political mode where he's concerned about polls and public opinion -- he displays a charm and ease when relaying his long-running interest in the environment. There are a few pointed barbs at his adversaries across the political divide, but he is using this collected data to speak from the heart about the dire facts of global warming.
More stories emerge -- again his son's accident is referenced, as are memories of his older sister who died of lung cancer. Her death forced the Gores to confront their own inconvenient truth -- a family that had long grown tobacco dropped the cash crop when it realized and accepted a measure of responsibility for her death.
The talk of inconvenience, taken on the broadest level, remains focused on political and economic factors. Governments resist change, as do companies that feel a threat to the bottom line.
The figures are open to interpretation. The rate of erosion across several environmental bases is steady but the skeptical will ask if we will directly experience the impact. And if not, is it our responsibility to act to save future generations? The answer seems obvious ... but inconvenient.
Gore, through a mix of personal anecdotes and hard data, presents an example of a man willing to do more than stumble and stammer his way through a mea culpa and then say a quick prayer for the situation. He offers us a way to take the initiative and do something about the problem.
Television directing veteran Davis Guggenheim does a convenient thing for audiences -- and Gore as well -- that would not seem in line with his experience on such action-oriented shows like Alias, The Shield and 24: He has attentively edited Gore's global warming slide presentation into a moving, accessible and cohesive argument by infusing it with a visual narrative that approximates an ongoing travelogue.
We understand through Gore's tone that there is a crisis, but there are no ticking clocks counting down to our extinction. Instead, Guggenheim subtly gets Gore in touch with his own driving spirit and passion, traits that accentuate the positives of his nature. There are straight-faced jokes that are not rushed and moments that focus on the man's face or his ample frame, one that casts him, however subliminally, as a defender of the earth.
Gore believes we are facing an urgent crisis, and he comments on the Chinese symbol for the word, which is the combination of two other characters, the ones for danger and opportunity. The danger is glaringly obvious, but so too is the opportunity, he stresses. We can re-adjust our focus, much as he has, and embrace our role within the living framework of the planet.
While watching Gore relay the various ways in which humans impact the earth, I was reminded of the IMAX feature Beavers, now playing at the Cincinnati Museum Center. The beavers' efforts create and sustain new ecological systems. That film points out that beavers and humans are the two species in the animal kingdom that affect the greatest amount of change on their environments. Unfortunately, human actions are now on course to have much longer-lasting and far more devastating consequences.
It takes will power to enact change, and Gore is quick to point out that "political will is a renewable resource." There are opportunities on the horizon to tap new reservoirs. An Inconvenient Truth shows us the way. Grade: A