The more I think about what’s missing from Al Gore’s global warming movie, the more annoyed I get.
Everybody and their activist friends are heralding the release of An Inconvenient Truth like it’s the Save the World heard ‘round the world. Climate change Web sites have added little message boxes linking to the movie’s Web site, which mostly consists of self-promotion, but if you look close, includes a few factoids and a one-page handout explaining how you can save the world by turning off the lights.
I just can’t get it out of my head -- that poignant moment at the end when my environmentalist friends and my fence-sitting, new boyfriend were all riled-up and ready for the punch line. You know, that punch line we expect after any environmental alert that isn’t a bad joke; the part where they say, “What You Can Do.”
But the movie ended, and the credits started rolling, and the people in the rows in front of us began standing up to leave the theater, looking sort of shell-shocked and lost. We stayed in our seats incredulously staring at the credits.
Then, there it was: a tiny, one-word punch line. Well, it was really more like two little hands flapping than a punch.
Then another one.
And so on, as most of the viewers left the theater, oblivious.
I was sure that idea came about when the creatively frustrated graphics guy overheard the producer saying, “Uh oh, we spent so much film on Al’s boyhood that we forgot to say how to make a difference!” And so the graphics guy said, “Cool! I’ve been Jonesin’ to do that funky letter-floating thing they did in the credits of that sex movie.
My fence-sitting boyfriend spoke first: “So, what do we do NOW?”
I thought he meant “Should we go out to eat?” because I hadn’t seen him take any steps to start recycling or stop using disposable cups at his apartment.
So I suggested we all rush the Chinese stand in the food court before they closed. While we waited in line, though, he said, “I meant, what can we do to make a difference?”
In that moment, my opinion of my new boyfriend went up the same number of notches that my opinion of Al Gore dropped.
The movie obviously had the power to stir even a fence-sitter to some sort of action-like thoughts. But without any evidence of what an action could look like, such as a scene in the movie showing citizens gathering resolutions for their city to support the Kyoto Protocol, those thoughts must’ve formed ever smaller bubbles over their heads until they went poof!
I imagine they looked something like this:
“Oh My God! I had no idea! I mean… I thought the jury was still out on this.”
“How could anyone disagree with those charts?? It’s obvious!”
“What a bunch of pig-headed politicians!”
“We have to do something, and now!”
“Oh, Gore says turn off the lights!”
“Good, anyone can do that!”
“Are you guys hungry?”
“Let’s get Chinese!”
The best advocacy organizations know that personal "to do" lists are not enough. When push comes to shove, here in the land of the free and the me, it's a rare few who limit their own choices to protect the future, or the planet, or even their own health.
Though the movie may be pure political gold for its star, Al Gore, it will be no surprise if it turns out to be just a flash in the pan for the climate change problem. Unless the climate change organizations can scramble quickly enough to make it a real organizing opportunity.
It could’ve been different.
Rather than playing the 007 of Global Warming, Gore could have released his movie in tandem with a nationwide initiative to get the U.S. -- the world’s biggest contributor to global warming -- to finally ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Oprah thinks so, too.
In late June, she followed the movie’s release with a special show on global warming, which didn’t mention An Inconvenient Truth at all, but featured Leonardo DiCaprio (who also made a film on global warming) and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University, and a leading scholar on global warming. Oprah spent most of her show time explaining what people can do to make a difference. She recommended the most impactful individual actions, and explained the rationale for doing them; and she discussed policy changes. Her featured organization, stopglobalwarming.org, recruits citizens to sign their cities onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.
Under the Agreement, participating cities commit to take following three actions:
* Strive to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities, through actions ranging from anti-sprawl land-use policies to urban forest restoration projects to public information campaigns;
* Urge their state governments, and the federal government, to enact policies and programs to meet or beat the greenhouse gas emission reduction target suggested for the United States in the Kyoto Protocol -- 7% reduction from 1990 levels by 2012; and
* Urge the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation, which would establish a national emission trading system
Citizens can find out if their city is signed on.
My environmentalist friends and I agreed that, though Gore’s movie fell short of our expectations, it's a great primer on global warming for a general audience and a good update and consolidation of recent research for those more in the know. The movie, and the attention it’s getting in the media and among advocacy groups is a significant contribution to public awareness of global warming. It relies on solid scientific sources (even uses charts and graphs) and stirs up a sense of immediacy and urgency.
We were also a little chagrined that the movie took jabs at Republican politicians, only because it risks turning off a lot of grassroots Republican fence-sitters ready to change their ways. And while we love Al and would have watched a movie all about him, we thought the time in this one could have been better spent on the “what you can do” angle, and on dressing up the film with a few special effects and nice cinematography for the sake of public appeal.
The movie is still a must-see, mostly for the fence-sitters, but since there’s no immediate tidal wave of grassroots action, you might as well save the $8 and rent the video six weeks from now for a group viewing with your fence-sitting friends. Pair it with DiCaprio’s movie and you’ve got yourself one hot film festival.
You might as well order-in Chinese to satiate those friends who expected the Hollywood version, The Day After Tomorrow 2: Al Gore and the Cloud of Doom.
Amy J. Belanger has directed national, regional and local nonprofit social change organizations for 20-years. She is now a nonprofit consultant, copywriter and co-author of the upcoming book, Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits, with Jay and Amy Levinson. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy and is pursuing graduate studies in Mass Communications.
* Al Gore the Environmental Titan? by Joshua Frank
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