Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Mr. Gore's Movie
An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar for best documentary feature last Sunday night. The film deserved the award. We watched it a couple of weeks ago with our youngest son, who had seen it in school and wanted to see it again at home.
As a presidential candidate, Al Gore just seemed to lack spark. But he was clearly more qualified for the job than the man who won. And historians will be debating for a long time how the world could have been different if he had been elected by the popular vote instead of the Electoral College.
In the end, however, Gore and his travelling road show may accomplish much more than he ever could have accomplished as a Democratic President confronted with a Republican Congress. Unlike Stephen Harper, Gore has not come to the environmental cause lately. And, until recently, he gained no political points when he advanced his cause. The film features a clip from the 1992 presidential campaign with George Bush Sr. -- in high dudgeon -- claiming that Gore "is so far out in the environmental extreme, we'll be up to our neck in owls and outta work for every American. He is way out, far out, man."
That is a sentiment with which Bush the Younger -- despite a 2000 campaign pledge to curb carbon dioxide omissions -- would appear to agree. But that was also seven years ago. Much has changed -- including the weather. The hurricanes -- particularly Katrina -- of the last two summers and the winter storms which have turned roads in Texas into skating rinks have begun to garner public attention.
And, as Gore makes clear in the film, even though the data has been around for almost two generations, we now have the before and after pictures. Most striking, perhaps, is the now almost non-existent snow on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. And the huge chunks of ice which are slipping into the Arctic Ocean. And the drowned polar bears, which have been unable to find their ice floe refuges, which they and we have taken for granted for thousands of years.
If Victor Hugo was right, and there really is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come, then perhaps Al Gore's time has come, too. After working for over thirty years to solve the problem of global warming, perhaps his efforts are beginning to bear fruit. There are those who say that he could accomplish so much more if he were president. And those people are calling on him to enter the 2008 campaign. But he would be wise not to follow that siren song.
In her book, The March of Folly, historian Barbara W. Tuchman defined folly as, "the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved." A chief cause of folly, Tuchman wrote, was "woodenheadedness," which she explained, "consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs."
In North America, we have been ignoring the contrary signs for a long time. Gore says that it is not too late. But, having recognized the contrary signs, we have to act now; and several small but carefully planned policy changes can make the difference, if we have the political will -- particularly the international political will -- to make them. I suspect that he understands that, ironically, he can accomplish more outside the tent than in.
It would be one of history's even greater ironies if the man who was accused of being "wooden" when he ran for president, managed to break through the woodenheadness of his own time. Al Gore may have lost the presidency. But he may yet win the battle for the planet.