Miami is drowning. Towards the beginning of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, former vice president Al Gore stands shin-deep on the side of a waterlogged road. Buses kick up waves that stream over Gore's galoshes and soak his socks. Water streams aggressively past makeshift pumps, a fairly futile municipal effort to curb what's becoming a rampant problem.
The mayor of Miami points around and nods. It's happening, he seems to imply. Anyone who says otherwise isn't paying attention, or is humming over increasingly clamorous news reports of super storms and sinking cities. It's happening.
What "it" is, the documentary makes clear from the very start. For an opening sequence, An Inconvenient Sequel travels to the locus of our associations with global warming: The North Pole. Gore flies over ice fields in a helicopter, and sees glaciers literally pop from rising temperatures. Eleven years after the release of An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary that challenged many Americans to try out the phrase "global warming" and acknowledge the beast of our (potential) impending doom, climate change has only gotten worse. It's happening in the glaciers, and it's happening in Miami.
But it — climate change, super storms, and the threat of a world utterly changed — isn't the most horrifying part of viewing An Inconvenient Sequel. The horror comes in realizing this film was intended for a world before the November 8, 2016, election. Since the documentary filmmakers couldn't have predicted the election results, An Inconvenient Sequel's hopeful tone is discordant with present-day reality. This film is a relic of a pre-election mentality, when world leaders were on the side of the future.
An Inconvenient Sequel isn't so much about climate change as it is inspiring people to change their approach to climate change. So, aside from clips on the news and a trip to the Philippines to survey the shocking damage of Typhoon Haiyan, Gore doesn't spend much time proving that climate change is a phenomenon — that's what the first film was for.
Instead, Gore paints himself as the fired-up, invective-spewing, truth-telling protagonist of the climate change movement. He travels around the world educating communities in training sessions, and mobilizing small Gore armies for change. In fact, the entire film is structured like one of the "slideshows," as he calls them, that he delivers during training sessions.
At first, it seemed the documentary would be nothing more than a litany of slideshow presentations in different countries, like if Al Gore were the Anthony Bourdain of climate change presentations. But there's no central action in a Powerpoint, no narrative climax as a slideshow. The film needed momentum. Since Gore had positioned himself as a hero, the film shaped a tangible quest from his efforts. That's the difference between a movie about climate change and a movie about a person: A person's quest is conquerable; climate change is not.
Gore's "hero's journey" becomes single-handedly saving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in 2015. Gore even gets his very own adversary. Before the convention, India declares its intentions of opening a swath of coal plants; the implications of such enormous greenhouse gas emission sends Gore into a bout of hives. So begins a glossed-over debate on who bears responsibility for climate change, and how the developing world's economies can continue to grow with caps placed on their energy usage.
Negotiations with India during the climate change convention are bumpy. During the conference, the documentary airs a snippet of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech that makes him seem unwilling to cooperate. Just when reaching an accord with all present nations seems hopeless, Gore has an idea.
In a sparse office room, superhero Gore calls up his "buddy" at SolarCity and brokers a deal to give India the technology necessary to build solar farms of their own. India assents, and together, the nations of the world march forward in unity and sign a document to save the planet. During the ensuing celebration, Gore smiles proudly, knowing an agreement was reached partly because of his effort.
We won! The movie seems to suggest. We triumphed over the mental blockages stopping countries from acting on behalf of the future. There is hope. Had the movie ended there, and former president Obama's cooperative mentality on climate change been seamlessly integrated into Hillary Clinton's hypothetical administration, then the peals of hope still would be ringing out.
But Donald Trump's election changes everything, including the aftertaste of the film. Gore had spent the entire Paris Climate Conference building a knot that ties the nations of the world together in a unified effort, and then Trump's pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement swiftly pulls the string, destroying everyone's tremendous effort, not just Gore's.
An Inconvenient Sequel is an inconvenient reminder that our government is no longer committed to ensuring our planet's future. As the film suggests by the end, we're on our own. Luckily, you'll leave Inconvenient Sequel inspired to make change in your community. Effectively, you'll have just emerged from an Al Gore training session.
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