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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

An Inconvenient Truth
distributed 6/30/06 - ©2006

An Inconvenient Truth -- the new movie where Al Gore spells out the reality of global climate change -- has kicked the difficult topic of global warming into a new zone of public awareness and conversation.

This spiffed-up version of a lecture that Mr. Gore has given over 1,000 times is informative, challenging and compelling. Movie critic Roger Ebert lifted up the importance of the film and its topic when he wrote,

In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

There are lots of facts laid out in the movie, and it is done in an engaging, persuasive way. A graph of carbon dioxide levels over a 600,000 year span hit me like a kick in the stomach, even though I knew exactly what was coming. Pictures of melted glaciers and disappearing ice caps are powerful.

But the "inconvenient truth" that we encounter in this presentation is moral, as well as scientific. Indeed, Gore tells us that "global warming is not just about science and that it is not just a political issue. It is really a moral issue."

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There are two rather odd sections of the film which seem to me to be essential to the transformative moral punch of the movie. Within the film, though, the reason for those two vignettes is not explicitly spelled out. Especially as we might discuss this presentation in a religious context, these two scenes are important to highlight.

Gore talks about his son, who was critically injured in an auto accident, and he speaks of his sister, who died from lung cancer. Neither situation has anything to do with the rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or with the global impacts of the Earth's warped climate. Yet those two glimpses into the Gore family life are central to the point he is trying to make.

When Al and Tipper's 6 year old son was injured, he tells us that the only thing that mattered was to be at the hospital with him. For a month, all schedules, all responsibilities as a US Senator, and any other obligations were cancelled. "Business as usual" had to give way to that which was most urgent.

When Al's sister died of lung cancer, the irony of the Gore family's business growing tobacco was painfully obvious. The Gores shut down that farming operation. What is traditional and profitable had to give way to what was morally right.

We get those stories, and we get hints at the meaning. The heavy-handed interpretations of those two events didn't get put into the film.

  • Just like the emergency of an injured son clarified the priorities of the Gore family, the emergency of global warming needs to clarify and change the priorities of our nation. All lesser issues and agendas need to be set aside while we tend to the wounded planet.
  • Just as the Gore family realized that they could no longer participate in the murderous system of tobacco production, we need to realize that we can no longer participate in the murderous system of a fossil-fuel driven economy and society.
If the film touched your soul and challenged your conscience, then the two points about urgency and ethics probably resonate with your convictions. But the blatant messages may have been left unsaid because they are a serious stretch for most people.

How many of us really have the sort of intimate and passionate love for the Earth, for the diffuse community of life all around the globe, which will motivate us to drop everything in care and action? Al does feel as passionate about the planet as he does about his son. But are the rest of us more like friends of the family, who are sorry to hear about the problem and are willing to bring a casserole on occasion? Or are we even more removed -- hearing about the crisis, and thinking to ourselves, "Gee, that's too bad" before going on with our daily routines?

And are we willing to make the ethical connection between our own behaviors and the degradation of the planet, and to make sacrificial changes? Are we willing to take a hard look at our own complicity in this disaster, and to turn away from a way of life that has provided lots of benefits for us?

Behind all of the charts and photographs that detail the irrefutable scientific evidence of climate change, Al Gore leaves us with those two images from his family life. If this film is to have a lasting impact on us, and on our society, we have to face the moral questions that those stories raise. How high on our list of priorities will climate change be? How much are we willing to change our own way of living?

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These are some of the questions that I might raise in a discussion about An Inconvenient Truth. They are not the only questions that deserve to be discussed.

If you have seen the film, and especially if you have been part of an organized discussion afterward, I'd be interested in hearing the sorts of questions that were fruitful and engaging in your group. What did people want to talk about? What questions or comments led to solid conversations?

Within the next few days, please send me your thoughts, and I'll gather some of the themes into an informal discussion guide that will be posted on the Eco-Justice Ministries website in the next week or so.

And, if you haven't seen the film, please follow Roger Ebert's advice and go. [find a theater] [website for the film]


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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