Things have improved somewhat over the last ten years, but not enough, and now it looks as though they will go into reverse, at least in terms of US government action—and inaction. That’s the message Al Gore delivers in “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” an impassioned follow-up to “An Inconvenient Truth,” in which he raised the alarm about climate change a decade ago, reaching a surprisingly large audience composed of fervent admirers and equally intense nay-sayers. Its impact isn’t likely to match that of its predecessor, not only because a great many documentaries on the subject have appeared in the intervening years but because it inclines toward hagiography.
Part of the film—directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, with the latter also serving as cinematographer—is devoted to watching Gore, a grayer, heavier figure than you might remember, delivering his updated illustrated lecture on the danger posed by global warming, frequently presented before trainees in his Climate Leadership Project who will carry the message to further audiences. The talk also emphasizes, however, an increased employment of wind and solar power that has reduced dependence on the fossil fuels long identified as a primary cause of the problem.
The film also follows Gore as he visits places where the effects of climate change are already evident—disappearing ice sheets in Greenland and areas of Miami where flooding is proof of rising sea levels. As a counterpoint it shows him traipsing off to Georgetown, Texas, whose mayor is a rock-ribbed Republican but has shepherded a drive to convert the town to derive all of its energy from wind and solar—not out of do-goodism but for financial reasons.
While all that is interesting enough in a rambling way, a great deal of the running-time is given over to Gore’s work at the 2015 conference that culminated in the Paris climate accord. There he’s depicted as a deal-maker par excellence, brokering an agreement between the government of India and his pals at Solar City to have them provide their advanced technology at reduced rates in order to secure the country’s acquiescence to the accord. Some might call it bribery, but the implication is that it’s in a good cause.
That section of the film certainly places Gore at the center of things at Paris, suggesting that the accord would never have been reached if it were not for him. Indeed, the picture seems to imply that he represents the gravitational center of the entire movement, and the halo effect—complete with a montage of audio assaults from his critics that comes close to painting him as a martyr who suffers for speaking the truth—is excessive. Gore was once famously ridiculed for supposedly claiming to have been the architect of the internet, and it would be wise to avoid any similar claims about warning of the dangers of global warming.
Still, despite its diffuse structure (the editors are Don Bernier and Colin Nusbaum) and a tendency to give its subject a saintly hue, “An Inconvenient Sequel” delivers a message that remains important, whatever Gore’s detractors might say. That’s especially true in the age of President Trump, who has declared climate change a hoax and seems intent on dismantling all governmental efforts to address global warming, rolling back Obama-era regulations and even withdrawing from the Paris accord. Even in the face of such actions, Gore remains—or at least says he remains—optimistic, not to be sure about the possibility of converting Trump to his crusade, but about the future of his mission. “Truth to Power” may not change the minds of deniers like our current president, but by restating the argument Gore introduced ten years ago it might boost the morale of environmentally conscious activists who could be prone to lose heart given the present White House stance.