No zombies. No chain saws. No mutants. No aliens. No meteors hurtling toward Earth. And yet, this is the scariest movie of the year, not, as some jokes suggest, because it is a two-hour Power Point Presentation by famously un-exciting former Vice President Al Gore, but because this is real, this is happening, and we can’t count on Bruce Willis or Will Smith to save the day.
Al Gore first became interested in the problem of climate change as a result of a visionary teacher he had in college who was the first person to begin to map the increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He has now given this presentation more than 1000 times, going from flip charts to fancy animated graphics. His somewhat stiff but clearly deeply felt delivery turns out to be just right for this material. Anything else would sound shrill and shriek-y. And as he presents the science of the causes, the impacts so far, and the prospects for the future, his relentless but calm tone makes it possible for us to stay with the story without feeling shrill or shriek-y ourselves.
There are a few welcome digressions into Gore’s personal life that help us understand why he feels that this is not a polticial or a scientific issue as much as a moral one. There is an unwelcome and distracting digression into the 2000 election that wafts a whiff of sour grapes over the description of the Bush administration’s policies. But other than that brief derailment, the movie is mesmerizing. Ultimately, crucially, it is hopeful, ending with a sense of purpose and confidence that we can do what is necessary.
Families who see this movie will want to find out more about the problems it describes and what they can do to help. The film’s website is a good place to start. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s global warming site has information for adults and children. Another point of view is here, produced by a conservative think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Slate Magazine’s Gregg Easterbrook challenges some of the moral and scientific points made in the movie here. A search for “climate change” or “Kyoto accords” on the website maintained by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives will provide an update on current proposals and debates. Other resources include the Pew Center and the Exploratorium.
Families should talk about how we sort through different opinions, sometimes even different facts presented by a range of sources. They should also talk about the range of responses for individuals and communities.
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