'An Inconvenient Sequel' Is An Effective, Cautiously Optimistic, 'I Told You So'

Jul 27, 2017
Originally published on July 31, 2017 4:24 pm

A close-up of ice melting in brilliant sunshine is the first thing you see in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. It's gorgeous — snow crystals glistening, moisture dripping from them into a pool of water so pure and clear it makes you thirsty.

But in subsequent shots, as the drips become streams, and the streams plunge over ice-cliffs, you realize what you're seeing: A glacier is melting. And that's not so beautiful.

More than 10 years ago, Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth argued forcefully that climate change ought to be a mainstream concern. The world seemed to hear that argument (the current U.S. administration's doubts notwithstanding) and the film became a surprising box office hit worldwide.

Now, Gore's back with an update that is partly an "I told you so," and partly a "look how far we've come" with caveats. The former vice-president has long seemed most at home when visiting scientists and statistic-gatherers, which is what we see him doing a lot of, here. The man is wonky, no question. But that's what has made his climate-change crusade persuasive for so many. He gets the figures, turns them into easily digested factoids, says things that initially sound outrageous, and handles the pushback. Take a graphic created for An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, that he recalls in this film.

"The single most criticized scene in that movie," he says as a map of lower Manhattan shows streets flooding with water, "was an animated scene showing that the combination of sea-level rise and storm surge would put the ocean water into the 9/11 memorial site which was then under construction. And people said, 'That's ridiculous. What a terrible exaggeration.' "

Then you see news footage from October 2012 of Hurricane Sandy slamming into New York as a newscaster talks of flooding at the World Trade Center site. And that's followed by a somber New York governor Andrew Cuomo reacting to billions of dollars in damage that he calls "a wake-up call" about climate change and our vulnerability to it. Lessons learned, steps taken.

Still, much of this film manages to be upbeat and affirmative. The single most exhilarating moment may come from a bar graph — seriously, you'll want to cheer — but there's no shortage of human stories on screen: The woman whose shoe gets stuck in pavement that's melted from the heat. The conservative Republican mayor of what's said to be the reddest city in the reddest county in oil-producing Texas, bragging that his town is saving money by getting 100 percent of its energy from wind and solar.

The whole middle section of the film dives deep into the negotiations at the global conference on climate change in Paris. At one point, there's a logjam. India has been complaining that industrialized countries built their economies on cheap fossil fuel for 150 years, before investing in solar power. Give India 'till 2167, a diplomat says, and it'll join the switch, too.

Gore — ever the politician, and in this crowd, also quite the celebrity — starts dickering on the phone and in meetings, and is soon watching happily as virtually every nation agrees to get to zero greenhouse emissions.

"It is unprecedented," he crows, only to be interrupted by a familiar voice delivering a stump speech on the campaign trail, promising to "put America first" and "cancel billions in climate change spending" and do away with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Eco-Evangelist meets Denier-in-Chief.

An Inconvenient Sequel premiered at Sundance one day before the 2017 inauguration and directors Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen take every opportunity to picture the President — whose name they go out of their way not to say — as an antagonist for their protagonist. And they've been updating the film since Sundance, which is an effective way to add dramatic tension and make sure that their story about climate is always a story about people.

I had a geology professor in college, who, whenever he drew a volcano on the blackboard, also drew a village nearby that was going to be buried in lava when it erupted. Always got a laugh ... and also made a point.

Al Gore is like that prof — and An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is a hugely effective lecture.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Ten years ago, Al Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," argued forcefully that climate change should be a mainstream concern. The world seemed to hear that argument, though the current U.S. administration appears to have some doubts. Now Gore has an update - "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power." Our critic Bob Mondello says the new movie brings filmmaking savvy and striking visuals to a familiar story.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: A close-up of ice melting in brilliant sunshine is the first thing you see in "An Inconvenient Sequel." It's gorgeous - snow crystals glistening, moisture dripping from them into a pool of water so pure and clear it makes you thirsty. But in subsequent shots, as the drips become streams and the streams plunge over ice cliffs, you realize what you're seeing. A glacier is melting. And that's not so beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So you see the line?

AL GORE: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: On the - on the ridge here?

GORE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That green line is where the ice surface was back in the '80s. Not so long ago.

MONDELLO: Al Gore almost seems most at home when he's visiting scientists and statistic gatherers. The man is wonky, no question. But that's what has made his climate change crusade persuasive for so many. He gets the figures, says things that initially sound outrageous and handles the pushback.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER")

GORE: Ten years ago, when the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" came out, the single most criticized scene in that movie was an animated scene showing that the combination of sea level rise and storm surge would put the ocean water into the 9/11 Memorial site, which was then under construction. And people said, that's ridiculous. What a terrible exaggeration.

MONDELLO: Then you see news footage from October 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER")

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York City last night, flooding the World Trade Center site.

MONDELLO: Then a somber New York governor reacting to billions of dollars in damage.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER")

ANDREW CUOMO: There is a wake-up call here, and that is climate change and our vulnerability to it. It was true 10 years ago. It was true five years ago. It is undeniable today.

MONDELLO: Lessons learned. Steps taken. Still, much of this film manages to be upbeat and affirmative. The single most exhilarating moment may come from a bar graph. Seriously, I want to cheer. But there is no shortage of human stories on screen. The woman whose shoe gets stuck in pavement that's melted from the heat. The conservative Republican mayor of what's said to be the reddest city in the reddest county in oil-producing Texas bragging that his town is saving money by getting 100 percent of its energy from wind and solar.

And the whole middle section of the film dives deep into the negotiations at the global conference on climate change in Paris. At one point, there's a logjam. India has been complaining that industrialized countries built their economies on cheap fossil fuels for 150 years before investing in solar power. Give India till 2167, a diplomat says, and it'll join the switch, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER")

GORE: I've met with their energy and power minister, Piyush Goyal, in Delhi. I asked, what would it take to shift another hundred gigawatts from coal to renewables? His answer was incredibly specific.

MONDELLO: Gore, ever the politician - and in this crowd, also quite the celebrity - starts dickering on the phone and in meetings. And...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER")

GORE: Virtually every nation in the entire world agreed to get to zero greenhouse emissions. It is unprecedented.

MONDELLO: Gore's march to a triumphant finish, though, gets halted in its tracks.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's time to put America first. That includes a promise to cancel billions in climate change spending. Our plan will end the EPA.

MONDELLO: Eco-evangelist meets denier-in-chief. Directors Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen take every opportunity to picture the president, who was inaugurated the day after this film premiered at Sundance, as an antagonist for their protagonist. And they've been updating the film since Sundance, which is an effective way to add dramatic tension and make sure that their story about climate is always a story about people. I had a geology prof in college who, whenever he drew a volcano on the blackboard, also drew a village nearby that was going to be buried in lava when it erupted. Always got a laugh, but also made a point. Al Gore is like that prof, and "An Inconvenient Sequel" is a hugely effective lecture. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.