Thursday, January 18, 2007

An inconvenient truth

All the Asean heads of state and their ministers who came for the recent Asean summit in Cebu were all gathered in one dark room for 100 minutes, listening to former US Vice President Al Gore in the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. Each one had a bucket of popcorn. And when it was over they all stood up, their faces flushed because they all felt a sudden energy surge. They all went out the door, walking briskly, ready to take on the world with great resolve.

Wishful thinking. That was a what-if scenario that was running like a sidebar frame in my mind while I was watching the movie-docu the other day. (They did sign something on promoting non-polluting sources of energy.)

Documentaries are going mainstream—“The March of the Penguins” among the latest—and are relatively well received. Is this a shift? There have been too many big-budget fantasies in the last few years and their success could mean more are coming. They portray the good-versus-evil themes of real life but because they’re fantasy, we know for sure that good will triumph over evil after we’ve sat it out for three sensurround hours or after three years of waiting for a trilogy to run its course. And then we say that everything will be all right.

Not if you watch “An Inconvenient Truth” (directed by Davis Guggenheim). Everything will not be all right if we do not do something to reverse global warming. The movie is a global warning. It’s not doomsday reel fiction like “Soylent Green”, it’s real life on Planet Earth right now. And we, its inhabitants, are to blame for what’s happening.

But do enjoy your popcorn.

When Greenpeace-Philippines sponsored a premiere showing, the free tickets came with a warning: “If the vast majority of the world’s scientists are right, we have just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves—all beyond anything we have ever experienced.”

This inconvenient truth is showing now but only at SM Megamall’s Cinema 7. I hope today is not its last day. If you fail to catch it, get hold of a DVD. Someone told me you could watch it in YouTube. The producers are not after big bucks and would like you to spread the bad news—and also tell others about the good that each one of us could do.

Gore’s role as the presentor was tailor-made for him. He was not picked because of his looks or for being an almost-President. Global warming is a problem he’s been studying and speaking about every chance he’s got for many years.

“We have everything we need to know,” Gore starts off. Don’t be turned off by the beginning scene that shows him on a platform lecturing before an audience in a darkened hall. (It looked elegant, in fact.) He shows on screen the familiar “Earthrise” photo taken from space by astronauts more than 30 years ago. It is breathtaking.
The next photographs are alarming. Behold snow caps vanishing, shorelines retreating, oceans widening, lakes shrinking. These are recent images from outer space.

Zoom in to terra firma. The awesome glaciers are melting, wildlife are moving to new habitats, species are disappearing. Hurricanes are getting fiercer, seas warmer, rainfall heavier. The footage of a distressed polar bear trying to hang on to a melting ice floe will break your heart.

Just as alarming are the scientific data, the jagged line charts that go up and down and up and up. The 10 warmest years ever recorded in history were in the last 14 years with India experiencing 50 degree Celsius. Global warming is no longer “a debate”. It is real.

Gore is not always on that platform to lecture. He is on the road, in the field, aboard helicopters, witnessing for himself what is ailing the planet. But because he holds the film together, he also tackles personal circumstances that have driven him to embrace this cause. His sister’s death, his son’s close encounter with death, even his losing in the presidential elections—all these had something to do with his becoming.

As proofs of the planet’s destruction continue to pile up, you tend to forget it is “professor” Gore speaking. It is Earth speaking. No the-sky-is-falling hysterics, no hyperbolic pronouncements, just plain scientific facts and images.

Carbon dioxide emissions, which come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, are the main cause of global warming. Deforestation, slash-and-burn farming, soil degradation and loss, urbanization—these, too, contribute to the so-called greenhouse effect. According to Conservation International some 35.1 million acres of tropical forests are destroyed each year, releasing millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Through graphics, Gore explains away how increased CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat. That part is simple enough to understand. What is not simple is how the global situation got so bad over the last few years and why the planet seems to be inexorably going to a point of no return.

Years ago, I wrote a feature story in the Sunday Inquirer on a Filipino scientist who did research in Antarctica and studied the effects of global warming. She sure had the goods.

There is hope, and the movie shows why. But only if we act now. There is something for every one to do--small things, big things. From managing your garbage to searching for alternative energy sources. (The Mac-toting Gore also suggests you visit So even while he speaks to Everycitizen of Planet Earth, Gore does not forget to stress that his country is the biggest culprit of all.

He quotes a wise person of yore who said: “When you pray, move your feet.”