“No one person can stop this movement. It’s beyond one nation, any government. Now it’s happening all over the world.”
With those words on the future of the climate change movement, Al Gore was flooded with applause, screams and and whistles of approval at the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday. Gore spoke on stage at the Eccles Theater after the screening of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, the follow up to his award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The film was a symbolic choice to open the 2017 edition of the film festival.
Before the beginning of the film, Robert Redford called Gore a dear friend and said, “There was a moment when politics and the Supreme Court was not very kind to Al.” But if the presence of Gore, a few hours after the inauguration of Donald Trump, was bound to bring with it an aura of a presidency in exile, the tone of the film, and its protagonist, were quite pragmatic and calibrated for the future.
The inclusion of a shot in which Gore climbs into an elevator of the Trump Tower made it clear that, up to the very last moment, the filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, and the film’s producers (the founder of Participant Media and “filmanthropist” Jeffrey Skoll), took into account the course of events. Asked about the meeting, Gore said it wasn’t his first with Trump and won’t be the last, even though Trump has repeatedly called climate change a hoax and has already promised to revoke the Paris Agreement.
Gore said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen during the Trump administration and that he’s seen skeptics turn into believers. “I don’t think [Scott Pruitt] should head the EPA,” Gore said. “But the story has many chapters to unfold here.” He cast the upcoming battle as a grand test: Are we a short-sighted species destined to rule the earth for a little while, or are we something more? “The truth still means something. It’s still got its strength. And at some point it becomes undeniable.”
From the Supreme Court decision that gave the U.S. presidency George W. Bush until today, Gore has used many of the qualities deemed “disqualifying” during his election campaign — intellect, commitment, passion and an encyclopedic knowledge of policy — for the cause. An Inconvenient Truth was built entirely on the basis of his Powerpoint presentation, intended to inform potential activists in the fight for environmental protection. Directed by Davis Guggenheim and distributed in the U.S. by Paramount, the film became an unexpected box office success and won two Oscars.
An Inconvenient Sequel, which will come out in the cinemas next summer, again distributed by Paramount, works on the same model, but expands to a broader context. Ten years later and with all gray hair, Gore delivers his presentation — which he constantly reviews and updates — to about 10,000 activists around the world.
During the same time period, he worked patiently behind the scenes lobbying governments. It’s no small irony that the first part of the documentary is set in Florida, the state where his presidential ambitions were shattered. Miami is the largest city in the U.S. that is the most likely to be flooded by rising sea levels. Gore visits Miami Beach, flooded after a torrential rain, where local authorities are planning to raise the level of the roads by a meter and a half.
The film proceeds to review the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a satellite that tracks climate mutations, which was scrapped by the Bush administration and revived and launched under Obama. Hurricane Sandy and the increasingly dense frequency of droughts and floods validate the apocalyptic predictions Gore made in An Inconvenient Truth, which were anything but ridiculous, as Gore zigzagged the world as an evangelist and a political catalyst.
It was enlightening, for example, to discover the extent of Gore’s role in the Paris climate conference. It was Gore, in fact, who obtained the crucial membership of India, having convinced the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer to offer its technology at reduced prices to the government of Delhi.
That’s why today, the film tells us, the world economy is moving toward renewable energies. The Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas, called it “economical” and said nearly 100 percent of the town’s energy comes from solar panels. In other words, even in the Trump era, the message of the eco-prophet from Tennessee is still: Yes, we can.