Water trickles off blue-white glaciers in Greenland in the opening scenes of Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which opens to limited release on July 28 in New York City and Los Angeles, and widely on August 4. The rapidly melting Arctic is a fitting place to begin the documentary, which offers up exotic places, tough debates and a thorough update on climate change’s advancement since Gore’s original film. Nature has not waited for humans to act in the intervening decade.
Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, more polar ice has disappeared, and global temperature and carbon dioxide levels have climbed even higher. Hurricanes are growing stronger, droughts more intense and flooding more extensive. Despite all that depressing news, Gore has returned to the stage, still stubbornly pushing his message to the world: There is still hope—we still have time—but we need to act fast.
Although the first film, An Inconvenient Truth, centered on Gore educating the public about the basics of climate change with startling graphics and silly animations, the sequel spotlights Gore’s zealous path since that time—wherever it takes him. Yes, it includes clips of his well-known PowerPoint lectures, this time presented to thousands of his climate leadership trainees and girded with the latest science on summertime temperatures, emerging diseases and more. Rather than evangelize, the directors (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk) chose to focus more on Gore as he travels around the world, meeting with scientists and government officials and witnessing the already evident effects of global warming. Gore gingerly steps along the thawing Greenland Ice Sheet, mucks through the flooding streets of Miami in rubber boots and consoles a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. The filmmakers also shadow Gore as he meets with diplomats at the Paris climate conference, and helps broker a deal which purportedly helps persuade India to sign the international accord.
Much has changed since 2006, and not just with the environment. Scientists have a decade’s worth of additional climate change research under their belts, renewable energy has become an unstoppable market force and nearly 200 nations have agreed to the accord. U.S. cities, states and businesses have pledged to cut their carbon emissions and switch to clean energy, regardless of the national government’s action or inaction. The public is now much more aware of climate change and its destructive consequences—thanks, in part, to An Inconvenient Truth.
Yet the film also serves as a reminder about how much has not changed since the original documentary. Climate skeptics still have a loud, influential voice in the U.S. Many Republican members of Congress and Pres. Donald Trump continue to deny the existence of global warming or refuse to do anything about it, saying it is not human-caused; some claim that if we address what they see as a nonexistent crisis, that will destroy the economy. And despite former Pres. Barack Obama’s efforts over the past eight years, the Trump administration is now attempting to revive the coal industry, cut funding for climate change research and roll back as much of its predecessor’s climate legacy as possible.
An Inconvenient Sequel casts India as the antagonist, dragging its heels on cutting fossil fuel use and potentially imperiling global negotiations on climate. But let’s be honest: the U.S. has historically been, and is once again, the climate villain. That depiction was neatly capped by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement this June—forcing the filmmakers to go back and amend the movie to include the news. In a surprising twist, China now appears poised to assume climate leadership as the U.S. steps away.
Still, Gore’s optimism seems nearly unflappable. Although he concedes there have been “times when it looked bleak and dark,” when he thought “we could lose this,” Gore has put his faith in an increasingly powerful economic force: renewable energy. He may have good reason for hope. Market dynamics are pushing the coal industry out of business, and driving natural gas and renewables to the forefront—sometimes in surprising places. Near the end of the film, Gore visits Georgetown, Texas—“the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas”—and meets its conservative mayor, Dale Ross, who proudly pronounces it will be the first city in Texas to go 100 percent renewable. “We have a moral and ethical obligation to leave the planet better than we found it,” Ross explains. Perhaps environmentalism is not as partisan as Congress and the president make it seem.
The same trend is happening in towns and states throughout the country, especially in places like Texas and Oklahoma, where wind and solar have become increasingly dominant. The move toward renewables is not just in the U.S.—it’s growing in countries all over the world, from Chile to China. Gore sees this clean energy revolution as our salvation. Let’s just hope the change comes fast enough.