Friday, March 30, 2007

Global warning, courtesy Al Gore

Firstly, special thanks to my revered professor P.K.Ravindranath who agreed to lend me an original DVD of Al Gore's Academy Award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Undoubtedly, the film came to me at an opportune moment. The mercury is rising across the city and the heat wave is unprecedented, atleast in the month of March. Mumbai clocked 41 degree C at Powai, yesterday and even at 8pm, when one expected the temperature to dip a bit, the thermometers clocked 38 degree C. The usual reaction is, "If it's so hot in March, imagine how extreme the summer is going to be in April and May!" The state's inability to deal with power-shortage has exacerbated the situation further, with large parts of Maharashtra, experiencing black-outs for over 10-12 hours. Its a cruel summer, indeed.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of what could turn into an annual phenomenon. Hard summers are lined up ahead, every year. If statistics quoted in An Inconvenient Truth are anything to go by, the world is only going to get warmer. The hottest years in the last century are all in the past one decade, with the mercury peaking highest in 2005. The massive heat wave in the same year claimed over 30,000 lives in Europe alone. British environmental journals claim that 'nature's been acting crazy.' And with good reason. Global warming has caused alarming rise in CO2 levels across the world.

Al Gore's film is a fitting rejoinder on the environmental crisis that lurks ahead. According to the film:
"Humanity is sitting on a time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten 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 beyond anything we have ever experienced."

Gore's persuasive argument is convincing enough, albeit at times, scary. And rightfully so. A majority of countries across the world have treated global warming as more of a political issue. International treaties have been signed and nations have decided to come together and pledged to fight global warming. But the film's true merit lies in the fact, that it treats it as a moral issue that could alter the course of global civilization.

He hits the right notes when he presses for our concern to avert global warming keeping our future generations in mind. "50 years down the line, if nature's turmoil does not come to an end, our children would shudder to believe, 'What were our parents thinking?'"

David Guggenheim carefully intersperses the screenplay with Gore's own life story - from proud father who's world changed with his son meeting an accident, to a son who saw the family business of cultivating tobacco come to a stop after his sister fell prey to cancer. ("That's one way you don't want to see yourself die.") The strategy works for the film - firstly it does a lot to break the monotony of being stunned in the face by terrifying facts and figures. Secondly, it makes the narrative more autobiographical. It gives a deeper reason for the viewer to espouse his cause since Gore's story offers a human perspective. It re-affirms him as a messaih of the campaign to save the world for inevitable disaster.

The screenplay offers much fodder to make a dig at the political administration of the US, where Gore was brushed off "as a crazy lunatic offering to play with global warming as an emotional issue." The digs are well-placed and he also cites the case of a clandestine document acquisition, wherein a Bush aide was asked to alter the climate report to be presented in the Senate. Gore professes the following reason for it:
"It is difficult to make a man understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." The repartee pays off, sending the studio audience into splits. Having said that, it is worthwhile to mention that the film is not the run-of-the-mill sound-byte hunting documentary. Its a studio set-up with a huge LCD plasma screen forming the backdrop. Gore switches across several platforms in the setup to demonstrate statistics, images and predictions, with fervent passion and concern. He takes centrestage throughout. The comfort and confidence with which he deals with the topic is astounding. Since the globe has really not warmed up to the isue yet, he gives enough reason for us to believe him, when he says:
"It is extremely frustrating for me. I've given this slide show about 1000 times. Or rather, atleast 1000 times. I keep hoping that as I proceed from person-to-person, maybe it will create a difference enough for people to reach out for the cause. And every time, I try to focus on what is it that I can do, to make people reach closer to the issue, by making it simpler."

The Inconvenient Truth ends on an optimistic note, providing alternatives to curb the distress. Since it's a global issue, Gore cites historical examples to prove his point wherein Nelson Mandela's victory, the fall of communism and fascism, the invention of vaccines were remarkable global events. He graciously accepts that the US is the highest contributor to global warming and expresses political hope and faith in the democracy so that the issue will be dealt with alacrity:
"It's not been done before, because of the lack of political will in this country. But you know what? In the US, political will is a renewable resource and we're going to make it."

As the movie ends, there are certain facts presented which stay with you for long time. Long enough to make you think it over. I'll list some of them below:

1. The Arctic Ocean could be ice-free by summer 2050.

2. Global sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet with the loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, devastating coastal areas worldwide.

3. Deaths from global warming will double in just 25 years -- to 300,000 people a year.

4. Heat waves will be more frequent and more intense.

5. More than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050.

CONCLUSION: An Inconvenient Truth is a land-mark film made on a global issue of a different kind. The scope is enormous and the purpose is firm. Carbon emissions have to be reduce at any cost if the future of mankind wants to survive. Perhaps the current generation will not live to see the catastrophic effects of global warming. But the film rightfully instills fear in the name of our future generations, if that is the only alternative, to get people moving into action. That, I believe, is a convenient truth to solving the issue.