Friday, June 16, 2006

Matters of Convenience

A few nights ago I saw the much-touted An Inconvenient Truth.

It is worth touting, it is worth seeing, and it is worth thinking about. The criticism I've heard most is that there's too many little Biography-style moments of Al Gore reflecting on himself, his life, his decisions. Which is fair on one level, but on the other hand, a relentless lecture on global warming would not make a good film. Not everybody is going to sympathize with Al Gore, certainly not the hardcore Bush supporters, but Gore isn't preaching to the converted exactly, and he's much more congenial and competent as a lecturer than e'er he appeared as a political candidate. Very few humans can start from the larger concepts and work their way in; most must, loath as I am to quote Ani DiFranco, start from the middle and work your way out. The biographical moments with Gore, though they succumb to certain Biography cliches (the still shots of empty hallways or newspaper articles accompanied by dramatic voiceover narrative), serve that purpose: we see him as a character in order to understand the significance of his lectures to him and by extension to ourselves, ourselves being other, individualized humans. Director Davis Guggenheim (*what* a name) also makes the powerful choice of using the exact same shots of natural scenes at the beginning and end of the film, making explicit what's at stake.

Dude, I cannot see a goddamn thing without making an artistic critique.

I'm okay with that.

To the more weighty matter and hand, the content of Gore's lectures. To be completely honest, I've always had a rough time connecting to global warming. I make an effort to be environmentally conscious, and have become more so in the past year, but I've never had the visceral connection to it that I've had to racial, educational, youth, artistic issues. We're either going to wipe ourselves out or we're not, and if we do we won't know the difference once it's over. But through this film and some friends (among them Milligan), I'm being able to see the nuances of it, nuances I should have seen but was not thoughtful enough to see ages ago. Such as the fact that global warming isn't apocalyptic per se, not in the Armageddon style I've always assumed. For reasons involving both resources and geography/geology, the nations that have caused the bulk of the problem (i.e. us) are not the ones that will suffer the most. We're not going to end up with tsunamis; only a small part of the nation will suffer from the hurricanes (making it easy for the rest of the nation to virtually ignore, as we have done with the victims of Katrina in many salient ways); we will hoard our profligate resources once problems begin; it is not our nation's fresh water supplies that are dwindling as the ice on mountains melts completely and evaporates. Should such densely populated areas as China and India become flooded when sea levels rise, the refugee crises will be overwhelming, and we, looking out for our own skin, will not treat the refugees any better than we've treated the relatively few Katrina evacuees--probably substantially worse, since these refugees won't have even the nominal U.S. citizenship rights. An Armageddon would not, ultimately, make any difference in the way I perceive the world, since by then I'd be done perceiving it. But the smaller (when you look at them beside Armageddon) disasters would make a difference, and the injustice in the world is disastrous enough without this next, deeper, in many ways more insidious level of destruction.

I don't present myself as perfect. I'm careless, I'm American, many aspects of capitalism are deeply engrained. I like to shop, and sometimes buying things makes me feel better. I buy new clothes without knowing the environmental or human conditions under which they're made. I buy bottled water when my Nalgene doesn't fit into my bag or I've forgotten it. If there's not a recycling bin around, I'll throw out the bottle. I waste food. I really do want a ride home, and I'm pleased that you'll go out of your way to give me one, however ridiculous the waste of gas is. I leave the light on in the living room and my bedroom while I'm taking a shower. I own an air conditioner; I take long showers. My eco footprint is still probably smaller than that of most Americans, and I'm finally getting some idea of the damage we're all causing.

From An Inconvenient Truth I was able to see what should have been obvious: that the issue of the environment, like any other issue when you're looking at it correctly, outside of the mini-polarizations of American partisan politics, is nuanced and holistic. Environmentalism is a human rights issue, human rights are an environmentalist issue is a race issue is a social issue is a political issue, separating issues as if they're color-coded is kind of ridiculous, and whatever Ann Coulter says (I've read the first chapter of Godless; I'll post again when I've developed the stomach to read it all) it is not our God-given right to destroy the environment because the Bible states that we are made in God's image. See the movie, and take as seriously as you can the recommendations in the end credits.


At 2:14 PM, Blogger Connor said...

I'm hoping to see this tomorrow, and you've just made me want to see it even more.

That said, the only thing I have the energy to comment on right now is your last comment; do you *really* think it's worth the effort you'll expend in getting through it. I acknowledge that understanding another argument is worthwile so that you can communicate. But I also think that Ann Coulter has a self selecting fanbase, and the people you'd be able to communicate with meaningfully as a result of reading the book are probably disproportionately uninterested in a diaglogue.

Have you read Naked Economic, by Charles Wheelan?

That's a good one.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Ammegg said...

Naked Economics and Freakonomics are both on my list for this summer.

To be honest, I know I'm going to insult Ann Coulter anyway, and I would rather offer insults that I can back up. However much I dislike Coulter, I was offended by Dahlia Lithwick referring to the book as "the latest book by Ann Coulter's breasts," and I want to do better than that. It's not to engage with her or her fanbase necessarily, it's to engage with myself and my "fanbase" in a mature fashion. I also want to learn to distinguish between fundamental differences of opinion/postulates and misguidedness, particularly as a teacher, and I think that's something one can learn from articulate extremists.

And I waste my time reading stupid shit in bookstores anyway. This is as good as a YA serial novel or a Jennifer Weiner book.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Connor said...

Good enough. Although I think "articulate" is overly generous, but whatever. (Actually, I was a big fan of Jay Leno the other night, when his guests we Ann Coulter and George Carlin. As he said during the opening monologue, "that's the last time we let Eharmony match our guests"). She embarrassed herself, and only because of the stupid things she was saying. Though Jess and I both thought she looked like Skeletor.

Aack! I'm falling into the trap. This was a post about Al Gore's movie, not that other person!

At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Milligan said...

I saw the film earlier this week, so hopefully I'll have time to write something useful about it this weekend. But aesthetically I think you're right on. The pre-release hype strongly suggested it was a Powerpoint slideshow with a soundtrack, whereas the opening credits made me fear a pure biopic. (After all, doesn't the headshot-in-a-moving-car fading in under the title shot usually announce a biopic?) But the actual film is in between, giving the audience enough character to feel why they should sit through a lecture from this guy.

Actually, the major complaint from the folks I saw it with (scientists, mostly) was a lack of citations. They all wanted to go look up the papers from which his graphics derive. Although given the recent nature of many of the datapoints and the fact that I haven't seen a number of them before, I suspect that several are new enough to still be awaiting publication. At any rate, we were disappointed to find that the movie's website is similarly unhelpful, so our next project is to get ahold of the companion book and see if there's a references section.

If I correctly interpret these EIA statistics, American per-capita energy consumption divides into roughly equal thirds transportation, heating (and to a lesser extent, cooling), and industrial use. Lights, non-climate-control appliances, etc., are relatively minor contributors. So given that you don't drive and you consume somewhat fewer manufactured goods than the mean, there's no question that your energy footprint is smaller than the American mean, by perhaps a factor of two. Give yourself some credit; that ain't bad.

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Connor said...

I saw the movie yesterday.
I liked it a lot.
I had expected it to be convincing, but it was also surprisingly poetic.

Anyway, you've already talked about all that.

I also saw Eternal Sunshine this weekend, which I know is another favorite movie of yours.


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