Former Vice President Al Gore knew his mission wasn’t over, and a decade after the climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” brought the issue of environmental alterations to the greater public consciousness, Mr. Gore returns this week in the appropriately named “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”
The sequel finds Mr. Gore once again traveling the world not only to see the devastation wrought by a warming planet due to mankind’s burning of fossil fuels, but also his speeches to audiences he hopes to turn into fellow climate warriors.
“There was a new story to tell, coupled with Mother Nature is screaming louder than ever,” co-director Jon Shenk told The Washington Times following a recent Newseum screening of the film attended by Mr. Gore himself. “In fact, faster and more furious than was predicted these changes would happen around the planet.”
“An Inconvenient Truth” director Davis Guggenheim was unavailable to return for “Truth to Power,” so Mr. Shenk and co-director Bonni Cohen gratefully stepped in, with Mr. Guggenheim staying on as producer.
“I think Al felt it was time to add to the story,” Mr. Shenk said, adding that he and Ms. Cohen’s previous climate-related documentary, “The Island President,” helped get them the job.
Furthermore, the world of climate science — and technology to combat it — has changed so much since the original 2006 film that a return to Mr. Gore’s mission was even more appropriate.
“The reason they waited 10 years is … the costs of renewable energy have gone down to where it’s cheap, or even cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world,” Mr. Shenk said. “Ten years ago the solutions were kind of a more hopeful thing than a reality, but Americans and [people] around the world [now have] a real choice to make about how we’re going to get electricity and how we’re going to power our transportation.”
If the need for mankind to make better choices about energy usage is the message of the film, then its star is, once again, Mr. Gore. Mr. Gore, now 69, allowed the filmmakers unprecedented access to his daily life, not only speaking at events but also following him to his family farm in Carthage, Tennessee, and making phone call after phone call to try to get international heads of state on board for the Paris deal.
“At times he helped us when he was in meeting with other leaders who might not want a camera in the room, [but] he pushed for it because he believes in the authenticity of those kinds of scenes,” Ms. Cohen said of the directors having cameras on their subject day in and day out for several years.
Mr. Gore was generally accepting of the cameras “97 percent of the time,” punctuated only by fleeting moments when he asked the lens caps be replaced.
“I think he often forget we were there. When you’re focused on saving the world [with] a camera in the room, who cares, right?” Mr. Shenk said, adding that Mr. Gore, who is two decades elder than the directors, was seemingly inexhaustible.
Indeed, “Truth to Power” follows Mr. Gore not only to Paris but to as far away as Greenland, where he meets with scientists to review data and see, in real time, the ice melting away. One of his daughters, Karenna, is often seen working by his side.
Everywhere Mr. Gore goes in the film, people seek autographs and selfies.
“He’s considered to be the leader of the movement at this point,” Ms. Cohen said, adding that perhaps Mr. Gore would not have been able to put as much effort into the crusade if he and not George W. Bush had become president in 2001.
“It’s very hard when you’re president not to have constraints on you to be able to do that work in a pure way,” Ms. Cohen said. “Maybe that might not have been possible had he been in politics.”
Regardless of Mr. Gore’s — and the filmmakers’ — belief in the scientific consensus of climate change, there remain voluble, well-funded elements that continue to deny its existence or claim that it is simply too expensive an issue to address. Mr. Shenk, proud that he and Ms. Cohen backed up their facts with not less than three sources, says such forces are employing the same tactics of misdirection employed by the tobacco industry before they were forced to admit smoking was harmful.
Sometimes, they even employ those very same public relations firms.
“The fossil fuel companies are threatened by the sustainable energy revolution, and they have used every tactic out of the tobacco industry’s playbook,” Mr. Shenk said. “Literally using a lot of the same PR companies to cast doubt on what is reality.”
“In the age of the internet, anyone can say anything anonymously out into the ether,” added Ms. Cohen. “It’s just vitriol [and] there’s not really a cogent way to respond to that. I think you deal with by not dealign with it.”
Mr. Gore is seen in the new film frequently smiling but often frowning. The worry on his face at Mr. Trump’s November election is embedded around his eyes, as is his defeat when the new president announces — as is his fashion, on Twitter — the U.S. exit from the Paris deal.
After the divisive 2000 election, and Mr. Gore’s ultimately gracious concession to Mr. Bush, Mr. Shenk and Ms. Cohen say that almost anyone would likely have been so crushed as to disappear permanently from public life. But picking up the battle to save the planet, they believe, speaks to Mr. Gore’s unflappable character.
“Somehow he was able to regroup and come back as the man we know as Al Gore today,” Mr. Shenk said, adding that Mr. Gore’s faith plays a central role in his belief in climate stewardship. “The man consulted his inner spiritual guide and thought ‘what is it that I really want to make a difference on?’ and clearly the environmental crisis speaks to him in a very intense way.
“He bounced back with this incredible optimism and can-do [spirit] we saw in the first film, and that pattern pattern continues.
And as U.S. cities and corporations announce they will abide by Paris even after Mr. Trump’s exit — which, thanks to last-minute editing, made it into the film — Mr. Shenk says the president has unwittingly spurred on the very effort he sought to tamp down.
“The immediate news cycle after the Trump announcement of pulling out of Paris was all climate all the time,” Ms. Cohen said. “I don’t think it’s ever happened” before.
“I think that has boosted Al as well,” Mr. Shenk said. “It’s not just himself, it’s literally millions of people — heads of state, heads of environment organizations, CEOs of major companies — that are now working with him.”
“We ended up feeling like the American people really are leading on this issue despite who’s in the White House,” Mr. Shenk said, pointing to the such incidents as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announcing his city would nonetheless abide by the international emissions deal. “The backlash to his backlash has been amazing.”
The filmmakers are optimistic the public American knows the truth about the environment, and will continue to lobby their representatives in Congress to push the U.S. back to the vanguard on the issue.
“We do feel an element of the genie’s out of the bottle on this,” Mr. Shenk said. “It doesn’t matter how hard the forces of the fossil fuel industry are, the American people know what’s going on, and they want to move toward clean energy.”
“The American people, not only in the big cities and on the coasts, will get involved in the political end of this,” Ms. Cohen added. “They’re going to be joined by the farmers and fishermen and people in the middle of the country whose lives and economies are affected by these weather changes.”