Why ‘An Unconvenient Sequel’ might not be the be the best motivator for action against climate change.
One night when I was eleven years old, I sat on the coach, squeezed in between my parents, because I couldn’t sleep. They were absentmindedly patting my head while they were obviously preoccupied by what they were watching on the television. An inconvenient truth, the movie that propelled Al Gore into the hearts of ordinary citizens outside of the US (where he was already a famous politician), and my parents and I were no exception. I remember watching the entire movie and even if some of it was a bit too difficult for child-me to grasp, the statistics, graphs, and diagrams made a huge impression on me. The world was dying, and the process was fast. Something had to be done.
An Inconvenient Sequel, which can be seen in cinemas in Amsterdam right now, continues the story where Gore left it in 2006. It has the same ambitious use of graphs, impressive video footage of melting ice, and portrayals of citizens who are engaged in, or endangered by climate change, a term that Gore renamed to ‘climate crisis’ There is undeniable power in language and the naming of phenomena. Where ‘global warming’ refers to an increase in average temperature as created by human behaviour, ‘climate change’ can refer to issues which are both man made and have a natural cause. Naturally, ‘climate change’ is preferred by sceptics.
The term ‘climate crisis’ then is presented as not only the draughts, the floods or the heat, but the devastating consequences these phenomena have on human life. For example, Gore connects the war in Syria to this ‘climate crisis’. Global warming does not recognize any borders, so neither should we in our attempts to resolve it. Coincidentally, half of the movie depicts the COP21 meeting in Paris, where the leaders of the world agreed on a protocol that would ensure a habitable world for future generations.
This is also when the Al-Gore-one-man-show becomes a bit too tangible. I have a lot of respect for him as a politician and a climate activist. He managed to make something vague very present in the lives of a lot of people, and I sometimes torture myself with the thought of what the world would have looked like if he had been elected president of the United States, instead of Bush.
Uncle Al has Elon Musk on his speed dial, the’ll clean up this mess
But this movie misses the sweet spot that the previous one hit hard. The feeling you are left with when leaving the cinema is that the world is slowly turning into an inferno, but don’t worry, Al Gore has a lot of phone numbers and knows a lot of important people. I don’t feel particularly encouraged to do something about my own behaviour. Uncle Al has Elon Musk on his speed dial, they’ll clean up this mess.
This movie names a serious concept which ultimately we all are affected by – the climate crisis – but we are not left with an urge to participate, since other people are already taking care of the heavy burden for us. Especially Al Gore himself, his friends and his army of green leaders. The only concrete things I am left with as an ordinary citizen, is the encouraging phrases just at the end of the movie. Platitude after platitude is flashed across the screen; use your vote, use your voice. Thanks a lot.
So, I left the cinema feeling slightly numb. Climate change communication is a tricky business. Research shows that too much fear-appeal, a lack of proximity of the issue and vague solutions does not mobilize at all. On the contrary, it can leave the audience feeling overwhelmed, and with a feeling that their actions do not matter. And unfortunately, this is what I felt when I left the cinema.
It’s a shame that climate change is too often visualized with grand images of melting ice and starving children, when this is not certain to have an effect on us western people, who ultimately bare a large part of the blame for the situation we are in, and are responsible for the possible solutions. When we see that, we just become scared. And people who are afraid go into denial.
Cover: Qimono / Final editing: Tamar Hellinga