Al Gore’s next major film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, is essentially the audiovisual version of his same-titled book released on July 25, 2017. As the title indicates, the latest book and the movie are follow-ups to the first, An Inconvenient Truth, produced in 2006. The original book and movie were based on a PowerPoint presentation that Gore reportedly delivered to more than a thousand audiences—and for which he won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
An Inconvenient Sequel departs from An Inconvenient Truth in several significant and positive ways. First, it carries much greater visual appeal and impact. Rather than the classroom lecture look, An Inconvenient Sequel has the feel of a high-production documentary. Both the movie and book feature photos/footage of locations around the world most drastically impacted by climate change. Both also highlight interviews with and biographies of leading climatologists.
Second, An Inconvenient Sequel presents a more balanced and convincing argument that global warming is, in fact, occurring. While I may disagree with Gore’s attribution of global warming’s causes, I’d say he has done a fine job of presenting a weight-of-evidence case for global warming that most climate-change deniers will be hard-pressed to dispute.
Third, An Inconvenient Sequel feels much less like a sermon by a preacher telling me what a horrible eco-criminal I am. An Inconvenient Truth drew an unnecessarily negative reaction, in my opinion, for its condemnation of everyone who drives cars, uses electricity, and purchases factory-manufactured products. An Inconvenient Truth preached that if I really cared about the welfare of my future grandchildren and great grandchildren, I must cut my standard of living by an order of magnitude, do it now, and convince everyone I know to follow my example. This book and film seem no less stern, but less shrill.
Fourth, while An Inconvenient Sequel still calls for draconian economic sacrifices to fix the global warming problem, it does so to a lesser degree than its predecessor, and it goes on to suggest some potential solutions that appear economically beneficial.
Fifth, An Inconvenient Sequel is much more upbeat in its message than An Inconvenient Truth. It has an optimistic tone. It documents progress the nations of the world have made toward climate stabilization and offers real hope that we can fix Earth’s climate change problem.
While An Inconvenient Sequel corrects some of the inaccuracies and exaggerations of An Inconvenient Truth, it ignores my major concerns. First, I have a problem with the emphasis on inconvenient. Human nature has demonstrated, time and again, that if the solutions to a problem, even a crisis, are too inconvenient, politicians and the people they serve simply will not cooperate. Humans are inherently selfish. If the proposals involve great personal sacrifice, especially economic sacrifice, people are unlikely to change their behavior. Humans also possess a strong sense of fairness and justice. They will not be happy if they are asked to make mandated sacrifices that people in other cities and nations will not also make.
Second, while An Inconvenient Sequel does suggest some solutions to climate change that may prove economically beneficial, it ignores what I see as the most efficacious ones. Furthermore, the solutions it proposes are unlikely to yield the measure of economic benefit Gore predicts. For example, many of my neighbors and I here in Southern California have installed solar power panels on our rooftops. We did so because government regulations and taxes drove the cost of obtaining electricity from natural-gas-powered generating plants so high that we could recover the cost of our solar panels in about 4–5 years with the savings from our electric bills.
As a physicist, I am aware of certain technological breakthroughs that hold potential to bring down the costs of solar power generation by a factor of three or more. Wouldn’t it be better for our governments to encourage the development of such technologies rather than to use regulations and taxes to “encourage” citizens to adopt the currently available expensive, suboptimal solutions?
What are some alternative win-win approaches that could help reverse global warming? A few suggestions appear in my 2011 book, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job. Here are three examples (briefly summarized) I can envision, and I’m confident that other minds can bring forth many more and better ideas:
- Replant the Sahara and Gobi Deserts to shrink them to their sizes two millennia ago (the Sahara was then one-tenth of its current expanse, and the Gobi, one-fourth). Such replanting would remove huge quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Such an effort could provide abundant grain and yield substantial income for people dwelling nearby.
- Restore the whale populations to their levels prior to the whales’ being hunted. Increased whale populations would fertilize the oceans’ photic zones that would, in turn, augment the phytoplankton population that would, in turn, remove at least four times the greenhouse gases the whales expel. Greater phytoplankton populations would substantially augment ocean fish stocks, as well. These, in turn, would yield more fish for nutritional benefit and greater income for those engaged in fishing enterprises.
- Reduce our dependence on beef by replacing it with fish and an alternative red meat, such as ostrich. In addition to being potentially cheaper to produce than beef, ostrich farms require less land, and ostrich meat is a healthier form of red meat, especially suitable for diabetes sufferers. Further, ostriches emit only a tiny fraction of greenhouse gases cows release into the atmosphere.
These are just a few examples of solutions to climate change in which everybody wins, and perhaps wins big.
An Inconvenient Sequel comes across as a political call to arms. Gore proposes a massive grassroots political campaign to elect the right people and to force the already elected officials to adopt the climate laws he proposes. However, if attention is focused on solutions that are simultaneously beneficial for the economy and the environment, politics becomes irrelevant. If everybody wins and everybody wins big, there will be no need for regulations, taxes, and punitive laws. With the right solutions, we can realistically expect every Democrat and every Republican in Washington to be in favor.
Most importantly, we need to recognize that while we may be able to sustain climate stability for a few more decades or several more centuries, climate instability is an inevitable reality of our planet. An Inconvenient Sequel repeats the error of the original in asserting that human industrial activity is the dominant driver of global warming. It may be, and it is certainly significant, but researchers do not yet know that with certainty. What we do know is that natural processes, independent of human activity, play a substantial and possibly dominant role in the observed global warming of the past century or more. We also know that we cannot, as the movie hints we can, indefinitely prolong climate stability.
Astronomers know that no matter what we humans do, short of installing an impossibly vast controllable shield/lens between Earth and the Sun, natural processes will bring our recent 9,000-year period of unprecedented climate stability to an end. We are living in an ice age cycle. For the past 2.6 million years, Earth has cycled between 10% and 23% ice coverage.
The cycle is driven by periodic variations in the eccentric shape of Earth’s orbit about the Sun and in the tilt of Earth’s rotation axis. The greater the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit and the greater the tilt of Earth’s rotation axis, the warmer Earth becomes and the less ice coverage on Earth’s surface. The norm throughout the ice age cycle is one of extreme climate instability. For example, between 11,000 and 130,000 years ago, the global mean temperature was jumping up and down by as much as 24° Fahrenheit over time scales of just a few centuries. Compare this number to the less than 3° Fahrenheit variation over the past 9,000 years. While it may be possible to sustain our epoch of extreme climate stability for a while longer, changes in Earth’s orbit and rotation axis tilt will inevitably return us to climate instability within a millennium or two, at best.
Even if we were able to install an enormous controllable shield/lens between Earth and the Sun, we would not buy ourselves much more time. Our civilization and population have depended upon the melting of glaciers from the last ice maximum to irrigate the great agricultural plains of our planet. If we were able to maintain extreme climate stability for several thousand more years, we would still run out of the glaciers we need to provide food for 7+ billion humans.
The Way Forward
First, we need to recognize that the past 9,000 years of extreme climate stability is an exception. As a Christian, I acknowledge that those 9,000 years are an unprecedented gift from God. That acknowledgment motivates me to consider what God wants us humans to achieve during the brief time window of stability he has given us. I realize it is likely we’ll need more time to accomplish the purposes for which God placed us humans on Earth at this unique time. Thus, I am personally motivated to do what I can to extend this era of extreme climate stability. More importantly, I am motivated to discern what God wants me to accomplish for the good of humanity with the rest of my life.