There’s a compelling case to be made that taking on climate change could transform the lives of people still reeling from the fallout of the recession, and respond to both the ecological crisis and the economic pain that drove many to vote for Trump. An Inconvenient Sequel—Al Gore’s latest documentary—never makes that case, opting instead for at-length explanations of glacial ice melts and the sausage-making behind international agreements. As both a film and a political treatise, its biggest problem might be just how much the story revolves around Gore and his outdated view of how politics work.
The 10-years-later follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth treads a lot of the same ground as the original: reflections on the former vice president’s life and political career punctuated by lots of PowerPoint presentations. But now he’s stepped into a new role: diplomat. Not an official one, of course—Gore hasn’t been formally involved in politics since he left the White House. But his exploits as a self-appointed environmental envoy get more screen time in this round than his graphs.
The main action of the film orbits around the Paris climate talks, the landmark UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations held in late 2015. As the main event nears and eventually kicks off, we follow Gore as he jet sets between meetings with everyone from then–Secretary of State John Kerry to members of the Indian government, a primary antagonist. One of the most dramatic scenes in An Inconvenient Sequel shows Gore making an 11th-hour call to then–SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive, whose company he profiled earlier. In the last days of the conference, Gore is trying to cajole Rive into granting India special financing to expand its renewables capacity, thus making it easier to move off of coal. It works, and the audience is led to believe the exchange convinced a skeptical Modi government to sign on to the agreement.
In this and other moments, the film offers a kind of West Wing theory of climate politics. If you have enough high-level conversations with enough high-rollers, the thinking goes, then eventually they’ll all come around to your way of seeing things, and change will proceed accordingly because our institutions are built to serve the public’s best interest. The most important thing is to have the truth on your side and the ability to muster a good argument.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the approach mirrors the campaign Hillary Clinton’s team ran last year. Democrats doubled down on showcasing Trump’s vulgarity to try to win, convinced that Americans would come to their senses if only they knew how depraved he really was. Likewise, Gore goes to great pains to point out the obscenity of the climate crisis. Fond of saying in recent press junkets that “every night on the evening news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations,” he plays the role of dutiful tour guide through a battery of disasters and sobering statistics.
He’s right about all this, of course: Extreme weather is killing more people every year, and warming forecasts seem to grow more bleak by the day. The simulations he presented us with 10 years ago have come to life.