Hurricane Harvey is an inconvenience. Nobody’s said that, as far as I know, because the devastation caused by the flooding in the Gulf region around Houston is like something out of a horror movie. Oh wait, there is a movie out in theatres right now, except it’s not about Hurricane Harvey. It’s about the dangers of Global Warming–turns out there’s a strong connection. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power was officially released on July 28, just a month shy of the hurricane. It’s already disappearing from movie theatres, but I’ve seen it twice now–before and after Harvey–and I think Americans should ask for an encore at theatres across the country.
The 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar for Best Documentary. With that film, environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore introduced the phrase “Climate Change” to a lot of people around the world who’d never given much thought to this pesky problem (was it a problem? many wondered.) Since that time eleven years ago, even more scientists have started waving their hands in the air, shouting, yes, we’ve got a real problem here on Earth, but increasingly it’s become a divisive issue for Americans. Why is that? Maybe, in part, because Science is complicated. To understand it, you have to claw your way through strange concepts and exotic phrases. No. It turns out Climate Change can be explained in simple, common sense terms.
In the new documentary, Gore shows us a scene from the first film: an animated depiction of the 9/11 Memorial site (then under construction) filling with water from a storm surge made worse by rising sea levels attributable to Global Warming. Critics attacked that scenario as the most “ridiculous” of the entire film. Remember what happened afterwards? In 2012, Hurricane Sandy surged over the coastlines of NJ and NY and flooded the 9/11 site. At the time, New York Governor Cuomo called it “a wake up call” about Climate Change.
What causes flooding like nothing we’ve ever seen before? What causes sea levels to rise? For the last 150 years, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, our country has been fueled by coal, oil and gas. Other countries, of course, use them, too–most notably China and the European Union. Today this trifecta of fossil fuels is mainly responsible for the 110 million tons of heat-trapping chemicals released into the Earth’s atmosphere every day. The carbon traps the sun’s radiation. Most of this heat energy (93%) ends up in our oceans, the rest in the atmosphere. The world still has cold weather, of course, but it has more warmer days than it used to, and the warm-day temperatures keep trending up. Scientists say that warmer oceans cause more water to evaporate into the atmosphere. The buildup of moisture in the air contributes to the increase in extreme rainfall. And extreme rainfall is what we got from Harvey. The Texas flood zone was the size of New Jersey. Fifty inches of rain fell in less than four days. Rainfall from Harvey set a new record for the continental U.S.
As for the rising sea levels–you’ve heard the talk about ice caps that are melting at a much faster rate than ever before. Here’s one scene from the film I’ll never forget: Gore travels to Greenland during a recent unusually warm April. The camera follows, and we see pieces of glaciers exploding. We also see large patches of brown where there used to be sheets of blue-white ice. The drip, drip, drip of melting ice trickles into a stream and flows into a big hole. The force of the flowing water under the ice creates cracks in the glaciers, which is how they begin to break apart. A scientist in Greenland compares the ice mass to Swiss Cheese.
Other Memorable Scenes from the Film
*News videos of a typhoon that devastated part of the Philippines in 2013. Over 6,300 people were killed. Property damage was horrendous. The typhoon crossed ocean waters that were much warmer than usual
*News videos of massive flooding in the streets of Miami, New York, New Jersey and pre-Harvey Houston–all from storms in this century. (Miami is the #1 city in the world at risk due to rising sea levels)
*The behind-the-scenes drama leading up to the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015. Can you imagine getting 195 different countries to agree to anything?
In Paris, the central goal of the agreement was to use pre-Industrial temperature levels as a benchmark and keep the temperature rise in this century to less than 2 degrees Celsius above what they were back then. (Scientists say 2 degrees C (or 3.6 degrees F) is the tipping point for great risk to our planet.) That’s why the addition of “renewables”–wind and solar–are so important, and can help us cut back on the harmful emissions from the fossil fuels. Heading into Paris, India was not looking like it would sign the agreement. The country has 1.2 billion people and 300 million of them have no access to energy. India was getting ready to build 400 new coal-fired power plants, which could have erased all the progress the world has made to date. As India basically told Gore, you’ve had 150 years worth of fossil fuels to become a rich country; now we need them–talk to us in 150 years. India was not against using solar power but didn’t think they could afford it. Gore spent much of his time in Paris trying to broker a deal to get them a huge but cheap solar loan. Then, in early December, flooding paralyzed one of India’s largest cities–Chennai. It was the heaviest rains they’d seen in more than 100 years. Indian Prime Minister Modi travelled back to India from Paris. “We are feeling Climate Change’s fast-growing impact now,” he said, and India signed the Paris agreement. Out of 197 countries, only Syria and Nicaragua did not sign.
GEORGETOWN, TX, is a city about 30 minutes north of liberal-minded Austin. About 67,000 people live there. Towards the end of the film, Gore pays a visit to their mayor, Dale Ross, who tells him, “This is the reddist city in the reddist county in Texas, and I’m a conservative Republican.” He’s also a numbers guy, a CPA with “a duty to our rate payers.” Georgetown now uses 90% renewable energy–wind and solar–and soon they’ll be the first city in Texas to go 100% renewable. He says, “The less stuff there is in the air, the better it is. You don’t need scientists to tell you that.” As for other cities doing what Georgetown has done, he says, “We have a moral obligation to leave the planet better than we found it.”
Extreme flooding and storm surges–these aren’t the only dangers of Global Warming. Higher temperatures suck the moisture out of the ground and cause severe droughts. In Syria, a drought from 2006-2012 was the worst in 900 years, as far back as any records go. It displaced 1.5 million Syrians, many of them farmers. Vulnerable, miserable, desperate people: fuel to the civil war that broke out, and then ISIS showed up. Warmer temperatures also increase mosquito populations, but they also speed up the incubation rate of the Zika virus inside the mosquito, which can cause severe birth defects when the insects bite pregnant women.
The film will tell you so much more than you can read here. And it’s very watchable. Al Gore is no longer a politician, but he’s a man on a mission, a journey that started forty years ago when he was a young congressman. He’s passionate about our planet. He often gets discouraged, but he never gives up. When he’s angry, he’s eloquent, like when he imagines future generations looking back and asking, “What were you thinking? Couldn’t you hear what Mother Nature was screaming at you?” But, he also gives us reason to hope by showing us positive changes taking place around the globe.
As we all know, President Trump decided to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Perhaps, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, he might reconsider. And, even if the United States decides to zip-lock our borders, it’s clear that the Earth’s atmosphere knows no borders. We’re all in this together when it comes to Climate Change. One look at “The Blue Marble” is to know the truth.
“After the final no there comes a yes/and on that yes, the future world depends.” Al Gore quoting the poet Wallace Stevens, at the end of the film.