May 25, 2006

Gregg Easterbrook Takes On "An Inconvenient Truth"

This is interesting:


An Inconvenient Truth comes to the right conclusions about the seriousness of global warming; plus we ought to be grateful these days for anything earnest at the cineplex. But the film flirts with double standards. Laurie David, doyenne of Rodeo Drive environs, is one of the producers. As Eric Alterman noted in the Atlantic, David "reviles owners of SUVs as terrorist enablers, yet gives herself a pass when it comes to chartering one of the most wasteful uses of fossil-based fuels imaginable, a private jet." For David to fly in a private jet from Los Angeles to Washington would burn about as much petroleum as driving a Hummer for a year; if she flew back in the private jet, that's two Hummer-years. Gore's movie takes shots at Republicans and the oil industry, but by the most amazing coincidence says nothing about the poor example set by conspicuous consumers among the Hollywood elite. Broadly, An Inconvenient Truth denounces consumerism, yet asks of its audience no specific sacrifice. "What I look for is signs we are really changing our way of life, and I don't see it," Gore intones with his signature sigh. As he says this, we see him at an airport checking in to board a jet, where he whips out his laptop. If "really changing our way of life" is imperative, what's Gore doing getting on a jetliner? Jets number among the most resource-intensive objects in the world.

This raises the troubling fault of An Inconvenient Truth: its carelessness about moral argument. Gore says accumulation of greenhouse gases "is a moral issue, it is deeply unethical." Wouldn't deprivation also be unethical? Some fossil fuel use is maddening waste; most has raised living standards. The era of fossil energy must now give way to an era of clean energy. But the last century's headlong consumption of oil, coal, and gas has raised living standards throughout the world; driven malnourishment to an all-time low, according to the latest U.N. estimates; doubled global life expectancy; pushed most rates of disease into decline; and made possible Gore's airline seat and MacBook, which he doesn't seem to find unethical. The former vice president clicks up a viewgraph showing the human population has grown more during his lifetime than in all previous history combined. He looks at the viewgraph with aversion, as if embarrassed by humanity's proliferation. Population growth is a fantastic achievement—though one that engenders problems we must fix, including inequality and greenhouse gases. Gore wants to have it that the greener-than-thou crowd is saintly, while the producers of cars, power, food, fiber, roads, and roofs are appalling. That is, he posits a simplified good versus a simplified evil. Just like a movie!

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