Thursday, September 28, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth (Film review)

Last night's Orange Wednesday trip was to see Al Gore's environmentally friendly film 'An Inconvenient Truth'. It's well made, and the content is interesting at best and outright scary at worst.

The film does a good job of reminding us of the things which, in the back of our minds, we know and yet we so often try to ignore.

We have an impact on the world in which we live

Can this be denied? I don't think so. 'Carbon' (ie. CO2) levels in the Earth's atmosphere are continually rising - and way above any natural fluctuation, as Mr. Gore so eloquently demonstrates (including the use of his elevator to emphasise the concept of being 'off the scale'). This is either due to global industrialisation or some natural event that has not occured in the past 60,000 years (which is as far back as the Antarctic ice record goes).

On top of this one should also pause to consider general consumption of raw materials - every time we use and then discard an item it is usually thrown into a landfill pit. Unless future generations find a way to 'mine' materials from these pits we are reducing the future availability of all these natural resources. Yes, there's a lot of iron, or coal, or oil in the world. But can we consume it as we are for another 500 years? Or 100 years? Or 20 years? At what point do we need to reconsider our habits and try to live in a more sustainable way?

It is our moral obligation to minimise our footprint

Gore's stance in the film is an interesting one. He tries to remove partisan lines and emphasise that these are not political issues, but moral ones. Without change now, there may be no comfortable life for our grandchildren, or possibly our children - or even for our own old age. Monetary gain can never be balanced against the Earth itself, especially not short-sighted profiteering.

On the individual level we should try to take the steps we can - and here the film was sadly lacking in detail. In summary, though, I think the main steps are:

  • drive less,

  • fly less,

  • offset carbon when you do fly or drive (by paying organisations like The Carbon Neutral Company or the World Land Trust to plant trees that absorb CO2),

  • use energy saving light bulbs from ebulbshop for example,

  • use a green energy suppier (e.g. npower 'Juice'),

  • insulate your house,

  • buy produce that hasn't been flown half way around the world,

  • minimise energy use and

  • recycle when you can.

Yes, these things can cost money. And yes, they can be a pain in the backside. But they are things we all know that we ought to do - so what excuse are we hiding behind?

Change can be very fast

In the film there were also some well presented illustrations that change is not always on the geological timescale of millenia. Whole ice shelfs can collapse into the sea in a matter of weeks, once weakened. And, unfortunately, some of the most important ecological systems for regulating temperature at current levels (such as the north atlantic current, or 'conveyor') are positive feedback systems. This is not a good thing!

It means that change in these systems accelerates further change. For example, as arctic ice melts there is less ice to reflect sunlight back into space, so the water gets warmer and the remaining ice melts faster. So the question is - when do we choose to act? When the snows of Kilimanjaro are all melted? There's only a sliver of glacier left. When 10,000 year old ice shelfs of Antarctica start falling into the sea? They already have. When the Arctic ice disappears? There's less than half now than there was 50 years ago. When atmospheric CO2 is at a higher level than at any point in the past 60,000 years? It already is - and climbing fast.

Surely we have enough warning signs already? It must be time to take some form of action. Act on a personal level. If you own a company, try to make the company as socially and environmentally responsible as you are yourself. If you are employed, ask your employer to make the company carbon neutral. If you believe in politics, lobby your MP. If you believe in a higher power, pray.

In the film Al Gore mentions that it is easy to flip from denial to despair and then use this as your new excuse for non-action. Is despair your new excuse or is it time to do what we can?