Monday, March 12, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

Leaving aside Florida (it will soon be underwater anyway) how on this fever-ridden Earth did Al Gore manage to lose his home state of Tennessee?

This film is as much about Gore the man, the career, as it is about one of the two big crises that are currently combining to screw up the end of history.

It is delicately poised between poignant retrospective and the work of a man that might just still fancy his chances as one of those middle of the road, reasonable-sounding revolutionaries destined to kick start a movement that will ultimately go on to devour him and all his kind.

The former next President of the United States and current advisor to the likes of Google and Apple is suddenly an It-bloke. He might yet become the first black...polo-neck wearing President of the US.

At the level of pure statistics, he makes his case well here, and with great humour. But he doesn't answer even half the questions that he throws up.

Americans like to admire the beauty of the Earth pictured from space and the beauty of their constitution and way of life. Everything in between is a problem to be contained, or ignored. So Gore's presentation offers America the chance to make a number of relatively painless adjustments in order to persist, and in so doing dodges its own even more inconvenient truths.

Along the way he raises the matter of human population growth in the Gore lifetime, driven largely by groups on the margin (and beyond) of the affluent world, that have successfully reduced the Malthusian pressures on their population levels using second hand cast-offs from our own technological advances. His "ethical imperative" appears to embrace not just generations that have yet to be born, but also generations that other, equally morally-sensitive people, might argue ought not to be born.

It is clearly not a perspective that addresses in any significant way the instabilities arising from the way that population, wealth and resources are structured in the world today. It's all about keeping the top spinning. As long as we cut down on business travel and recycle our pizza packaging we can preserve a global system that does very little to help lift the largest proportion of our fellow men out of their subsistence economies. (And God help us and our planet if they did!)

I was persuaded on all the superficial levels that Gore intends to persuade his audience, but there's a recalcitrant little vulcan in me that welcomes Global Warming. Nearing 40 and childless, I have an unfulfilled ambition to live in interesting times. A dose of controlled cataclysm seems oddly appealing. (It may for example deliver the kind of technological and societal leap forward that we used to only get from World Wars.)

What will it all mean for Freedom, broadly defined? In the short-term it seems that a great deal of pressure will fall on the individuals and their LCD TVs left on standby than on the intermediate structures that determine how we conduct large-scale agriculture and shipping for example. This may be experienced immediately as an increase in social control. Yet I have yet to make up my mind what Gore's graphs could mean for the future of personal freedom in the longer term. Perhaps these unborn generations that we seem to care so much about, will turn out to be the sort of people that are more completely aware of their overall footprint on this planet, not just in terms of CO2, but also in terms of how their socio-political choices help to determine the prospects of the planet's other living occupants.

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