Promise of the Reel

It’s only fitting that Politico’s outstanding story on ExxonMobil’s panic over the effort to hold the fossil-fuel giant legally accountable for its chicanery on climate change was published just two weeks before the tenth anniversary of the release of An Inconvenient Truth, the Oscar-winning Al Gore documentary about the international climate crisis. Were it not for that documentary, and the climate movement it sparked, ExxonMobil would not be facing justice today.

I watched An Inconvenient Truth for the first time five years ago, and by the time the film concluded I was filled not with hope but with rage–contempt for the political and economic forces that had blocked action on carbon pollution for decades, anger at the machinations of the five Supreme Court justices who robbed Gore of the Presidency, hostility towards the right-wing pundits who turned Gore and his cause into a punchline. Like Fahrenheit 9/11, An Inconvenient Truth fills viewers with righteous fury–and encourages those viewers to turn their anger into political action.

A compelling case can be made that An Inconvenient Truth helped to put Barack Obama into the White House. In his famous address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama didn’t even mention the climate crisis. However, Gore’s film forced climate change into the top level of American political discussion–and Obama soon realized that the electorate demanded an end to what he would later call ”the tyranny of oil.”

Eight years ago, after securing the Democratic presidential nomination, then-Senator Obama declared:

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment…when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal…

Those words–and Obama’s historic actions as President (rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline, implementing the Clean Power Plan, striking a climate deal with China, and working to secure an international climate agreement in Paris) were inspired by the vision Gore articulated in An Inconvenient Truth, the vision of a healthy and just future for our children and grandchildren if we mobilized and demanded bold action to combat carbon pollution. Considering the international movement it inspired, it’s hard to argue against the idea that An Inconvenient Truth is the most influential documentary ever made.

ExxonMobil wishes that documentary didn’t have the impact it did. A decade ago, the idea of ExxonMobil facing legal scrutiny for its efforts to deceive the public about the danger posed by human-caused climate change would have been considered a left-wing fantasy. Now, that idea is reality.

ExxonMobil knew that Al Gore was telling the truth all along. ExxonMobil knew that its product was putting the planet in peril…and today, ExxonMobil knows that without the movement Gore inspired, the company would have been able to escape justice.

Gore deserves international praise for leading this fight against the falsehoods of the fossil-fuel industry. It’s hard to ask this statesman to do any more, but I do wish he had made sequels to An Inconvenient Truth at two-year intervals, keeping the world up to date on the latest science and doing the job mainstream media entities often fail to do in terms of chronicling climate chaos. I also wish he could have done more to cover the climate crisis on his now-defunct cable channel, Current TV. However, what he did do should never be forgotten. He told the whole truth, and nothing but.

UPDATE: More from 350.org, DeSmogBlog, Peter Sinclair and Peter Frumhoff. Plus, Gore’s June 2006 interview with my former radio colleague Betsy Rosenberg.

SECOND UPDATE: From DeSmogBlog.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.