The Other "Inconvenient Truth"
This last Thursday night, I offered the following remarks to over 400 citizens in Keene as part of an Antioch University-sponsored panel discussion following a showing of Al Gore's new movie An Inconvenient Truth:
THE OTHER "INCONVENIENT TRUTH"
Watching Al Gore's new movie “An Inconvenient Truth” reminds me of a scene in a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster a few years back. It was a military courtroom drama called “A Few Good Men.” In one climactic scene, Tom Cruise turns to Jack Nicholson, who is on the witness stand, and shouts, “Just tell me the truth.” Nicholson’s character jumps up and shouts back, “The truth? The truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
I think that’s where we are today. How are we going to handle the hard truth shown in this documentary--that, because of our massive burning of fossil fuels over the last century, we are now in an accelerating and very dangerous period of global climate change. I'm not even sure the phrase global warming does justice to this situation, or even the term global climate change. What we are really talking about is worldwide local climate disruption, with increasingly severe and almost unimaginable consequences.
As Al Gore suggests in this movie, if we are really going to handle this hard truth, we are going to have to help our households, our businesses, our governments, and the international community adopt a hugely ambitious set of policy changes. First, we need to implement policies at the local, regional, national, and global level that will result in the highest levels of energy conservation. Second, we'll need to implement policies at all levels that will result in a rapid shift away from fossil fuels towards safe and renewable energy sources. Finally, we will need to implement a variety of policies that strengthen our emergency preparedness and redesign our public and private infrastructure in order to minimize the damage and death toll when severe weather events or other kinds of climate disruptions occur.
The magnitude of these changes is staggering and in many ways unprecedented. How are we possibly going to make this shift happen? It is at this point that I think Gore's documentary actually soft-peddles a very hard truth about what we need to do to end our industrial addiction to burning fossil fuels. I sensed this timidity especially in the closing credits. As much as I liked all the personal life style changes suggested at the end of the movie, I’m absolutely convinced that just switching to eco-friendly lightbulbs, buying local food more often, and walking and riding our bikes more is not going to get us all the way to where we need to go. Even the couple of suggestions the movie makes about voting regularly or writing letters to our elective officials is not going to be enough—especially when not all our votes are counted and thousands of people of color are repeatedly pushed off the voting rolls in states like Florida and Ohio.
The inconvenient truth not highlighted much in the movie is that we don’t just need a power shift away from fossil fuels to renewables. We also need a power shift away from a government that has become a corrupt, elitist, corpocracy toward one that is much more of, by, and for the people—and the common good. By the word “corpocracy,” I mean a government that is increasingly of, by, and for corporations, and especially dominated by Big Oil, Big Coal, and the Military-Industrial Complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about 50 years ago. As long as corporate giants like Exxon-Mobil write our nation’s energy policy, bribe our elected officials, pay for their electoral campaigns, and spend millions in a cynical PR effort to make people doubt the factual case for climate change, we will be blocked from making many of the long-term reforms and policy changes needed to address global climate disruption.
We need to face the inconvenient truth that our government has been captured by powerful corporate interests, many of whom will do everything in their power to resist a positive policy approach to global climate change. Life style changes, voting every four years, and writing letters to our representatives are all very needed, but these basic acts of civic virtue are not enough. Many more of us also need to become intensely politically active, volunteer with progressive activist organizations, and build a social movement even more powerful than Gandhi’s Independence Movement in India, or the 1960s US Civil Rights Movement, or even the Polish Solidarity Movement that helped bring down the authoritarian Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The task ahead is simply of this magnitude.
It may be an inconvenient truth, but I am convinced that we are going to have to draw on our country’s inspiring revolutionary tradition of intense citizen activism, sacrifice, and courage and go up against powerful corporate interests in the years ahead. We are going to have to learn to work together to take our country back and put it on a path towards sustainability, justice, and democracy. I think one of the key questions before us all then, is “Can we handle this inconvenient truth?”