Ah, summer in San Francisco. Breezy days, foggy nights, covering the children in paradoxical layers of sunscreen and fleece. But on an uncharacteristically balmy night recently, Tony and I headed out for the classic date: dinner and a movie. We choose our movies by showtime these days — late enough that we can eat a proper dinner first, not so late that we’re keeping the babysitter (and ourselves) up past bedtime. So on this unusually warm night, we wound up at an eight o’clock show of An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006).
Now, motherhood is full of inconvenient truths. The baby will poop as soon as you buckle him into the car seat. Your preschooler will throw up an hour before the babysitter is due to arrive. Your partner will work late the day you’ve hosted playgroup, driven carpool, baked cookies for the soccer team’s final game, and returned home with tired kids to a backed-up toilet and an empty refrigerator. With so many relatively minor yet truly crazy-making inconvenient truths filling your life, why would you pay good money to see a ninety-minute presentation of the staggeringly inconvenient truth of global warming?
Because when you become a parent, you make an implicit commitment to the future. And while most of us know that global warming is a problem, we might not realize how urgent a problem it is before watching this dramatic presentation of photos, facts and figures. Think of it this way: when your child says she feels sick, you stop what you’re doing and get a thermometer, some Tylenol, and a cool washcloth. Well, the earth’s got a fever and it’s time for us to do something about it.
I wasn’t looking forward to this movie; seeing it seemed necessary, though, like immunizing my children. But the movie is surprisingly painless. It’s an entertaining mix of Al Gore’s stage presentation to audiences around the world and background material about his life, from lessons learned on his family farm in Tennessee to his reaction to his son’s long childhood hospitalization, interspersed with shots of him backstage with audience members or traveling to remote locations to meet climatologists. It’s frequently moving, occasionally funny, never boring.
Of course, it’s hard to watch without aching for what could have been if not for those hanging chads. Still, Gore seems to have moved on and we should, too. After all, there’s work to be done.
Global warming is real, and it’s already affecting our lives. Last summer’s Hurricane Katrina killed nearly two thousand people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. In the summer of 2003, heat waves in Europe claimed at least 35,000 lives. Ten of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last fourteen years. Cities that were sensibly founded at cooler elevations, above the mosquito line, are no longer above that line, allowing the spread of malaria into congested populations. Around the world, weather extremes are becoming the norm: rainy seasons are getting rainier, dry seasons are getting drier. I sat in the theater in my sundress and sandals, absorbing this information and thinking back to our unusually rain-drenched spring. Climate change typically happens in long cycles, but the film’s alarming graphics and one brief physical comedy bit from the dryly funny, self-deprecating Gore demonstrate convincingly that those cycles are getting shorter. Even I, a sleep-deprived mom, take note when my youngest has gone so long without wearing his sweatshirt that he’s outgrown it.
A frog, the film’s goofy animated graphic reminds us, will jump out of a pot of boiling water, but if you put that frog in cool water and add heat, well, it’ll just sit there and boil to death. That’s what’s happening to us right now–we’re just sitting in the water, getting hotter and hotter. And it needs to stop. We need to clean up the mess we made. We tell our children this every day: you need to clean your room, wipe your butt, brush your teeth. Learning this is part of growing up, and we’re not good parents if we don’t practice what we teach.
You also learn as a parent that little changes can make a big difference. My family life improved dramatically when we taught Eli to sleep with one of us sitting nearby, rather than leaning over the crib patting his back. Small steps can help stop global warming, too, and the film’s elegant presentation of these important acts moved me to tears for their simplicity. Unplug your cell phone charger when you’re not using it. Replace light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Take public transit, bike, or walk more often. Knock your thermostat down two degrees in winter, and up two in summer. Vote for change. Teach your children to turn out the lights when leaving a room. Explain that carpooling to school isn’t just fun, it’s good for the environment. Ask them to help sort the recycling.
The convenient truth is that people make an impact on the planet; it’s time now to make it a good one.
For more information: An Inconvenient Truth: Climate Crisis
Calculate your carbon dioxide output: Carbon Calculator
If everyone lived like me, we’d need 3.7 planets; to see how many planets your lifestyle requires, and how to lessen your global impact, take the