Saturday, July 29, 2006

Global Warning

A couple of weekends ago I treated myself to an Armageddon double-feature: Almost-president Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed The Electric Car?, narrated by fictional president Martin "Josiah Bartlet" Sheen.

An Inconvenient Truth isn't the most visually stimulating film you'll ever see, that's for sure - it's basically a filmed PowerPoint presentation. Gore is generally funny and relaxed, and not all creepy as he was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly not too long ago. The stuff he has to say is terrifying, but, true to the American character, he's an optimist. The film ends with possibly the most rousing speech he's ever given: he pays tribute to human ingenuity and what we've achieved thus far, over pictures of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., suffragettes and the moon landing, among other things. I got pretty teary by the end of it.

What a kick in the teeth, then, to go see Electric Car right afterwards. A much funnier and more interesting film, it tells the story of the EV1, a fully electric (not hybrid) car that was actually on the market in California in the early 90s. But GM quickly recalled it, not even allowing those who'd leased the cars to buy them. There was nothing physically wrong with the cars, they were as fast and safe as any with an internal combustion engine. Their big drawbacks were the price and the fact that you couldn't, say, cross the country in one (their limit was about 60 miles per charge), but for an ordinary day's driving, they were just fine, and of course their price would have come down and their battery life gone up had GM continued to make them.

The point? After hearing Gore talk about humanity's limitless potential, it was a real comedown to show how humanity actually never misses a chance to fuck up. Electric Car blames Big Oil, the government, the car makers and consumer apathy and ignorance, among others, for the EV1's demise. Yeah. Humans are great.

As a call to action, Truth is infinitely the better film. The end credits, the most visually beautiful part of the movie, are interspersed with ideas on how you the viewer can make a difference. (One of the great things about Truth is that it shows there's no one cure all for our environmental problems - solving them will take many little steps. It's an approach that makes the problem seem at once more annoying to deal with and yet less insurmountable.) If you stay until the very end, you'll also see that the filmmakers offset the energy it took to make the film by buying credits that support renewable energy initiatives. It takes a whole hell of a lot of energy to make a film, even one that's as simple as Al Gore standing in front of a big screen. (As a film critic, I'm often horrified at the damage that's inflicted on the environment just to bring us, say, Grandma's Boy.) Electric Car, by contrast, only directs you to the film's website (linked above) although the site itself is very informative. One thing's for sure, after that weekend I gave up all thoughts of buying a Mini, much as I love them. I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't buy a hybrid. This is in the distant and unforseeable future when I can afford to buy a car.

As a side note, there was a piece in Friday's Globe and Mail's Real Estate section about Mattamy Homes, a building company that's got "green" model homes in Milton, Ontario, so that the public can see what they'd be getting if they chose to go green, and how much those features would cost them. I wish more companies would do stuff like this - as Who Killed the Electric Car? shows, consumer ignorance is as big an enemy as oil barons from Texas (or Alberta).


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