How "An Inconvenient Truth" Expanded the Climate Change Dialogue and Reignited an Ethical Purpose in the United States
Johnston, Laura W.
Ruf, Frederick J.
This thesis analyzes the impact of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, released in the United States in June 2006, which featured former vice president Al Gore discussing the causes, urgency and moral obligations of climate change. The film, which was published as a book by the same name, used PowerPoint slides of statistical models, photographs of melting glaciers, animation, and a personal narrative by Gore to communicate the science of climate change and to invite viewers to relate to the personal responsibilities of the warming planet.Before the film, climate change in the U.S. was largely a debate about the scientific proof and partisan politics of the issue, whereas afterwards it evolved into an issue of ethical concern. In recent years, the public's understanding and awareness of global warming has risen so that the majority of Americans say they agree with the world's leading scientists that the planet is warming due to humanity's burning of fossil fuels and is a responsibility of ours to fix. While the response is attributable to many factors, research and data show that unlike any work or event before it, the film was a turning point for shifting America to think and act more consciously about the warming climate.Chapter 1 focuses on the history of the environmental movement in the U.S.; chapter 2 discusses five events which preceded the film's release--Hurricane Katrina, the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq which were growing in size, scope, duration and death tolls, President George W. Bush's low approval ratings, Gore's evolving image as scientifically credible voice and a stable national economy--and opened a window for the message to be noticed; chapter 3 discusses the ethical message of the film; chapter 4 discusses public perceptions and behaviors in political, media, university, corporate and philanthropic circles in the years after the film, the post-An Inconvenient Truth era. The paper's conclusion acknowledges that Americans' opinions and behaviors vary based on age, political persuasion, socioeconomic class and education levels. It also recognizes that there is often still a disconnect between the expressed opinions and the behaviors of many Americans. In light of these challenges, this thesis looks to learn from the consciousness put in motion by the film and other timely events, and offers insights into what is needed to maintain and encourage such ethical reflection moving forward.
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