Trewin Restorick asks if Al Gore's new initiative, 24 Hours of Reality, will make a difference
On 15 September Al Gore launched his new campaign 24 Hours of Reality, billed as 24 presenters, in 24 time zones, in 13 languages with one message. This new multimedia presentation connects the dots between recent extreme weather events and the man-made pollution that is changing the climate.
As Al Gore himself says: "The deniers may have millions of dollars to spend, but we have the powerful advantage. We have reality."
The presentation is everything that would be expected from Gore, and builds on the heritage of the Inconvenient Truth. Starting with a slightly awkward narrative construct of what life could be like on a utopian planet, the viewer is then bombarded with forceful images depicting extreme weather events around the world. It is not just the usual suspects of flooding, drought and hurricanes, added to the mix are wildfires and dust storms. The message is supported with the latest climate research showing the link between extreme weather and climate change.
Al Gore directly confronts the "Red Herring" climate sceptics by systematically picking away at their analysis and highlighting the taint of their financial backers – with a particular dig at the fossil fuel industries. You sense a cathartic release of years of anger and frustration, although his comparison with the tactics used by the cigarette companies feels a little tired.
Finally we get to the solution. This is an area where the Inconvenient Truth was relatively weak and which 24 Hours of Reality does little to redress. Gore focuses heavily on solar, wind and technical solutions rather than fundamental societal change.
24 Hours of Reality creates a compelling international narrative from one of the few people in the world who has the credibility, desire and influence to make the world listen. The question is, will it make a difference?
The beauty of the Inconvenient Truth is that it delivered an unfamiliar narrative so compellingly, authoritatively, and successfully that it became the first documentary to win two Oscars. The film had an immediate impact on influential leaders and can be seen as the catalyst for change in many companies – notably Marks & Spencer.
Five years on it is hard to see how using the same tactics will create such an impact. The climate change debate has been around long enough for people to start to take entrenched positions. It is likely that the slide presentation will reinforce this entrenchment. For supporters it will provide further conviction that more needs to be done, that the solutions are at hand and that inactivity is storing up significant environmental, social and financial problems for our children.
For the sceptics the international ambitions of the campaign opens it up to localised ridicule, and offers them plenty of entry points from which to pour scorn on the overall narrative. I can already see the emails about the images he uses of a virtually empty UK reservoir that this year is probably brimming at the seams. The heavy focus on wind farms will also be an open door for criticisms around cost, a pylon-pillaged countryside and security of supply.
There are, however, more tricks up Al Gore's sleeve this time around which might start to generate the global wake-up call he wishes to deliver. The first is the truly international dimension of the campaign. Of the 24 presentations, only two were in Europe (London and Istanbul). All the key emerging economies including China, India and Brazil had their own presentations delivered by local people personally trained by Al Gore.
This is part of an international network that Al Gore has been steadily training since the release of the Inconvenient Truth. There is now an army of presenters able to give the slideshow in their own countries and adapt the presentation so that it meets local needs. This enormously increases the chance that the messages will reach new audiences and gain traction. Their efforts are reinforced by a creative new media campaign that asks for people and organisations to donate their social media sites to 24 Hours of Reality, enormously increasing the reach and scope of the slideshow.
The other innovation is that in each country Al Gore's team has selected a national delivery partner to translate the need to act into something practical on the ground. Global Action Plan UK was selected as the UK partner and we will be using the slideshow as a catalyst to find more champions who are willing to drive change within their businesses, schools or local communities. We believe that the film will reinvigorate those who want to act, and we wish to make it as easy as possible for them to act effectively and rapidly.
The international network of presenters, the social media activities, and local delivery partners are a significant development from the days of the Inconvenient Truth and show a growing level of sophistication in Al Gore's strategy. These elements will inevitably fall under the media radar. I predict that the conversation will focus on the direct impact of the slideshow. This is already happening in the US where criticisms of the approach are already surfacing. This criticism might prove misjudged as the localised elements of the initiative start to have an impact.
What is certain is that the world needs people of Al Gore's commitment and influence to stand up and shout about the ever-growing global climate crisis.
Trewin Restorick is the chief executive of environmental advisory body Global Action Plan.
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