Yet as the film’s long-awaited sequel, “An Inconvenient Sequel,” opens across the country this week — including the Connecticut premiere at Yale on July 28 — there is an opportunity to engage millions of Americans, says Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
In an interview, Leiserowitz, whose “Global Warming’s Six Americas” research has examined how different audiences within the public respond to this issue, says that about 9 percent of Americans will likely remain “dismissive” of climate change regardless of what the film presents. But if the story is told well, the film could engage many other Americans.
“Most people just don’t know much about the issue and some are skeptical about it because of political reasons,” Leiserowitz said. “But they’re not opposed to having a constructive conversation. That’s part of the complicated political and cultural landscape in which this new film lands.”
On July 28, New Haven will be one of several U.S. cities to premiere the new film. The screening will begin at 6 p.m. at the Yale School of Management, 165 Whitney Ave. After the screening, Leiserowitz and Kalee Kreider, UN Foundation senior climate advisor and former communications director for Gore, will give brief remarks and answer questions.
Tickets are available through EventBrite. (The film premieres at BowTie Cinemas on August 3.) The event is hosted by YPCCC, the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, and the Citizens' Climate Lobby of Greater New Haven.
Here is the interview.
Q: Many Americans are familiar with the story of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and its impact on American audiences. What story is he telling with his new film, “An Inconvenient Sequel”?
I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t fully know. However, my understanding is that it provides an update on how the climate has changed in the decade since the first film was released. I believe it also includes a much greater emphasis on solutions.
In the first film there were basically two stories. One was about climate science and climate change — the famous Al Gore slideshow. The other was Al Gore’s personal story: the story of a leading politician who came from a tobacco-growing family in Tennessee, interwoven with what the tobacco industry had done to create doubts about the impacts of smoking and how those same principles were adopted by the fossil fuel industry to confuse the public about climate change. It was more a biopic than a science documentary. Yet “An Inconvenient Truth” did not talk much about solutions, and it received a lot of criticism for that. It focused on the gravity of the problem and some of the worrying aspects of the problem without providing a complementary sense of what we can do about it. In this film, I hope Gore will highlight what people around the world are doing, what policymakers have done, what companies are doing.
This is important because our research has shown that there’s a “hope gap”; even among those Americans who are most alarmed about climate change – they often don’t know what to do about it. I hope that this film will help fill in that knowledge gap.
Q: So often we hear that simply sharing horror stories — or for that matter, focusing simply on scientists and other talking heads — just isn’t an effective way to convince people of the urgency of the problem.
It’s important to think in terms of audience. First off, I would actually disagree that scientists talking about climate change or communicating the science of climate change simply doesn’t work. That’s not true — it can’t
be true. You and I are talking about the issue right now; most people in the US have heard of and know at least a little about the issue; some climate policies have been enacted, and the world just signed an international agreement to limit global warming. Yet most communication about climate change to this point has been dominated by the discourse of science and policy and economics. So you can’t say that it doesn’t work at all.