The 11th hour, directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, and narrated and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, picks up the environmental narrative where An Inconvenient Truth left off and improves and expands on it. Al Gore’s powerpoint presentation gives the audience the sense that global warming is the greatest crisis ever faced by mankind, but that it can be solved without any major lifestyle changes or restructuring of the economy. The 11th hour not only deepens the environmental narrative by showing how all of the earth’s ecosystems are in decline–forests, oceans, soil, climate, biodiversity, and so on–it also moves away from the laissez fare approach to the environment taken by Mr. Gore, whose message seems to be “stabilize emissions of CO2, but hands off the economy!” There are no easy answers in this documentary.
Making use of over 50 interviews with policy experts, environmentalists and scientists ranging from David Susuki to Paul Hawken, Stephen Hawking and Lester Brown, the 11th Hour presents the case that the entire planet is in trouble. Oceans are in decline. Forests are disappearing. Species are going extinct. Humans are losing their connection to nature. The quality of the topsoil all over the world is being degraded. The movie’s title, the 11th hour, is defined as “the last moment when change is possible.” Not only do we have a small window of time in which to act on global warming but, according to the movie, the time has come to rethink our relationship to the natural world. By broadening the scope of its ecological concern beyond the single issue of global warming, the film renders laughable the notion that hybrids and compact fluorescent light bulbs alone are going to save us.
The movie’s strength is that it appeals to the viewer on several levels. The opening sequence, a dramatic montage of images of both destruction and beauty, establishes the sense that we should protect the earth because earth is life and, therefore, sacred. Interview after interview–each one coming at us rapid fire, a barrage of information–builds on the argument that to destroy the systems on which we depend is to destroy ourselves. It is fundamentally an appeal to our reason: fix this problem or there will be grave consequences for us. And lastly, we are made to feel that the fixes provide us with an enormous opportunity to come together to do something great.
The movie doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the severity of ecological problems as well as the drastic changes that will have to be made. It boldly asserts that our present economic model is to blame, as is the psychology of our species. Thom Hartmann, NY Times best-selling author, says environmental issues are not the problem, “they are symptoms of a problem. The problem is the way we are thinking. The problem is fundamentally a cultural problem.” There is no easy, quick fix, but we must act quickly. The solutions offered are daring in that they require real action and engagement not only by politicians and corporations, but by everyone in all walks of life, because the problem is that far-reaching. What are these solutions? One interviewer suggests that we must first reconnect to nature and then apply our talents toward preserving it. William McDonough imagines a world where homes and buildings produce more energy than they use, clean their own wastewater and provide habitats on their rooftops. We see ultra-efficient hydrogen hypercars. Windmills. Solar panels. Tidal energy. Fungi that purify water. We learn that we will have to rethink how we live, how we get around, and how we do business. In other words, what we see is a bold vision of the future, and it is exciting.
The success of An Inconvenient Truth was a watershed moment because it combined the celebrity of Al Gore with the weight of the science he presented to bring global warming to the mainstream and make it a more important part of our political discourse. What it did not do, however, was give a sense of the scope of the crisis and the revolution that is needed to address the totality of ecological, cultural and social degradation. The 11th hour will not break box-office records because it does not give a black and white picture. The problems are deep and deeply rooted. The solutions are there, but not easy. This is precisely the kind of sober analysis that is needed, but I fear it’s not the message people want to hear. We can buy our way out of guilt with hybrids and carbon credits, but no amount of money can enable us to rethink the logic of our lifestyles. Manohla Dargis of the International Herald Tribune concludes her positive review of the 11th hour by saying
“Yes, it’s bad, but it’s not over yet. Many of those same sober talking heads also argue with equal passion that we can save ourselves, along with the sky above us and the earth below. . .It is our astonishing capacity for hope that distinguishes “The 11th Hour” and that speaks so powerfully, in part because it is this all-too-human quality that may finally force us to fight the good fight against the damage we have done and continue to do. As the saying goes, keep hope alive. . .”