Deep in the Heart of Red Texas, Al Gore’s New Movie Discovers Climate Action

More than ten years after his original movie, An Inconvenient Truth, shattered illusions about climate change and served as a call to action for liberals, former US Vice President Al Gore’s latest film, An Inconvenient Sequel – which premiered on the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival on January 19 – shows that even conservatives in deep-red Texas have begun to take action, according to a January 20 report in The Christian Science Monitor.

In 2015, Georgetown, Texas – a mostly Republican town with a population of 55,000 –announced that it planned to generate all of its electricity from wind and solar. Georgetown then signed a power purchase agreement with SunEdison for 150 MW of solar power starting in 2016 and running through 2041. The new renewable power contracts signed by Georgetown provide electricity at a lower overall cost than its previous wholesale power contract did.

In an unforgettable scene in the new film, produced by Paramount Pictures and Participant Media, Gore travels to Georgetown, which is, per the city’s mayor, “a red city in the reddest county in the red state of Texas.”

Why did the red city go green? It just made economic sense, the mayor tells Gore of the motivations for the program. Plus, he says, don’t we have an obligation to leave the planet better than we found it?

Careful, Gore replies, lightheartedly, as reported by The Washington Post on January 20.  With that kind of talk, someone might mistake the mayor for a liberal. The two laugh, and then take a photo underneath a sign touting the Republican Party.

As Congressional hearings continue this week, during a time of unflinching partisanship, could the new movie influence hard-line climate skeptics to rethink their stance – including Rick Perry, President Trump’s candidate for Department of Energy Administrator?

“If Republicans were to see the film and internalize its messages, yes, I think the choice of Georgetown, Texas, might be effective in making them more agreeable to renewable clean energy,” wrote Jack Zhou, an instructor in Environmental Politics at Duke University who has studied the identity politics of climate change, in an email to The Christian Science Monitor.

In a 2014 study, Dr. Zhou asked 470 conservatives to read messages calling for action on the issue, the Monitor said.  He framed some of these messages in terms of economic growth or national security, often considered top Republican priorities.

But it did little to change respondents’ minds. When asked to look at information that clashed with their political beliefs, the study’s subjects were even more opposed to action on climate change. That response isn’t unique to the issue, or the party, Zhou told newspaper. “It’s just a natural reaction – people want to justify and defend their identities.”

But in the story of Georgetown, Texas, Zhou told The Christian Science Monitor that he sees a way out: Shift the focus from the problem to the solution. “Climate change is an extremely polarized issue on partisan and ideological lines, but renewable energy has mostly escaped that fate so far in public opinion,” he says.

 “They’re looking for a climate solution that fits with their values and that’s consistent with savvy business practices,” South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis (R-4th District) wrote in a December column for the Monitor. “Richard Nixon went to China. Bill Clinton signed welfare reform. Maybe Donald Trump can do climate change.”

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