As global warming becomes a shuddering reality the world over, humans’ ways of confronting the sticky issue range from impressively innovative to quirky-but-effective to downright ridiculous. Sadly, that may have been the most profound insight I took from The Great Warming, a documentary created by the Canadian company Stonehaven Productions, narrated by Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette, and to be shown in places of worship starting October 1st and released in theaters on November 3rd.

Essentially an 82-minute summary on the hows and whys of climate change, The Great Warming hardly provides us with any new information on the problem. In fact, it seems to simultaneously oversimplify—the direct connection between extreme weather and human influence, for example—and overcomplicate: do we really need to know exactly how a fuel cell works?

The producers quote plenty of well-meaning, thoughtful, and intelligent sources, yet they connect their comments and examples poorly. We go from the effects of El Niño on villagers in Peru to vacation homes falling off the beaches of Fire Island, New York to the rising numbers of asthmatic kids in the States.

At times, these comments are painfully obvious, though likely through no fault of the speakers. Jean Zigby, M.D. tells us that when we begin to see more extreme weather, the poor and infirm will be the first to go. No, really? The venerable R. James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, suggests there may be a connection between oil money and terrorism funding.

You don’t say!

Even worse, at times, The Great Warming plays directly into criticisms of environmentalists as one-sided and alarmist. It postures human beings as at odds with a perfectly balanced natural world, and it occasionally goes so far as to sensationalize facts that are shocking enough without dramatization. “It's not hard to imagine a future where crisis centers spend much of the year confronting forest fires and managing the impact of drought and disease on our forests, if any trees are left” ominously narrates Morissette. She played a better God in Dogma.

The misappropriation of funds and star power it took to produce this movie are disappointing indeed when compared to the number of climate-change issues that deserve elucidation. Honestly, at this historic moment, you’d have to be pretty out of it to think that climate change isn’t a reality, which seems to be the simple point of The Great Warming. The filmmakers would have far better spent their energy, for example, exposing exactly how some conservatives have cleverly transformed global warming from a science issue to a political issue.

All of my gripes aside, The Great Warming wasn’t a total loss. Filmed on four continents, it is a stunning visual assemblage of cultures and landscapes. And, admittedly, some parts were highly entertaining. Watching the charming players of “Climate Change—The Musical!” in Keene, New Hampshire, belt out lyrics on the evils of SUVs was priceless, as was considering the likelihood of installing 250,000 skyscraper-sized carbon-dioxide suckers across the nation.

More seriously, the most redeeming quality of The Great Warming is that its message is convincingly and admirably hopeful: We as individuals have the power to make changes in our own lives and effect changes in others’ lives to slow global warming. That is something that resonates with all of us. After all, if a rosy-cheeked Mongolian goat herder can install solar panels next to his hut in the desolate northern tundra, there may be hope for the rest of us, right?

Story by Kate Siber. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in September 2006.

Copyright Environ Press 2006

Not that great
The new documentary The Great Warming offers little new insight into climate change.