An Inconvenient Truth focuses on Al Gore and his travels in support of his efforts to educate the public about the severity of the climate crisis. Gore says, "I've been trying to tell this story for a long time and I feel as if I've failed to get the message across." The film documents a Keynote presentation (dubbed "the slide show") that Gore has presented throughout the world. It intersperses Gore's exploration of data and predictions regarding climate change and its potential for disaster with his own life story.
Gore begins the film by presenting several majestic photographs of the Earth taken from multiple space missions, Earthrise and The Blue Marble. Gore notes that these photos dramatically transformed the way we see the Earth; helping spark modern environmentalism.
Following this, Gore shares vivid anecdotes that inspired his passion for the issue, including his college education with early climate expert Roger Revelle at Harvard University, his sister's death from lung cancer and his young son's near-fatal car accident. Gore recalls a story from his grade school years, where a fellow student asked his geography teacher about continental drift; in response, the teacher called the concept the "most ridiculous thing (he'd) ever heard." Gore ties this conclusion to the assumption that "the world is so big is that we can't possibly have any lasting, harmful impact on the earth's environment." For comic effect, Gore uses a clip from the Futurama episode "Crimes of the Hot" to describe the greenhouse effect. Gore refers to his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 United States presidential election as a "hard blow" yet subsequently "brought into clear focus, the mission (he) had been pursuing for all these years."
The Pale Blue Dot, a Voyager 1 photo showing Earth (circled) as a single pixel from 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometres) away, is featured in the film. Al Gore points out that all of human history has happened on that tiny pixel, which is our only home.
In the slide show, Gore reviews the scientific opinion on climate change, discusses the politics and economics of global warming, and describes the consequences he believes global climate change will produce if the amount of human-generated greenhouse gases is not significantly reduced in the very near future. A centerpoint of the film is his examination of the annual temperature and CO2 levels for the past 650,000 years in Antarctic ice core samples.
The film includes segments intended to refute critics who say that global warming is unproven or that warming will be insignificant. For example, Gore discusses the possibility of the collapse of a major ice sheet in Greenland or in West Antarctica, either of which could raise global sea levels by approximately 20 feet (6 m), flooding coastal areas and producing 100 million refugees. Melt water from Greenland, because of its lower salinity, could then halt the currents that keep northern Europe warm and quickly trigger dramatic local cooling there. It also contains various short animated projections of what could happen to different animals more vulnerable to climate change.
The documentary ends with Gore arguing that if appropriate actions are taken soon, the effects of global warming can be successfully reversed by releasing less CO2 and planting more vegetation to consume existing CO2. Gore calls upon his viewers to learn how they can help him in these efforts. Gore concludes the film by saying, "Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will. But in America, the will to act is a renewable resource."
Gore's book of the same title was published concurrently with the theatrical release of the documentary. The book contains additional information, scientific analysis, and Gore's commentary on the issues presented in the documentary. A 2007 documentary entitled An Update with Former Vice President Al Gore features Gore discussing additional information that came to light after the film was completed, such as Hurricane Katrina, coral reef depletion, glacial earthquake activity on the Greenland ice sheet, wildfires, and trapped methane gas release associated with permafrost melting.
50,000 copies of the film were given away to teachers in the United States via the participate.net website between 18 December 2006 and 18 January 2007.
First documentary to win two Academy Awards.
In the documentary, Al Gore states the United States is one of two industrialized countries not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the other being Australia. On December 3, 2007 (inauguration day), more than a year after the documentary was released, the new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed the Kyoto Protocol.
The slide-show that is shown throughout the film is made in Keynote, Apple's presentation program. Al Gore sits on Apple's board of directors.
This is the first carbon-neutral documentary. NativeEnergy, which works with individuals and organizations to help them compensate for their contributions to global warming, calculated the "carbon footprint" from producing the film, including all travel, office, and accommodations related emissions. The company then offset emissions through renewable energy credits or "green tags from new renewable energy projects. Paramount Classics and Participant will split the cost of these tags; the funds will go towards helping build new Native American, Alaskan Native Village, and farmer-owned renewable energy projects, creating sustainable economies for communities in need and diversifying our energy supply. As Participant founder Jeff Skoll explains: "It would be ironic, not to mention wrong, if we added to the global warming that Al Gore warns about in his film. Plus, these renewable energy projects offer options that will decrease our demand for fossil fuels and otherwise would likely not happen without these kinds of investments." Participant, NativeEnergy and Warner Bros. partnered in a similar way on Stephen Gaghan's film, Syriana (2005), where 100% of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by the production were translated into investments into renewable energy. This follows on from the first "carbon neutral" film The Day After Tomorrow (2004), which director Roland Emmerich paid for out of his own pocket.
The comedic cartoon global warming PSA that is shown is from Futurama (1999). Billy West, the star of the show, also appears in this film as a voice actor.
The DVD case in which the film is packaged is made from 100% recycled cardboard.
Contrary to popular belief, Al Gore did not win the Academy Award for Best Documentary, even though he accepted it at the ceremony and gave the victory speech. However, he was only the star of the project, and did not direct or produce the feature (the award officially went to Davis Guggenheim, the director).
In Spain Zapatero's socialist government bought 30,000 DVD copies for schools.