The Academy Award-winning documentary that helped former Vice President Al Gore win a 2007 Nobel Prize is but a historical footnote for many Americans. For Lafayette resident Wei-Tai Kwok, "An Inconvenient Truth" was a call to action.
He remembers taking his wife, Violet, to see the film and worrying afterward about what future lay in store for his children, Shelley and Gareth, if its dire forecast of global warming was correct. He began reading volumes of material on the topic and digesting scientific reports until one conclusion was inescapable: Excessive greenhouse gas emissions are destroying the planet.
Kwok decided he had to do something.
That's why he was standing before a crowd of about 100 last week at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, detailing climate changes in the seven years since Gore's film that further support its conclusion. Education, he said, is the best way to enlist supporters to lobby government leaders to enact carbon emission policies.
Kwok, an executive with NRG Residential Solar Solutions, became a volunteer speaker for the Climate Reality Project -- founded by Gore in 2007 -- after paying his way to a three-day training session in Chicago in August. He was one of 1,200 in attendance who heard directly from Gore.
"There were people from every state and more than 50 countries," he said. "They were from Bangladesh, Turkey, Greece, South Africa. There were Buddhists, Jews, Christians, atheists. There were people of all colors focused on trying to solve this problem. It was so inspiring."
He said the attraction of the Climate Reality Project, which has trained 6,000 speakers worldwide, is its fact-based approach to a topic often prone to misinformation. ("The people who run the project are meticulous. Every slide is annotated with peer-reviewed articles.") That Al Gore heads the project is both its strength and weakness.
"The strength is that as vice president he had so much exposure on this topic and he had access to the best scientists in the world," he said. "His weakness is because he's such a prominent Democrat, it seems to make this a Democratic cause when it should be a bipartisan issue. It's not that way in other countries. Here, it gets skewed that somehow only Democrats want this."
Kwok notes that every national science academy now acknowledges man-made climate change. Still, there are disbelievers, and he thinks he knows the reason.
"It's a natural human reaction with something as awful as this just to say it can't be true," he said. "It's like someone saying you have cancer. You don't want to believe it."
His mission now is to reach those on the fence -- "Only about 10 percent are strong disbelievers; most people are in the murky middle" -- and persuade them to push government leaders for stronger carbon policies.
Until the United States leads this effort, he said, there's little chance that countries such as India and China will join in.
Kwok says his immediate focus is on his own community. He's pledged to give at least 10 presentations in Lamorinda this year (contact email@example.com if your group is interested).
"I look at this problem, and it seems so daunting," he said. "You wonder how much difference one person can make. But I feel an obligation to inspire my neighbors."
That night at the movies made quite an impact.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.