You can call me Al
Ex-US Vice-President Al Gore is on an urgent mission to save the environment. As the sequel to his 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth hits cinema screens, he tells Richard Godwin why we are at a tipping point
The interview had a rough start. “So, Mr Gore. If global warming is really a ‘thing’, as you keep claiming, how come it’s raining cats and dogs in the middle of August?” A look of alarm crosses the face of former Vice-President Al Gore. “Um,” he starts. “The variability in weather increases with the climate crisis ...”
I realise my little joke has fallen flat. I was just messing with you, Al. “Okay,” he smiles, still perplexed. I guess he has encountered so much of this sort of unreason in his career that he must perpetually be on dimwit patrol.
Gore (69), father-of-four, vegan, iWatch-wearer, Nobel peace prize winner and keynote jet-setter takes this stuff seriously.
For more than 40 years, he has been the single most prominent politician talking about climate change, first as Democratic representative for Tennessee, then as Bill Clinton’s Veep, then — after the Supreme Court awarded the knife-edge 2000 Presidential election to George W Bush — as a self-described “recovering politician”.
His 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth, based on the famous PowerPoint presentation he had given around the world, became an unlikely hit, widely credited with a paradigm shift on climate-change acceptance.
Now he is back with An Inconvenient Sequel, weeks after Trump helpfully pulled America out of the Paris climate agreement.
Gore feels there have been two big shifts since his first film. One is that climate-related extreme weather events have become more common and more destructive.
The movie relays terrifying footage of Tacloban City in the Philippines, devastated by the 2013 super-typhoon, as well as freakish floods in downtown Miami.
“Many more people are hearing what Mother Nature has to say, and it turns out she’s more persuasive than any of us activists,” Gore says.
The second shift is that the solutions are at hand: low-cost solar and wind power, electric cars, batteries, a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial one, reckons Gore.
It means that environmentalists no longer have to rely on dire apocalyptic warnings and guilt-tripping, but can offer a glimpse of a happier future. “Hope is essential — despair is just another form of denial.”
He was “disappointed” (if unsurprised) when he heard Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement. “I was apprehensive that other countries might use him as an excuse to pull out of the agreement,” he says. “But I was gratified that the rest of the world redoubled its commitment, while in the US a great many of our governors, mayors and business leaders said they were in, regardless of Trump.
“The reaction to Donald Trump has been very powerful and it has produced the largest upsurge in climate activism I’ve ever seen.”
The theme that Gore returns to repeatedly is that it is impossible to separate the climate crisis from the democratic crisis, in particular the malign influence of ‘special interests’ (big oil, big pharma, Wall Street, etc) over decision-making.
“It first became toxic when TV displaced newsprint as the dominant media and members of Congress needed to raise vast sums to buy TV commercials,” Mr Gore says. “That induced them to spend four or five hours every single day begging special interests and lobbyists and wealthy individuals for money.”
Did he have any consoling words for Hillary Clinton after 2016? “I talked to her after the election. She’s an impressive person and she’s going to be just fine.” But listening to Gore’s measured opinions on the evils of GDP as a measure of economic health, the need to reform capitalism, yawning income disparity between the one per cent and everyone else, it’s tempting to wonder about a Gore presidency.
What would have happened if the Supreme Court had ruled in his favour in 2000? No Iraq war? Electric cars everywhere? “If you can figure out a way to run the experiment, I’d be up for it,” he laughs.
He’s over it, at any rate. “I had already felt a pain much worse than the Supreme Court decision. As Churchill said about the Americans, they usually do the right thing having first exhausted every available alternative. I checked and there was no step between the decision and violent revolution, so I decided that the right thing was to respect the rule of law and get on with my life.”