[14 December 2006]
Those who recall the 2000 presidential election might well remember Al Gore the caricature. You know: the guy who invented the Internet (though he never actually said that, folks); the debate robot in Day-Glo orange makeup; the policy wonk given to odd phrases such as “lock box” while George W. Bush cranked out zingers about “fuzzy math.”
Thus, one of the biggest surprises of the DVD documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (Paramount Home Video, $29.99) comes not through its convincing message about global warming - vital as that is - but the portrait it presents of Gore the man. Here we see a father who nearly lost his young son; a person whose environmental passions date to his college days; a gifted orator with a Merlot-dry sense of humor befitting Garrison Keillor more than an android.
So what happened, Mr. Vice President? Why didn’t voters see that side of you back in 2000? Asked those questions, Gore acknowledged his team didn’t do a great job of communicating his humanity during the bitter election battle. “I think that people see candidates through a different lens, and that’s part of the difference here,” Gore said. “But there’s also a grain of truth to the old cliche that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and maybe I’ve gained a little strength in six years.”
In an interview that addressed topics ranging from the global warming issue to his prospects for another White House bid, Gore reflected the same laid-back but concerned demeanor he shows in the Davis Guggenheim film. It’s a movie I urge everyone to see, whether you wear Birkenstocks and make your own biodiesel or drive a Hummer and think recycling is a waste of your energy. The evidence Gore sites cites is overwhelming, the footage of snows vanishing from Mt. Kilimanjaro and polar bears drowning in once-icy seas enough to melt the hardest of hearts.
Q. Mr. Vice President, are you running for president in 2008?
A. I’m not planning to be a candidate again. I am planning to be involved in a different kind of campaign to help change peoples’ people’s minds, and hopefully that will result in influencing candidates on all sides. That’s my principal focus.
Q. So is it fair to say that you think global warming is the most important issue of all - ahead of, say, the war on terror?
A. That is certainly the way I think about it, and that is the way the scientists (who study climate change) think about it. It is certainly a challenge to the moral imagination because it is so big and so threatening. It is the issue. If we choose not to act, the consequences would be unthinkable. We need to awaken people to how high the stakes are. We have everything we need to solve the issue except the will to act - but that, too, as the movie points out, is a renewable resource.
Q. Speaking of the will to act - you talk in the movie about how Congress has refused to take global warming seriously in the past. With the dramatic turnaround in the November elections, do you expect the Democratic-controlled House and Senate to take action?
A. I do have extra hope in the wake of this election simply because the new committee chairs have a very different approach compared to the old chairs in the Senate and the House. The Senate Environmental Committee was chaired by James Inhofe of Oklahoma - who was one of the largest skeptics and backed by the big industry polluters. He’s now replaced by Barbara Boxer of California, who is a supporter of bold action to solve the crisis. It will still take time to solve, but we are moving in the right direction, finally.
Q. Can we expect to see you stumping on Capitol Hill for global warming legislation, or to chat up legislators?
A. I’ve already gotten some calls from congressmen and senators who wanted advice in putting together legislation, and in January I will be talking to quite a number of them to help inform them on this issue. Still, most of my attention will be focused on trying to change minds at the grassroots, at the public level. What we need is a critical mass of people involved.
Q. You’ve been tireless taking your global warming slide show on the road. Do you feel there’s been a change on that grassroots level - that people are finally starting to embrace this as a crisis that needs attention?
A. I’ve seen the beginnings of that sea change, not only in this country but around the world - but only the beginnings. If we continue to spread the word, we will pass a tipping point where people will demand action. But we are in a race with the crisis - which can also pass a tipping point, and we need to act before it does.
Q. The film sheds light on how Philip Cooney, President Bush’s chief of staff of on of the Council on Environmental Quality, was a former oil industry lobbyist who doctored government reports on global warming. When the news broke in 2005, he resigned and accepted a job at ExxonMobil. What was your reaction to that story?
A. I found it to be shocking, quite frankly. It’s one of the things that puzzles me, that there’s not more outrage about it. Allowing someone who is a shill for polluters and has no scientific training - allowing such a person to censor the scientists, who are trying to warn people of what their findings show - that’s outrageous, in my opinion. Bringing it to light is just a small part of the movie, but is part of why the truth about the climate crisis is not being disseminated to the people. Some of the polluters are spending millions of dollars to crank out pseudo studies to continue to confuse people. It’s a very cynical policy and should be stopped.
Q. When all is said and done, do you think the current Bush administration will be remembered as the worst regarding environmental issues and global warming?
A. Yes. But I must warn you that I’ve been warned that I’m beginning to lose my objectivity on President Bush. (Laughs) So with that caveat, enthusiastically, yes.