Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth" (Photo: Eric Lee, Copyright © 2006 by Paramount Classics)
Al Gore is looking to leverage the success of his film, "An Inconvenient Truth," by cloning himself. Well, not really. He's training more than a thousand people to give the slideshow presentation on global warming he gives in the movie. Living on Earth's Jeff Young sat down with Al Gore to ask him about his efforts to change the climate of public opinion.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts- this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.
Democratic candidates are already jockeying for positions in the 2008 presidential race, but not Al Gore. He says he’s committed to a different kind of campaign, combating global climate change. Gore’s documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth," created a sensation last year, and it may well pick up an Academy Award nomination this year. And now he’s hoping to capitalize on the movie’s momentum recruiting an army of volunteers to take the message of his film into communities around the country.
[PEOPLE MILLING AROUND A CONFERENCE ROOM]
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth’s Jeff Young recently caught up with Al Gore in Nashville, Tennessee, where the former Vice President was rallying his troops.
MAN: Ok let’s get started
[CROWD SETTLES DOWN]
YOUNG: It’s just before eight in the morning and some 200 people from around the country file into a conference room at the Hilton hotel in downtown Nashville. They’re coffeed-up and loaded down with handouts and books on climate science—oh and slides, lots of slides. They’re here to learn how to be Al Gore—or at least how to present Gore’s strangely compelling slide show on global warming.
GORE: This is gonna be the slide show pretty much as I give it. It changes and evolves over time. Unfortunately, the evidence has all pointed in the same direction.
YOUNG: That direction leads to what Gore calls a climate crisis. He paces the room pointing out how the slide show’s clever mix of images gets across complex ideas.
Just behind him, Dr. Richard Alley strokes his beard and then speaks up. Alley, a climate scientist from Penn State University, makes sure the message stays true to the science.
ALLEY: If Mr. Gore and I quibble about anything here you should recognize the science of what you have just seen is remarkably solid. We can argue around the edges of everything, but the basic message is right.
GORE: I could quibble with that but, basically, thank you.
YOUNG: Alley fields a question about how long different greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere. That leads to another question about emissions from industry versus those from agriculture.
GORE: One of the judgments I’ve made as a result of all that is that it doesn’t help us to talk too much about cow farting.
YOUNG: A little humor helps after hours of dire predictions of sea level rise, drought and flood. During a break, Gore sat down with me to explain why he thinks a thousand people giving a slide show can help prevent those disasters.
GORE: I’m giving them my slides so they can present them in their voices, connect them to their own passion for trying to save the global environment and the first two classes I trained have already collectively given my slide show more times as a group than I’ve been able to give it personally in 15 years. So that’s great.
YOUNG: What is it you want the people who get this message to do? What’s more important: the personal consumption choices about energy or the political choices that they might make based on, say, a candidate or platform that addresses this issue?
GORE: Well I don’t think they’re separate. When people see the reality of it and reach a conclusion that this is a moral issue and we have to change. First of all, they want to make changes in their own relationship to the problem. But when people take personal actions that leads inevitably to their desire to have changes in policies. They begin to communicate with their representatives at the local, and state, and national level. They say, look, “I’ve made these changes in my life and, you know, I want you to work for changes in policy and I think that they’re linked together.”
Living on Earth's Jeff Young and Al Gore.(Courtesy of Jeff Young)
YOUNG: I know at the end of the film, for example, as the credits roll there are all these things you can do—which gave it a sort of uplifting spirit. But I was wondering, ok, I can drive a hybrid car, take mass transit, use fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs, etc, etc. What difference does it make if China is still gonna build a coal fired power plant a week?
GORE: Well, the world as a whole must respond to this and will respond to it, but it’s more likely to respond more quickly when the US provides leadership. And when enough American citizens become part of this new critical mass of opinion and the US changes policy, then it becomes much more likely that China will make the changes it has to make. And we’re all in this together.
[PEOPLE MILLING ABOUT]
YOUNG: Gore’s trainees include some top scientists and policy-makers and a smattering of celebrities. Actress Cameron Diaz was even here. But they’re not all from latte-sipping, blue-state America. There are southern accents and western boots here, too—people who can talk about global warming in places where Al Gore might not get a very warm welcome. People like Gary Dunham, a retired advertising executive from Houston.
DUNHAM: I accompanied my wife to Washington DC for a convention she is an officer in the DAR. She had a lot of busy things to do I had time on my hands and I went to see Al Gore’s movie. By the way I didn’t vote for him, I went as a skeptic. And it knocked me for a loop. I became a believer.
YOUNG: Now DAR, that’s Daughters of the American Revolution, they’re like some radical, out-there, left wing group, right?
DUNHAM: Well, no my wife would not agree with that—very patriotic group.
I actually put the program together for my wife to use with the DAR. I said honey, I’m gonna make you a program that’s gonna really get someone’s attention, and we did. And that’s where I first started giving the program, was to DAR chapters.
YOUNG: That’s right: the Daughters of the American Revolution are getting the global warming message. And so will churchgoers in Prattville, Alabama, hunters in Imperial, Pennsylvania, and—attention Wal Mart shoppers in Laramie, Wyoming—Christina Quick in eye care can also tell you about climate change.
QUICK: I’m an optician I work for Wal Mart. So this is kind of a new experience for me I’m jumping in kinda feet first. And I’m common Joe, kinda, on the street. And I think that’s a good thing because I think that I’m going to be able to go back and tell them something on a level they’ll be able to understand. So I’m excited about that.
YOUNG: And why does it matter so much to you? This has got to be not so easy, to do all this travel and take time out from your life?
QUICK: Mainly, my youngest is two years old and how can you be a good parent if you’re contemplating leaving them a world that may not be anything to look at. There might not be much left.
[AMBIENT SOUNDS FADE]
YOUNG: It’s a point Gore returns to repeatedly in our conversation—the moral aspect of climate change.
GORE: This really shouldn’t be approached as a political issue. It has political dimensions; some of the solutions require action within the political system. But ultimately it’s a moral issue, it’s an ethical issue, it’s almost a spiritual issue because it affects our survival: who are we, what is our moral responsibility to those who come after us? And the issue of how we solve it, how we can most effectively address it, we should debate that and talk about it. But what should change is the efforts of some who are intentionally trying to delay any reasoned debate by confusing the scientific evidence with, by putting out smokescreens and sort of pseudoscientific studies. I want to see the creation of a new political reality in America where the candidates in both political parties are competing among themselves to carry that mantle and to offer genuinely effective solutions. That’s really the change that’s needed.
YOUNG: If I’m a politician listening to you saying this I might say, well, why didn’t he do more when he was in office? If this was such a passionate issue for him, he had eight years as Vice President, what did he accomplish on climate change?
GORE: Well, it’s a fair question and I tried my best and I learned in the process that the opposition to the kind of dramatic changes that are needed is so deep and so ingrained that it may well be that the only way to bring about the kind of policy changes that are needed is to first of all bring about the changes in public opinion that make it possible for political leaders in both parties to do what’s necessary.
I’ll give you an example—I went to Kyoto and helped to bring about the breakthrough that achieved the treaty there. But as Vice President when I brought that treaty back home to the United States. I could only convince one senator out of 100 to ratify it, the late Paul Wellstone. And it’s not that the other senators didn’t care or weren’t intelligent, none of that. It’s just that they looked at the state of opinion in their constituencies, in their home states, and what they found was, a situation where they felt that it was sort of beyond the pale, beyond the possibility to imagine supporting something like that without suffering real electoral consequences. So one of the things I learned from that experience had to do with the need to go to the grassroots level and change public opinion to the maximum extent possible. And the good news, again is that these changes are beginning to take place. I hope they’ll be speeded up and take place in time and I believe that they will.
YOUNG: The training sessions are his effort to bring that about. But some see another possible use for this nationwide network. It’d certainly come in handy if someone wanted to, mmm, run for national political office.
[SOUNDS OF A BUSY HALLWAY]
YOUNG: Should Al Gore run for president again?
DUNHAM: God, I hope so. If I could vote twice I would.
CODY: I absolutely think he should run for president again.
FRANK: I would be ecstatic if he ran again.
GORE: It’s nice when someone says that they think that about me and I do appreciate that. But I do not have any plans or intentions or expectations of it. I’ve fallen out of love with politics. (laughs) I’m not hungering to ever be a candidate again and really do not anticipate any circumstances under which I would be. But again, I’m involved in a different kind of campaign. It’s an effort to try to persuade people about why and how, we must rise to the challenge, the most serious challenge our civilization has ever faced. And that’s the focus of my efforts.
YOUNG: This month Gore met his goal of training a thousand people to give his presentation. He leaves them with some 300 slides and a quote from Ghandi: “Become the change you wish to see in the world.”
For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Nashville.
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