Interview with Al Gore
- Fw: [CCG]
---------- Forwarded Message ----------
"At Some Point, Reality Has Its Day"
Al Gore on why America - and even George Bush - is close to a tipping
point on global warming.
By <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4900886/site/newsweek/>Eleanor Clift
Updated: 5:56 p.m. ET April 28, 2006
April 28, 2006 - Al Gore has launched his new campaign-this one to
battle the effects of global warming. At its center is a new film,
"An Inconvenient Truth," which stars Gore and has been winning
surprisingly positive press. It opens May 24. The former vice
president, who has abandoned a relatively low profile to promote the
movie, spoke to Eleanor Clift about the environment, technology and
politics in America.
NEWSWEEK: They say timing is everything. Has the moment arrived for this issue?
Al Gore: I hope it has. I hope that we are close to a tipping point
beyond which the country will begin to face this very seriously and
the majority of politicians in both parties will begin to compete by
offering meaningful solutions. We're nowhere close to that yet, but a
tipping point by definition is a time of very rapid change - and I
think that the potential for this change has been building up, with
the evangelical ministers speaking out, General Electric and
Republican CEOs saying we have to address it, grass-roots
organizations - all of these things are happening at the same time
because through various means people are seeing a new reality. The
relationship between our civilization and the earth has been
radically transformed. Global warming is by far the most serious
manifestation of the collision - and Mother Nature is making the
evidence ever more obvious. Scientific studies have been coming out
right and left over the last several years that connect various parts
of the overall picture to the whole. And by whatever means, a lot of
people have been absorbing this message, and they're now saying,
"Wait a minute, we really have to do something about this."
Where did you get your initial interest in this?
When I was an undergraduate I was privileged to sign up for a course
offered by the first person to measure CO2 in the earth's atmosphere.
He was a visionary, and he saw that the postwar economic boom powered
by coal and oil was beginning to radically change the concentration
of CO2 in the atmosphere-and he knew atmospheric chemistry, and he
knew what it would do to outgoing infrared radiation. So he started
this historic set of measurements out in the middle of the Pacific.
He shared his measurements with my undergraduate class, and he
explained what it meant and sketched the future implications in such
a compelling way that it was different from other experiences I had
in college. I kept in touch with him, and later when I was elected to
Congress-10 years later, or less-I helped organize the first hearings
on this issue and had him as the lead-off witness. And that began a
long series of hearings in the House and in the Senate, which led to
a book and then, as vice president, to Kyoto and other measures. All
along that journey I have watched those measurements continue to come
in, and what my professor pointed to almost 40 years ago has come
How did this become a movie?
After I left the White House in January 2001, I once again started
giving a slide show on global warming on a regular basis. The first
time I took the slides out of storage and held them up to the light
and combined them into one carousel, went down to Middle Tennessee
State University to give my slide show, and they were all backward.
It was a very awkward and embarrassing moment, and I went back home
to Nashville and Tipper said, "I knew I should have put those in for
you." And then she said, "By the way, Mr. Information Super Highway,
we have computers now and you should put them on your computer." Once
I did that, it began to get a lot easier to update and improve-it got
to the point where it was much better and more compelling. And at
that point, I started to give it a lot more frequently-several times
a week. At one of the showings in Los Angeles several people from the
entertainment industry came up afterward and talked to me, and said,
"Would you consider making this into a movie?" I was skeptical about
that. I couldn't see how a slide show could be a movie, but they set
up a follow-up meeting and persisted, and they satisfied my concerns
that the science would be in the foreground and that it would be true
to the integrity of the message, and they have done a fantastic job.
The result I think-it's surprising to me-is a very entertaining and
compelling movie that does preserve the central elements of the slide
And you inject some humor into your presentation.
It's hard to believe-I benefit from low expectations.
I was surprised to hear that as vice president you went to China and
gave the slide show. Why didn't we hear about it until now?
The visit to China that's documented in the movie, that's later. But
I did give a full presentation in the Great Hall of the People in
China when I was vice president. A lot of the speeches and events and
messages on global warming were not seen as being on the A list of
issues to be covered by the news media. So a lot of what I tried to
do to get more attention to it seemed as if it didn't take place
because it didn't make it through that filter. But in any case, I
think that's changing now-I think that people are tuned into it now.
I hope that continues.
What do you hope to accomplish with this film?
It's not just the film: I have a book coming out June 2 that is also
titled "An Inconvenient Truth." At the end of the summer I'll start a
training program to show others how to give my slide show. And what I
hope to accomplish with all of the above is to help move the United
States of America past a tipping point beyond which the political
dialogue is completely different, and that both parties are competing
to really solve this crisis. You know in England now that's already
happened. Both parties are competing to be the most imaginative and
creative and effective on this issue, and it's healthy. And this
shouldn't be a partisan issue. It should be lifted above partisanship
because it's a question of survival. It's a moral issue.
What do you say to President Bush and others who still suggest we
need more study?
Well, the title "An Inconvenient Truth" is a way of highlighting the
reasons why some people, including the president, don't seem to
accept the truth. It's inconvenient. This administration, as has been
abundantly documented, is quite responsive to the oil and coal
industry and, by the way, to the least responsible companies within
those industries. And they do not want anything done on global
Because it would cut into their profits?
I think there are three reasons. One is they genuinely believed that
in the past there has been hyperbole used to stampede the Congress or
the people to adopt some measure that later turned out to be
excessive-they fear that might be happening again-so there's a
reflexive us and them. I'm trying to give them credit.
Secondly, though, I think that it's an example of the Upton Sinclair
quote that "It's hard to get a man to understand something when his
salary depends upon his not understanding." The behavior of
ExxonMobil is disgraceful. They finance in whole or in part 40
organizations that put out disinformation on global warming designed
to confuse the American people. There has emerged in the last couple
of decades a lobbying strategy that is based on trying to control
perceptions. In some sense it's not new, but it's new in the
sophistication and the amount of resources they devote to it. It's
not new in the sense it's the same thing the tobacco industry did
after the surgeon general's report of 1964, and that is a major part
of the reason why the Bush administration doesn't do anything. The
president put their chief guy in charge of environmental policy in
the White House.
The third reason is that some of the ideological conservatives
believe that if global warming is a) real and b) as bad as the
scientists are telling us-and we're responsible for it and we have to
fix it-they worry that will mean government has to play a larger role
in some way shape or form, and they want to prevent that no matter
But you know the temptation to reject the truth and try to
manufacture your own reality is what got us into Iraq-it's what got
us into these deficits. At some point, reality has its day. I hope
they'll change. I think there is a chance they'll change. You know
Winston Churchill once said that the American people generally do the
right thing after first exhausting every other alternative. And maybe
after exhausting every other alternative, Bush will do the right
thing on this. I'm not going to hold my breath, but I do think that
there's a chance. And after all, as I said last night, if the
scientists turn out to be right and we only have 10 years, we can't
give up two and a half years out of 10 to wait for this guy to accept
reality. You know there are 218 U.S. cities that have adopted Kyoto
on their own, a lot of grass-roots initiatives that are very
impressive, and all that's going to continue. I'm not Pollyannish
about it, but I'm optimistic.
Do you see anything positive in President Bush's leadership-anything
you admire about him?
I have to confess that I fear I'm losing some objectivity where he's
concerned. I think he did a good job in his appointment of Ben
Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman. And I think he did well in the
immediate aftermath of 9/11 in rallying the country and going into
Afghanistan. I think he started making catastrophic errors
immediately after that, but I think that in the initial aftermath, he
did a good job.
Looking at what you're doing and how you're getting this issue out
there and yourself out there, I'm wondering if you're running the
first campaign of the 21st century by framing global warming as a
moral challenge to a country that's really eager for leadership.
Well it is a campaign, but it's not a campaign for a candidate. I'm
not a candidate. It is a campaign to change the way our country
thinks about global warming. But I'm not a candidate-I've been there
and done that. And I found there are other ways to serve, and I'm
In 2000 and in 1988 when you ran, you really didn't talk about the
environment that much. I think you were counseled that it was not a
good issue. Any regrets about that?
That's the conventional wisdom that I want to challenge because in
both cases I talked about it extensively. And to take 2000 as an
example, there were numerous speeches and events and proposals and
multipoint plans that were not considered news, and if a tree falls
in the forest and it's not heard, then later on people think it
didn't happen. John Kerry went thru a very similar experience in '04
because the way the issue has been covered has been plagued with some
of the adjectives that you began with - it's marginal, it's arcane,
it's irrelevant, ridiculous - and so if a daily news cycle is devoted
to that issue, then one candidate has his message out there and the
other is mysteriously missing.
There's another factor that's often overlooked in 2000. Then governor
George W. Bush publicly pledged to regulate CO2 emissions and to
forcibly, with the rule of law, reduce them - and publicly said "this
is a serious problem and I will deal with it." Now, the other way
that issues get covered in the media is if there's conflict, and if
there's a sharp difference. And one is tempted to conclude that
[Karl] Rove crafted those positions that were immediately abandoned
after the election - in the first week after the inauguration, the
first week - one is tempted to conclude that Rove wrote those
positions in order to take from that issue any sense of contrast or
conflict and thereby make it non-newsworthy. It certainly had that
effect, whether it was intentional or not. I can't look into their
hearts - I'll let the grand jury do that. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have
The mainstream media still ruled during your campaign in 2000. It's a
very different world today with the Internet. How do you see the new
media changing upcoming campaigns?
The old clich� about six months being a lifetime in politics is
probably out of date now with the new technology coming wave upon
wave. But I have a slightly different view from what I hear a lot. I
think that television is still the dominant medium, and I do believe
that the Internet has brought about a continuing and accelerating
revolution in the technique of politics and the way candidates reach
out to connect with individual voters and groups. But where the
wholesale messaging is concerned, television is still completely
dominant. One statistic that illustrates that is that last year
according to this new study Americans watched on average four hours
and 39 minutes of television per day-and that's up four minutes from
the previous year, even with the increased use of the Internet. And
the vast majority of Internet users are watching television while
they're using the Internet. I have a television network. I've spent a
lot of time looking into these things. And the characteristic of
television that is so different from the printing press that was the
medium dominating America's birth is that television is one-way. The
individual has no way to get into the conversation. My point is that
television may not be dominant in 2008, but I wouldn't bet on that. I
think that it is still the most powerful medium, and the reason is
it's quasi-hypnotic. One of the most valuable things in the
television business if you're a content creator is to have a good
lead-in show before you.
People don't get up.
Not only do they not get up - a significant percentage are incapable
of moving a thumb muscle to hit the remote because there's a
quasi-trance that sets in. I don't want to overdramatize it, but the
fact is that people just sit there entranced-and that's why most of
the money in politics goes to television.
Do you think the Democrats have a chance of recapturing control of Congress?
I think there's likely to be a Democratic wave this year. I think
that the threshold for change of control in Congress is now
artificially and absurdly high because of redistricting politics and
incumbent protection mechanisms, and the net result is that it's rare
to have more than a couple dozen seats really in serious contest.
That may be different this year. There may be a big enough wave. I
just don't know-I don't follow it closely enough to really have an
You use the phrase "connect the dots" quite often. You delivered a
speech on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, that was
critical of Bush for acting unlawfully in eavesdropping on Americans.
Connect the dots from that speech to what you're doing now.
This is different from that speech. I'm enjoying life, doing several
different things that all fit together coherently for me. And one
thing I do from time to time is when I can't stand it anymore, I give
a speech trying to contribute to the public dialogue about what we're
doing as a country. And the massive and almost certain illegal
wiretapping of Americans outraged me and that's why I gave that
speech. That's why I gave a speech on torture - several speeches on
Iraq, et cetera, et cetera. But that is my contribution as a citizen
to what Madison called an informed citizenry to take part in the
political dialogue - but as a citizen. Now where the global-warming
mission is concerned, I am a single-minded advocate to deliver a
message that I think is crucial for our future. I don't think that is
a partisan message. I don't think it should be a partisan message.
I try to make it nonpartisan. And there are a few jabs that are just
my authentic representations how I've evolved and come to the issue,
but people who see this movie don't see it as a political movie. And
Republicans don't find anything that they object to. Paramount has
done these focus-group screenings, and they don't see it like
"Fahrenheit 9/11" at all. They see it as nonpolitical. So I don't
connect that to my periodic speeches on issues of the day. It is one
of the issues of the day, but it's one that I'm really devoting
myself to, and I see it as different from the speeches I make.
� 2006 MSNBC.com <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12535460/site/newsweek/>