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Interview with Al Gore on An Inconvenient Truth

When Change becomes Charge, interview from Cannes.

Al Gore was invited to Cannes for the premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, his documentary about climate change. “I know this about politics. The political system has one thing in common with the climate system: it too, is non-linear. It can appear to change only gradually. But it can cross a tipping point, beyond which it moves dramatically,” he tells Andrew L. Urban.

On the rooftop terrace of the Cannes Hilton, squinting against the Mediterranean sun, Al Gore is doing the media rounds, roughly the equivalent of working the political campaign trail in a Presidential race. This time, he is a single issue candidate and his pamphlet consists of a 100 minute movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which is basking in the cinematic sunshine of a Cannes film festival debut, ahead of its US release, followed on September 14, 2006, by an Australia-wide release.

Thoroughly detailed, An Inconvenient Truth resonates with apposite observations about the human condition; like a quote here and there, such as Mark Twain’s wisecrack, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know, it's what we know for sure that just ain't so.”

The film is a record of one such slide show, interspersed with the private footage, and he reveals that he has presented this ‘show’ more than a thousand times. He is determined to take his message to every town, every family, every soul willing to listen, not just across America but the world. That kind of passion is infectious.

The film so stirred up the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the US, it has launched a TV ad campaign to counter the film’s message about the imminent dangers of global warming, with a message to suggest that carbon dioxide is good, promoting the benefits of greenhouse gas-producing fuels. “I think it’s a good sign,” says Gore with confidence. “These commercials are unintentionally funny. They’re financed by Exxon Mobil and I hope that over time [the campaign] will be seen as one of their last gasps, but I can’t take that for granted. The role of these naysayers that receive funding from the biggest polluters on the planet has been a shameful one. Rather similar to what the tobacco companies did in trying to confuse people for years into thinking that doctors were still having a debate about whether smoking cigarettes causes lung disease…”

Gore knows only too well about that; his family farm for years grew tobacco, and his sister died from lung cancer caused by smoking, leaving a big impact on him – and the abandonment of tobacco farming by the Gores.

"to live a carbon neutral lifestyle"

So who funds Gore’s slide shows (of which he’s already delivered over 1,000)? “I pay for that myself. I’ve been fortunate to be successful in business since I left politics … involuntarily,” he adds with a wry chuckle in a reference to his famously narrow defeat by George W. Bush in 2000. “I co-founded two businesses of my own and have been a senior advisor to Google and I’m on the board of directors of Apple Computer…” He and his wife are donating 100% of the profits from the movies and the book of the same name due out shortly, “to a non-profit educational campaign to further persuade people to change their minds about the climate crisis.”

As well as putting his wallet where his mouth is, Gore and his family have “made a decision to live a carbon neutral lifestyle and offsetting all of the CO2 that cannot be reduced.”

The film, an effectively presented documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim, is filled with research, colourful tables which is glued together by Gore’s passionate and convincing performance.

He dismisses critics who claim he’s alarmist, including high profile statistician Bjorn Lomborg who, in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, refutes many of the arguments about mankind’s contribution to global warming.

“Oh, I don’t think he’s taken seriously by the scientific community any longer. It was such a long and densely written work that it took them a little time to sort through it, but once they did, they found gross errors, surprising for a statistician. It doesn’t pass even the minimum standards of scientific credibility …”

Gore points to a survey (Science Magazine, Dec. 2004) of all peer-reviewed scientific studies on climate change which showed that 928 peer-reviewed papers supported the concept behind global warming and none denied it. In a similar sampling of stories from the mass media, 53% suggest global warming is unproven. In other words, the message people are getting doesn’t match the facts. This goes to the heart of what Gore is trying to do with his slide shows, his film and his book: “it’s not a political issue, but a moral issue.” He hopes people will respond accordingly.

All the same it will take politicians to process change, and invited to send a message to the Australian Government, Gore says “it’s surprising to many people around the world that Australia is one of the two laggards in the world (the other is the US) that haven’t signed the Kyoto Protocol to control harmful gas emissions. Australia has a reputation for caring about the environment … I don’t know enough about Australian politics to gauge the influence of the coal industry there, or the business lobbies. I don’t know… I have my hands full trying to explain why the US is doing so badly on this.”

The message for corporate Australia (which he will deliver in a planned tour in September) is: “There’s a myth that reducing pollution hurts the economy. In fact the opposite is almost always true. Pollution is waste, it’s inefficient. New, modern businesses like to eliminate waste as much as they can.” The film refers to the US car industry for an example. “Ford and GM,” says Gore, “lobbied for the lowest standards possible and got what they lobbied for, but now they’re struggling. The companies that are doing well are ones like Toyota, that offer more efficient cars.”

"I’m optimistic"

But Gore also recognises that the changes needed “are difficult to make and the politicians will be timid and fearful until the people demand that they do the right thing. I know this about politics. The political system has one thing in common with the climate system: it too, is non-linear. It can appear to change only gradually. But it can cross a tipping point, beyond which it moves dramatically.”

Gore hopes the political system will reach its tipping point on climate change before the climate system does. “And I’m optimistic…”

Andrew Urban
Published September 14, 2006 on

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