THE AL GORE
Al Gore is like one
of those alternate endings of those "Choose Your Own Adventure books" from
the '80s. Though America voted George W. Bush to run the country in
2000, you can't help but wonder how different things would be if we chose
the Gore page. Though it's likely the terrorist events of 9/11 would
have occurred regardless of who was steering the ship, and the economy is
often a crapshoot no matter who's behind the desk, it's clear that we'd
have had a leader with an environmental agenda that wouldn't be waiting
until the 11th hour to take some serious steps to reduce our dependence
I voted for Gore in 2000,
but was one of California's "gimme" votes that made his victory
in the state a
foregone conclusion. After losing to Bush by what some counts show
as little as 537 votes in Florida, many folks figured a Gore vs. Bush
rematch in 2004 was a sure thing. Stating that the party needed some
new faces, he chose not to run, and with a less likeable and qualified
John Kerry botching the campaign, one wonders again, how different things
would be if we chose the Gore page.
Gore remains cryptic
about his plans to run again. After a May 1st screening in San
Francisco of his global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth,
I observed Gore telling a fan that he didn't plan on running again,
stating the strain of being involved in 4 different campaigns (2
presidential, 2 for VP) was a bit much. But during a Q&A session
with the audience just minutes before, he responded to a woman who said
the "green lining" in his failure to become President was the great work
he could do for the environment, he gave this response, that would lead
one to believe he'd still like the job:
to think that if I had won the election (pretends to cry, then laughs) I
like to think that I would have spoken out just as forcefully...I think
there is absolutely no position anywhere on this planet that is comparable
to the position of President of The United States as a place from which
you can bring about change, and I suffer no illusions about that.
But, I do believe that the political system is broken and that the public
forum is hollowed out and desiccated, and this is an opportunity for me to
serve in a different way. I am enjoying that, but I don't want to
endorse the idea that it's better for the overall result."
But 2 weeks later in a
5/18 Reuters piece by Thomas Ferraro, Gore said, "I have no plans to run
for president again. I have found other ways to serve and I'm enjoying
them." Not an absolute denial, but he's not leaving the door open very
wide. A primary battle between Gore and Hillary Clinton would be a
fascinating and divisive contest by any account. Could a Democratic
candidate with a very strong environmental agenda actually rise to the
top? Even conservative writer Ann Coulter seems to think so.
On May 8th (per
Coulter told Fox News, "He
is the perfect Democratic candidate...The environmental crazies are really
leading the pack in the Democratic Party. It used to be the abortion
ladies, but the enviros are about to heave them off the boat because they
haven’t helped them win elections.”
Regardless of who our
next president is, the movement to reduce the effects and causes of global
warming that Gore advocates are certainly going to play an issue.
Bush himself has even told America that we need to change the way we live
in his 2006 State of the Union address.
But while Bush
stressed we need to end our addiction to foreign oil, Gore advocates
ending the addiction to all oil, regardless of the country that produces
The day after watching the film, I interviewed Al Gore and
the director Davis Guggenheim at the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco.
I was impressed with how accessible and down to earth the guy was. I
didn't want to rehash the same questions I had already heard at the
previous night's Q&A session, so I figured it'd be best to stay focused on
the movie. But I had a burning desire to ask what he thought about
his portrayal on the South Park episode that aired just a week before, so
I had to find a way to get it in.
Al's always seemed to have a good sense of humor,
so I figured he'd be willing to talk about it. He had a funny appearance on Saturday Night Live following his 2000 defeat
where he was hanging out on the set of The West Wing, reluctant to leave
the replica Oval Office desk. And just a week ago, he was SNL again
brilliant opening sketch showing a parallel world that has become a
perfect Utopia with Gore as President (pictured right).
So as we sat down under a headlamp full of suspiciously
placed florescent lighting, Al furiously looked through messages on his
cell phone, until he finally snapped out of his wireless trance and
AL GORE: I’m sorry
Modern communications interferes with everything now.
Well I was at the Q&A of the film last night, really enjoyed it a lot.
AL GORE: Great,
In the news
the price of gas
going up is on everyone’s mind. There was whole “Meet the Press”
dedicated to it last week where you were actually quoted a few times.
AL GORE: Somebody
told me that. I didn’t see it,
he had seen my slide show the day before.
you think the rising price of gas is perhaps the kick in the pants America
needs to become more fuel efficient?
AL GORE: No,
because the oil
industry, principally OPEC, has always adjusted the oil price to kill off
innovation just when it starts. So this is a cycle. I‘ve been trying to
tell this story for 30 years now, and I have seen numerous cycles of price
increases and price declines. The fact is that we can only solve this by
taking the long term strategic view and becoming independent not just of
Middle-East oil, but of oil, and coal. That which we burn has to be
burned in a way that is environmentally responsible, where the carbon is
captured. The burden of it should not fall on those who are least able to
Years ago when I wrote “Earth in the Balance”, 15 years ago, I
proposed a shifting of the tax system so that there would be higher prices
but in a way that rebated to the individuals who could least afford to pay
it an amount that was offset on the social security tax side of it. I
think that this…these rising gasoline prices are just another face of the
same dysfunctional system. The Iraq war is part of it, also. There are
other causes of course, for the Iraq war. We’ve had
multiple desert wars
region of the world that
has the largest oil supplies. We borrow money from the Chinese, and buy
the oil from an unstable region, and then burn it in ways that destroy the
environment of the planet. We’re doing something wrong.
We need to
system. Just reacting to what the oil companies and principally oil
producers, oil producing nations, are doing to the price periodically is
just a small piece of the puzzle.
Davis, you have been able to take what is essentially a 90 minute
slideshow and make it an entertaining film. What sort of challenges
existed to make that happen?
DAVIS GUGGENHEIM: I
was invited by the producers, Lawrence Bender and Laurie David, to go see
Al’s slideshow. And I was not an environmentalist. I read about it a
little bit, I was a little bit concerned. But then when I saw Al speak,
it was profoundly changing for me. The message is not political. When I
it I was
“What’s Al up
to? What’s he doing now? What’s his motive here?” And when I started to
watch it, his slideshow, and what I hope what people watch the film get,
there’s no motive other than telling the truth. He’s so passionate about
it and it’s so convincing that I just wanted to give people that
experience. So the challenge was 'how do I help other audiences feel the
way I did?'. When you have that as a director, that’s actually easy,
because you can just refer to your experience. And say “How do I recreate
I guess one of the
interesting things about the film is that there doesn’t appear to be any
disputable evidence presented in here. Certainly 10 or 15 years ago you
heard a lot of things on the radio, “environmental whacko” and “the global
warming hoax”, and in the film you compare that to a lot of the propaganda
industry when dangers were brought up there, but there still seems to be a
very lackadaisical approach to doing something about it. How much time
honestly can pass before it would be too late to make any kind of serious
Well, the debate is over in the scientific community. There are 5 points
to the global consensus. Number one, global warming is real, Number
two, we are
for it. Number 3, the effects are catastrophic, Number 4, we need to fix
it quickly, and number 5 it’s not too late. Those 5 elements make up a
very strong consensus. And on those points, the debate is over. But on
the last point, “How long before it might be too late?” The scientists,
who I most respect on this question,
this is new for them to say,
that in their view we have less than 10 years in which to make a
significant start in changing the amount of carbon dioxide pollution we
put into the earth’s atmosphere or else it will be too late. Now I think
we’ll act long before then, but that’s not much time in the sweep of
history, and we have 2.5 years left in an administration that is moving
the US in the wrong direction, so if the scientists
right and we
only have 10 years, we can’t take 2.5 of those 10 and say, “Well, we’ll
make it worse for 2.5 and then we’ll get started, we just can’t do it. So
the real purpose of the movie is to get the truth
this in front of
as many people as
possible without regard to party or partisanship or ideology and bring
about a change in the way the country feels and think and acts. I see
this as the ultimate action movie because it empowers the audience to act.
It seems like these
would require a president with a big environmental agenda. I mean
if we were going to get 8 years
more after Bush with more of the same, is this something the people can
enact and do without a President leading the way for this?
AL GORE: Well, we
informed citizenry with a big environmental agenda, because it’s going to
take all of us to solve this problem. And if we have that then we will
have leadership that responds to an informed citizenry. The politicians
in both political parties ought to be competing with one another to offer
genuinely meaningful solutions. That’s happening already in England right
now both parties are trying to get out ahead of the other with imaginative
far reaching bold proposals, and that’s as it should be because that’s
what the reality we’re facing would lead a rational set of people to do. We in the US have been in a little bubble of unreality isolated from the
rest of the world because the right wing talk radio and the propaganda
…this group that has a notion that the earth is flat and the moon landing
was staged on a movie set. I mean they don’t argue that but it’s
comparable to that, they have managed with heavy financing from a few
irresponsible companies that don’t want to see the government take any
action, they’ve managed to plant enough doubt in the minds of the American
people to paralyze the political process. And it’s not enough to say
we’re addicted to oil, too many politicians are addicted to the money from
the oil companies. That addiction has to be broken.
really enjoyed a lot of the animated segments in this film. I think it
really did a remarkable job of keeping things lighthearted and such for
overwhelmingly depressing subject matter at times. Was that initial
animation segment done by “The Simpsons’” animators?
Groening product. "Futurama"
is to "The Simpsons" as "The Jetsons" was to "The Flintstones". My second
oldest daughter, Kristin, worked for Matt Groening for 3 years on
"Futurama". And she has
on global warming all her life, and when they were doing that episode, she
said, 'Hey what about this?' and she was part of the small creative team
that did that segment. I met Matt Groening through my daughter and became
good friends with him. And that led to a cameo appearance on "Futurama",
I appeared as a disembodied head.
I saw that...
you very much! Incidentally, last summer I was walking down the sidewalk
on Townsend here, I’m on business here a couple days a week, and I was walking
down with my business associates down to the Paragon restaurant, and this
group of young people, in their I’d say
20s were coming in the opposite direction,
and they get about
20 feet away, and they don’t say, 'Hey! There’s the former Vice President
of The United States,
or something like that,
instead, one of them throws both arms up in the air says, 'I HAVE
RIDDEN THE MIGHTY MOON WORM!' (laughs) and my associates are
and I’m all 'Right on, man!' It was fun to get to know Matt and that
group, and when I asked him if I could have that, if we could use that
piece, he gave it to us for the movie for free.
DAVIS GUGGENHEIM: I
had the advantage of getting all of Al for the movie. (both laugh) It’s
so much easier having all of you.
Well, being recognized for cartoon catch phrases, I could only wonder what
last week’s South Park
AL GORE: I haven’t
seen it yet,
but I want to see it
Scenes from the Season 10 episode of South Park featuring
Al Gore hunting the elusive Manbearpig
Well, you’re the star
of the episode, practically.
AL GORE: Well, I’m
Apparently I’m trying to slay some mythical beast or something.
AL GORE: The Manbear…
(laughs) Those guys are crazy!
do you think the single quickest and most effective thing that America can
do to reduce global warming?
AL GORE: conservation
and efficiency is by far the most readily available response that will
have the biggest impact. We waste about 90% of the energy we think we’re
clean up the environment all at the same time. It just requires thinking a
little differently about how you go about things. These light-bulbs for
example, I believe they are the environmentally responsible kind.
AL GORE: The home
use 1/10 tenth the electricity, you change them 1/10th as often...
but you make it back in the first year. Yet force of habit
leads a lot of people to just walk right past them and not consider those
kinds. That’s going to change. Clock thermostats, being aware of the
electricity consumption of the appliance choices you make…buy the hybrid
instead of a regular car if you can, use mass transit when you can,
walking when you can, these are relatively simple things, but multiplied
by enough people they make a big difference. But then when you get past
conservation and efficiently there are even bigger changes that require a
new law, a new policy to make it easier for all of us. You know it’s hard
to get from here to Cupertino without driving. Many people just assume we
have to take 3000 pounds of metal with us everywhere we go. The day will
come when we will look back on that and think, 'Gee, that was nuts.'
Al Gore with An Inconvenient Truth director Davis
It seems like the
of An Inconvenient Truth kind of outlives the theatrical
release model…are you planning on exploring other distribution methods
with this like internet downloads,
different things with the DVD, it seems like the shelf life of this film will
quite long, for people that
want to use this for educational purposes and whatnot in the
signing up in
to see the movie, they’re getting groups together to go see the movie
to share the experience because it’s is so profound. I think this will happen
with the DVDs. People
are going to have
screening parties, and they’re going to give it to teacher as a gift.
Science teachers come up to me all the time and they say, “How do I get
this to teach it to my class?” I think it’s just going to keep going.
People want to watch it…all these questions are now answered…now they
understand the issue, they actually feel good so they can feel part of the
AL GORE: And yes, we
new and innovative internet online distribution. That will probably come after the DVD. We
met with a mutual friend last evening about another distribution method. I am going to start a training program in Tennessee in September to give
away my slides to people who take the course and ground themselves in
science so they present them
then give them the right to go out and make the presentations in their own
voice … and then I’d like to get 1,000 or more people going out
over the country to high schools
and civic groups wherever a group of people will listen to and watch it and update it
regularly over the internet and post a version so
people can gain access to it, and then make it kind of a ... Wikipedia approach
to the climate crisis.
DAVIS GUGGENHEIM: And the book
AL GORE: The
Inconvenient Truth, that will come out the same day as the movie, it's
published by Rodale. It's a book version o the slideshow with
original text. That’s another way to try
and get the message out, also.
Al Gore after a May 1st screening of his film in San
Your film ends with
lot of positive hopeful tips
at the ends so you
don’t walk out of there feeling like you want to hang yourself.
AL GORE: That
hurts word of mouth if they do that
What gives you the most hope that things will turn around?
AL GORE: Just in
the six months we’ve finished shooting, I’ve seen 85 conservative
evangelical ministers announce they were breaking with The Bush/Cheney
Administration to take on this climate crisis. I’ve seen 230
American cities independently ratify Kyoto and start reducing emissions to
meet the standards. I’ve seen grass roots organizations take a very
forward leaning aggressive approach. And
of these straws
in the wind
are beginning to mount up and give me a real sense that we’re on the verge
of significant change here. Political leaders in both parties who in the
past were negative and skeptical are now changing what they say and that’s
often a prelude to the change in what they do. Not always (laughs) but if
the pressure is continued, continues to come from the grassroots,
change, and I’m optimistic.
Thank you very much
AL GORE: Thank you!
That concluded our official interview, but while posing for
some pictures Al went on to talk about how funny Stephen Colbert's White
House Correspondent's Dinner appearance was, and spoke of him with great
admiration. He had his assistant order him a cheeseburger to eat for
lunch. We then we got a picture together that most people believe is
pasted together in Photoshop. Trust me, if I was using Photoshop I'd put a
skinnier head on my body.
I'm still not sure if the ideal time for Gore to serve as
President of the USA has passed him by. But I think there's room to
have him serve as a voice of the environment for anyone willing to listen.
NOTE: The Sacramento News and Review will be
publishing my review of An Inconvenient Truth shortly. I'll
place a link up to it when it goes live.
Al Gore and Robert Berry, the guy who created the internet, and the guy
who destroyed it.