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Despite Climate Change Setbacks, Al Gore 'Comes Down On The Side Of Hope'

Jul 24, 2017
Originally published on July 24, 2017 1:36 pm

Former Vice President Al Gore helped shape the conversation about climate change with An Inconvenient Truth. Now he's back with a sequel — called An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, due out next month -- and it follows Gore as he continues the crusade he made famous with that first film.

The movie shows Gore standing in Miami floodwater, flying over imploding boulders of ice in Greenland and in Paris — trying to push the climate agreement over the finish line.

President Trump, however, promised last month to undo that victory when he announced plans to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

"I did my best to convince him to stay in the Paris agreement," Gore tells NPR's Steve Inskeep in one of two recent Morning Edition interviews. "And I thought that there was a chance he would come to his senses, but I was wrong."

Still, Gore is hopeful about reversing the effects of global climate change.

"[O]ne of the big differences between today and a decade ago is that we do have the solutions now," he says. Renewable energy like solar and wind electricity, he says, have evolved just like other technologies such as mobile phones and TVs so that "when production scales up they come down even faster in cost."


Interview Highlights

On recutting the movie to address President Trump's withdrawing of the Paris climate accord

We always anticipated that we could not end the movie until we realized who was going to win the election and what would happen thereafter. And I will tell you that when President Trump made his announcement that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris agreement I was deeply concerned that other countries might use that as an excuse to withdraw themselves. But I've been gratified that the entire rest of the world has doubled down on their commitments to the Paris agreement and that here in this country so many governors and mayors and business leaders have stepped up to fill the gap and say "We're still in Paris." And I really think, and the scientists think now as well, that we have an excellent chance of meeting the commitments that former President Obama made in the Paris agreement regardless of what Donald Trump says.

On whether he thinks Trump believes in human-caused climate change

I don't know. I have heard him say different things. I've heard him say in public things that would lead you to believe that he doesn't believe in it. But the scientific community has been virtually unanimous for a couple of decades and now there's a new participant in the debate: Mother Nature. The other big change from 10 years ago is that these climate-related extreme weather events are way more common — unfortunately way more destructive. Here in the U.S. we've had 11 once-in-a-thousand-year events in the last seven years. Last year was the hottest year globally ever measured. The second hottest was the year before, the third hottest was the year before that. And Mother Nature is more persuasive than the scientific community.

On those who dismiss climate change science because they've lost faith in experts

I think that one cause of this populist authoritarianism that we've seen not just in the U.S. but in Poland and Turkey and the Philippines and in Hungary ... is that the expert blueprint for globalization that has been touted for quite some time has caused those who feel left behind to feel real anger that middle-income wages have stagnated for decades and I think that generalized anger at how things are going extends over into a vulnerability to listen to demagogic claims that the scientific community doesn't know what it's talking about when they warn us of the climate crisis.

On climate change's role in the 2016 election for Hillary Clinton

I know the events I did for [Hillary Clinton] in the 2016 election evoked a powerful response. I didn't see any other events that were devoted to climate so maybe I missed that.

I think that a lot of national politicians are told by their pollsters and experts that they ought to focus on other issues, but I think that's changing quite a bit. And I think that the partisan divide is now fading on climate, I really do.

I think the Democratic Party should focus much more on [climate change]. And I believe that's beginning to happen. If you look at Jerry Brown in California, Jay Inslee in the state of Washington, Andrew Cuomo in the state of New York and many others, we're now beginning to see a surge of interest in people who want to get away from the fossil fuel utilities, they want energy freedom, they want energy choice, and I think it will be a much bigger political plus in the years to come.

Editor Ed McNulty (@McNultyEd) and producer Dave Blanchard (@blanchardd) of Morning Edition and Web producer Heidi Glenn contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A new movie shows Al Gore in Greenland. He's visiting a station where scientists measure the ice. And he's watching as much of the ice in Greenland turns into rivers of water flowing away. The movie is called "An Inconvenient Sequel." It's a follow-up to "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore's famous film about climate change from a decade ago. This film shows Al Gore continuing his fight. And there was a time when it seemed like it might have a triumphant ending - the announcement of the Paris climate accord.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Speaking French).

(APPLAUSE)

INSKEEP: But there was another chapter because since then, the United States elected president Trump, who has said in the past that climate change was a hoax. This year, Trump announced plans to withdraw from that climate accord, which was a big part of our discussion with Al Gore.

You have a line in the movie about going between hope and despair.

AL GORE: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Where are you right now - hope, despair, somewhere between?

GORE: I always come down on the side of hope. And...

INSKEEP: You'd like to say so. But where are you really?

GORE: Yeah, that's where I really am because the difference - one of the big differences between today and a decade ago is that we do have the solutions now. It is remarkable that solar electricity and wind electricity have followed the pattern that we have seen with computer chips and mobile phones and flat-screen TVs.

Some areas of technology come down in cost. And then when production scales up, they come down even faster in cost. And it's wonderful that that pattern is being seen in renewable energy.

INSKEEP: Didn't the election deal such a blow to your side that you actually had to recut the end of your film?

GORE: Well, we always anticipated that we could not end the movie until we realized who was going to win the election and what would happen thereafter. And I will tell you that when President Trump made his announcement that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Agreement, I was deeply concerned that other countries might use that as an excuse to withdraw themselves.

But I've been gratified that the entire rest of the world has doubled down on their commitments to the Paris Agreement and that here in this country, so many governors and mayors and business leaders have stepped up to fill the gap and say we're still in Paris. And I really think - and the scientists think now, as well - that we have an excellent chance of meeting the commitments that former President Obama made in the Paris Agreement, regardless of what Donald Trump says.

INSKEEP: What was it like after the election, when you went to visit then President-elect Trump?

GORE: Well, I did my best to convince him to stay in the Paris Agreement. I've been respectful of the privacy of those conversations. That was not the only conversation I had with him. And I thought that there was a chance he would come to his senses. But I was wrong.

INSKEEP: Understanding that you want to respect the privacy of the conversation, I'm trying to get some sense of what the president of the United States is like on this issue in private. Do you think he believes in human-caused climate change?

GORE: Well, he has made a variety of statements on that question that you can interpret as you wish.

INSKEEP: Sure, but you got to look him in the eye and...

GORE: I don't know. I have heard him say different things.

INSKEEP: OK.

GORE: I've heard him say, in public, things that would lead you to believe he doesn't believe in it. But, you know, the scientific community has been virtually unanimous for a couple of decades. And now there's a new participant in the debate - Mother Nature. The other big change from 10 years ago is that these climate-related extreme weather events are way more common, unfortunately way more destructive.

Here in the U.S., we've had 11 once-in-a-thousand-year events in just seven years - in the last seven years. Last year was the hottest year globally ever measured. The second hottest was the year before. The third hottest was the year before that. And Mother Nature is more persuasive than the scientific community.

INSKEEP: What do you make of people who have lost faith in experts generally, feel they've been misled by experts, generally, and that is the context in which a lot of them may dismiss a lot of the science you just cited?

GORE: Well, I agree with the premise of your question. And I actually think that one cause of this populist authoritarianism that we've seen, not just in the U.S. but in Poland and Turkey and the Philippines and in Hungary - one cause is that the expert blueprint for globalization that has been touted for quite some time has caused those who feel left behind to feel real anger that middle-income wages have stagnated for decades. And I think that generalized anger at how things are going extends over into a vulnerability to listen to demagogic claims that the scientific community doesn't know what it's talking about when they warn us of the climate crisis.

INSKEEP: So in the film, there is an archival clip of a Senate hearing. You've been called as a witness. It's 2007. You're being challenged by James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican who has described climate change as a hoax, among other things.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES INHOFE: Last summer, we had a heat wave. And everyone said, oh, that's proof. It's global warming. Then we had a mild December. Oh, that's proof that global warming is taking place. Now, I wonder how come you guys never seem to notice it when it gets cold.

INSKEEP: And a moment arrives in the hearing in which you say to him...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORE: I was sitting here trying to think what I could do or say that might make it possible to reach out to you. And I'm serious about this.

INSKEEP: And you even suggested maybe getting to together...

GORE: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...At breakfast with a mutual friend. Did you ever get a chance after that moment?

GORE: Never did, never did. I may yet. Sometimes personal outreach of that kind can make a difference. But there are some climate deniers who are encased in a hard shell of denial that makes them relatively impervious to arguments, however personal, however genteel.

INSKEEP: Mr. Vice President, thanks for coming by.

GORE: Well, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIGHTS OUT ASIA'S, "RUNNING NAKED THROUGH UNDERGROUND CITIES")

INSKEEP: Al Gore, star of "An Inconvenient Sequel," which is in select theaters on Friday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.