If you went to visit Al Gore at his farm in Tennessee, you might find him monitoring the 33-panel solar array on his 100-percent renewable-energy house, tooling about in his Tesla, checking on the 16,000 trees he has just planted to capture more carbon dioxide, or looking at the hot-air balloon the Koch brothers periodically fly over his property to make fun of him.
Gore, who’s currently promoting An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, in theaters Aug. 4, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning climate-change documentary, has traded designs on elected office for a life devoted to advocating for green energy.
I talked to him about his new movie, his crusade, and his critics.
I don’t get it. Why a balloon? Why not buzz your house with a carbon-burning jet?
I think it’s a joke about hot air.
Which leads to my next climate-change question – the measurable deterioration of the political climate in our country. No issue illustrates this better than climate change. You have people invested in entirely different sets of facts, living in gerrymandered districts, and enthusiastically consuming gerrymandered information. How can any president or Congress govern over a population that believes in different realities, and how can any useful policy possibly be legislated and implemented?
I wrote a book called The Assault on Reason about how political thinking has evolved during the shift from print to broadcasting and now to cable and the internet. But I’m optimistic, and I believe there are self-correcting mechanisms already being put in place that may yet redeem online media.
And I think there’s a reaction to that, and you see it in the popularity of documentaries. It’s one of the only forms of media where people can sit in a communal environment and listen and watch for 90 or 100 minutes to a thoughtful presentation of ideas. I think that’s one reason why documentaries are entering a golden age.
Very expert plugs for your book and movie. But it still looks to me like our parallel-universe politics leaves us further than ever from useful compromise on energy policy, or useful compromise on any policy.
We have a saying in Tennessee: If you see a turtle on a fence post, you can be pretty sure it didn’t get there by itself. When you run across provable falsehoods on climate, you can be pretty sure that didn’t just happen. Large carbon polluters have invested a lot of money advancing their agenda. But there’s a new participant in the debate, and it’s Mother Nature. Severe climate-related weather events have become much more common and destructive. People are connecting the dots.
Including pragmatic conservatives, as the movie notes. The Republican mayor of Miami, for instance, who’s spending infrastructure money to combat the rising ocean, the conservative city in Texas that’s gone 100 percent renewable. How are leaders there able to go against the political tide?
Even if you don’t use the phrase global warming, you nevertheless have to deal with the reality of things that are happening in your town or your district or your state. You hear politicians use the phrase weird weather instead of global warming. Or they just focus on the practical advantages of green energy, like the cost. It’s one of the real bright spots we highlight in the documentary. Renewable energy is now so much cheaper.
And cleaner. As the Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas, says in the movie, the less stuff that’s in the air, the better he feels about breathing it.
Yes. The idea of clean air is something everybody can get behind.
The economics have also made green energy a rare source of job and wage growth in our slow-growing economy. You met with President-elect Trump and had subsequent off-the-record meetings with him. Have you made the argument that wind and solar jobs could help folks in the rural red-state regions that voted him into office?
We have made those arguments to him, and others. And I really thought there was a good chance he would come to his senses. I was wrong. I haven’t talked to him since his speech about [opting out of] the Paris agreement [to curb carbon emissions], and I don’t know that there is any realistic possibility that he will change his mind. I don’t know how his mind operates. I hope somebody else can succeed with him where I wasn’t able to, but I’m not going to hold my breath. We’re going to work around him. The rest of the world has doubled down on the Paris agreement. And even in this country, you have business leaders and political leaders who have since stepped up to say, “We’re going to do it without Donald.”
You get grief from critics for preaching about carbon emissions while flying all over the planet in carbon-belching airplanes, a mode of transportation often cited as the hypocritical indulgence of the elite.
I offset and double offset all of my travel.
Philadelphia is the biggest solar farm in the world that’s not a solar farm. In fact, it’s the inverse of one. It’s all black tar roofs and blacktop that soak up solar energy and convert it into human misery and palliative expenditures on water ice. But if you think about the physical structure of the city, it’s acre upon acre of three-story houses on rectangular blocks with symmetrical geometry, and the power lines are already there. You could prefab a bunch of solar units and bolt them onto roofs. Couldn’t you talk to some of you billionaire green-energy pals like Elon Musk at Solar City and get them to do a pilot project here, instead of a mission to Mars?
That’s actually a good idea. I will do that.
This is shaping up to be another hot year. Are you releasing the movie in August just to rub it in?
You’ll have to ask Paramount. They pick the release date. I’m just glad the movie is getting out there.