Al Gore likes to describe himself as a “recovering politician”. Could he, then, slip off the wagon and run again for the highest office?
“Well, the longer I go without a relapse, the less likely a relapse becomes,” he smiles. But it’s not exactly a resounding “no”, more the answer of a consummate politician… which is, of course, exactly what he’s been all of his adult life.
Born in Washington DC where his father, Albert Gore Sr, served in both the Congress and Senate, Gore – Bill Clinton’s vice president for two terms – ran for the presidency himself in 2000. He lost when Florida declared for George W Bush by 537 votes and the US Supreme court stopped a recount. Many felt that Gore was robbed of his destiny.
A few hundred votes the other way and Gore would have been the leader of the free world. Instead, he turned his focus onto climate change and has been a powerful advocate for the need for action to save our planet.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore
Maybe that was his destiny all along? “Well, whether destiny exists or not, there isn’t any role in the world with as much potential for changing the world than that of president of the United States.
“Nevertheless, I feel a sense of gratitude for having found other ways to serve the public interest. It makes me feel as if I’m playing a useful part by moving us toward a better future than we might otherwise have. That’s a sense of joy.”
A decade ago, film-maker Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, which won the Oscar for best documentary, showed Gore on the road with what he called his “slide show”, passionately warning about the danger if we failed to act on climate change and drastically cut CO2 emissions.
The film, he hoped, would widen public debate and he admits that it exceeded his expectations. “I had been a big fan of movies as entertainment but did not realise that a documentary could have such an impact. I’ve been so gratified by so many people all around the world saying that it had a big impact on their lives and their thinking.”
In 2007, a year after the film was released, Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (shared with the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change). But there was a negative side… he became the poster boy the right wing in America loved to hate, and he endured personal abuse on a level that even a veteran Democrat must have found hard to stomach. One commentator accused him of “waging a war against capitalism” and another called him the “most sanctimonious lardbutt Yank on the planet”. And there was worse.
“Well, I’m hardly the first messenger to be attacked by those who don’t like the message. In the history of reform movements, the technique of demonising a visible messenger is a tried and true strategy.
“It’s an honour to be attacked, though it truthfully does not feel like an honour at times – but that’s just something that comes with the territory and you can’t let it bother you.”
Now Gore, a silver-haired and rather portly 69, is back with An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (in cinemas from Friday 18 August), which charts the progress that has been made since the first film.
It shows Gore again taking his evangelical message to the world; recruiting disciples – you might call them Al’s Army – to spread the word, meeting Asian industrialists and calling politicians to try to ease the way for the Paris climate change accord, which provides the stage for the movie’s finale.
All of this is played out with the villain, one Donald Trump, lurking menacingly in the background as he runs for presidential office. On the campaign trail, Trump is shown saying, “Speaking of global warming, where is it? We need some global warming. It’s freezing.”
The original cut of the film, which premiered at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, showed a hopeful ending with the Paris Agreement signed by 195 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including, crucially, the US.
Since then, President Trump has withdrawn from the agreement, and directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk have filmed a new ending. Gore knows better than most that this is a severe setback and has called the decision “reckless” and “indefensible”.
“It undermines America’s standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity’s ability to solve the climate crisis. But, make no mistake, if President Trump won’t lead, the American people will.
“The consequences of the climate crisis are actually worse than scientists predicted. However, there’s no question that the progress in developing the solutions has been much more rapid than anyone would have allowed themselves to believe. Just as all of us have been surprised by the computer chip revolution, it turns out that the advances in solar energy, wind energy, batteries, electric vehicles, and so many other technologies that help to reduce emissions, has also been shockingly rapid.
“Regardless of what President Trump does, the US is going to continue reducing emissions – Atlanta just announced that it’s going to 100 per cent renewable energy and big businesses like Apple and Google are doing the same.
“The technologies that are now available make it economically smart to do that. We’re in the early stages of a global sustainability revolution that has the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution but the speed of the Digital Revolution.” The former vice president may have missed his destiny but he’s clearly found his calling.
Interview by Martyn Palmer
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is in UK cinemas from Friday 18 August