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Al Gore: 'Trump’s antics distract the US from the big challenges we face - like the climate crisis'

The former US Vice President speaks to TheJournal.ie about his new documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel.

Source: Paramount Pictures/YouTube

THERE’S A SCENE in the new documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power where its star, former US Vice President Al Gore, meets families affected by the typhoon which struck Tacloban in 2013.

As he talks to John Leonard Chan about how the typhoon affected his family, the young man breaks down in tears.

It’s one of a number of moments in An Inconvenient Sequel where the filmmakers show us the devastating human impact of global warming. It takes the concept out of the abstract and turns it into an emotion that we can all feel.

null Al Gore with John Leonard Chan, Climate Leadership Trainee in the Philippines and survivor of the Typhoon Haiyan Source: Jensen Walker

Speaking to Al Gore as he hits the promotional trail for the film, you realise that he is – given his many years in politics and the shelves laden with impressive awards (an Oscar here, a shared Nobel Peace Prize there) – incredibly good at talking to the media. But rather than being slick and disconnected, it feels that he is simply well informed and eager to share his knowledge.

He’s been espousing the climate change cause since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until Gore’s exit from the politics world that he really took it on. He put together a slideshow (at one point getting some help from his friend Steve Jobs on the technical side of things) and began touring the world spreading the word.

What also spurred on his ‘personal epiphany’, as Gore calls it, was the near death of his son in a serious accident in 1989. This dark moment forced him to reexamine his life, ”how I was spending my time, and what issues I was working on in the US Senate”.

He deepened his emotional commitment to the climate crisis, and began putting together the slideshow and working on his book Earth in the Balance.

null Al Gore giving his updated presentation in Houston, TX Source: Paramount Pictures and Participant Media

When the apocalyptic blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow was due in cinemas, Gore was asked to appear on a panel discussing climate change the day before the premiere. Moderating the discussion was environmental activist and producer Laurie David, who came up to Gore afterwards and told him his slideshow needed to be turned into a film.

Gore, for his part, thought it was a “crazy idea”.

The documentary went on to win an Oscar.

“I must admit that I was one of the people who was quite sceptical about the whole idea of the first movie,” he tells TheJournal.ie. “And for a silly uninformed reason – when I was a college student taking a Shakespeare course I tried to do make it easier on myself by watching a filmed version of Shakespeare’s plays where they just set up a camera and pointed it at the stage. And I thought: this is awful..”

null Source: Jensen Walker

He presumed that a film about a stage presentation was not going to work, because he “didn’t realise that there are people in Hollywood who actually are extremely skillful in making even a slideshow entertaining”.

The message

An Inconvenient Sequel follows a similar style to its predecessor, interspersing his regularly-updated slideshow with footage of Gore travelling to climate change hotspots, and beautiful shots of melting glaciers.

But the difference between the two movies is that in the latest one, Gore is clearly trying to bring a message of hope: yes, things can change; yes, things are changing; yes, governments can make decisions that affect climate change.

“I’m so glad to be able to bring this message of hope,” says Gore of this latest installment. “It’s coupled with a message that we should have an increased sense of urgency, but it’s really about positive developments that the solutions to the climate crisis are here now and all we need is the political will to implement more changes. Thankfully, political will is a renewable resource.”

null Al Gore with Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau at the U.N. Climate Conference (Paris Agreement) in Paris, France Source: Paramount Pictures and Participant Media

‘Ireland should more more quickly’

On the subject of political will, I ask him what message he has for the Irish government, which has only of late started to take major steps to address the country’s impact on global warming.

“I would encourage the Irish government to move more quickly,” he says, pointing to Irish history, particularly the Great Famine, and saying it should encourage the Irish government to join the dots on the issue.

The new documentary devotes much time to Gore’s role in the Paris Agreement, where he is seen trying to encourage India to sign the dotted line. The agreement saw hundreds of countries pledge to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

null Al Gore in a helicopter in Greenland Source: Paramount Pictures and Participant Media

But a man who put a spanner in the works is one Donald Trump, who decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Does Gore think that paying attention to Trump’s antics can distract from the wider issue of climate change in the US?

“I think that Trump’s antics do distract the US from the big challenges we should be facing, the biggest of which is the climate crisis,” says Gore. “And when he made his speech withdrawing from the Paris Agreement I was concerned that some other countries might use that as an excuse to pull out themselves – but the exact opposite happened.”

He was gratified when, the day after Trump’s about-turn, “the rest of the world redoubled their commitment to the Paris Agreement”.

It was an enormous relief and I think it illustrated the old law of physics that sometimes works in politics, namely that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the US, more than two thirds of the American people are on side and a majority of Republican voters are on side. Trump has isolated himself and that limits the damage.

null Al Gore in Greenland Source: Paramount Pictures and Participant Media

The little town that could

An intriguing part of the documentary, which shows that those who value dollars have little to fear from tackling global warming, is when Gore meets Dale Ross, the Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas.

Ross has enthusiastically embraced fighting climate change, but mainly because of his accountancy background. He’s done the sums, and they added up to benefit the town’s coffers and the wider environment.

“That was one of the most hopeful and encouraging experiences I had when they were making the film,” reflects Gore. “The most conservative Republican city in Texas with a conservative Trump-supporting mayor who happens to be an accountant, so was able to do the arithmetic – and now their electricity bills have gone down and their air is cleaner, and it’s something of a side benefit that they’re helping.”

It’s clear that this film has more of a focus on the powers-that-be than on the little steps the average citizen can take.

“I switched to electric car, which I absolutely love and planted 16k trees last year on farm and these things do add up,” says Gore when asked about the changes he made in his own life.

But as important as it is to change things like lightbulbs, it’s far more important to change things like law.

null Source: Jensen Walker

Looking to the future

That said, Gore has a company which is responsible for training climate change leaders, and he clearly sees the participants as having a big role in spreading the message about climate change.

“There is now a powerful amount of momentum in the climate movement – millions of grassroots activists around the world,” he says. “I believe so strongly in this cause and those of us who understand how high the stakes are just try every way possible to achieve the solutions more quickly and when you can make progress it really feels good. The late Nelson Mandela once said during the anti apartheid movement it’s always impossible until it’s done.”

Gore says, too, that change needs “to occur more quickly because we are winning but we’re not winning fast enough, and consequently we need to make more progress more quickly”.

I’m confident that we will because we’re gaining momentum, but that’s one reason for this movie: to try and build the momentum.

null Source: Paramount Pictures and Participant Media

Overall, the documentary highlights two things: the fact that the solutions to climate change are here, but so are more climate-related extreme events.

As we bring our conversation to a close, I ask Gore about his legacy. He’s achieved so much – what would he like to be remembered for?

“I don’t spend too much time thinking about that,” he says, with a touch of Southern humility.

“But since you ask: for something I haven’t yet succeeded in doing yet, and that is to help along with others bring the world across this political tipping point, where Ireland and United States and other nations go all-out to solve the climate crisis so that future generations are not burdened by hellish conditions.”

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power, produced by Paramount and Participant Media, is in cinemas now.

Read: Al Gore warns Irish government to “move more quickly” on climate change>

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