RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Cadwalladr writes: "They have taken time off work. And they are here, in the presence of their master, Al Gore. Because Al Gore is to climate change ... well, what Donald Trump is to climate change denial."

Disaster zone: destruction in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. (photo: Mike Groll/AP)
Disaster zone: destruction in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. (photo: Mike Groll/AP)

Al Gore: 'The Rich Have Subverted All Reason'

By Carole Cadwalladr, Guardian UK

30 July 17

With the sequel to his blockbuster documentary An Inconvenient Truth about to be released, Al Gore tells Carole Cadwalladr how his role at the forefront of the fight against climate change consumes his life

n the ballroom of a conference centre in Denver, Colorado, 972 people from 42 countries have come together to talk about climate change. It is March 2017, six weeks since Trump’s inauguration; eight weeks before Trump will announce to the world that he is withdrawing America from the Paris Climate Agreement.

These are the early dark days of the new America and yet, in the conference centre, the crowd is upbeat. They’ve all paid out of their own pockets to travel to Denver. They have taken time off work. And they are here, in the presence of their master, Al Gore. Because Al Gore is to climate change… well, what Donald Trump is to climate change denial.

It’s 10 years since the reason for this, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, was released into cinemas. It was an improbable project on almost every level: a film about what was then practically a non-subject, starring the man best known for not winning the 2000 US election, its beating heart and the engine of its narrative drive a PowerPoint presentation.

When the filmmakers approached him, he explains to the room, “I thought they were nuts. A movie of a slideshow, delivered by Al Gore, what doesn’t scream blockbuster about it?” Except it was a blockbuster. In documentary terms, anyway. The careful accretion of facts and figures genuinely shocked people. And it’s a measure of the impact it had, and still continues to have, that Gore delivers this vignette to a rapt crowd who, over the course of three days, are learning how to be “Climate Reality Leaders”.

It’s the reason why we are all here – his foundation, the Climate Reality Project, an initiative that grew out of the film, provides intensive training in talking about climate change, combating climate change denial – and the tone might be described as “activist upbeat”. This is a crisis that is solvable, we’re told. Trump is just another hitch, another hurdle to overcome. And it will be overcome. Only occasionally does a sliver of despair leak around the edges. You have to stay positive, a man called David Ellenberger tells the audience. Though sometimes, he admits: “There’s not enough Prozac to get through the day.”

It’s almost a relief to hear someone acknowledge this. Because before there was “FAKE NEWS!!!” and the “FAILING New York Times!” Trump was tweeting about “GLOBAL WARMING hoaxsters!” and “GLOBAL WARMING bullshit!” The war on the mainstream media may capture the headlines currently, but the war on climate change science has been in play for years. And it’s this that is one of the most fascinating aspects of Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Because if the US had a subtitle at the moment, it might be that, too, and the struggle to overcome fake facts and false narratives funded by corporate interests and politically motivated billionaires is one that Gore has been at the frontline of for more than a decade.

The film runs through a host of facts – that 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001 is just one. And the accompanying footage is biblical, terrifying: tornadoes, floods, “rain bombs”, exploding glaciers. We see roads falling into rivers and fish swimming through the streets of Miami.

The nightly news, Gore says, has become “a nature hike through the Book of Revelations”. But what his work has shown and continues to show is that evidence is not enough. The film opens with clips from Fox News ridiculing global warming. In recent weeks, the New York Times has started describing the Trump administration as waging a “war on science”, a full-on assault against evidence-based science that runs in parallel with his attacks on evidence-based reporting. And Gore is in something of a unique position to understand this. What becomes clear over the course of several conversations is how entwined he believes it all is – climate change denial, the interests of big capital, “dark money”, billionaire political funders, the ascendancy of Trump and what he calls (he’s written a book on it) “the assault against reason”. They are all pieces of the same puzzle; a puzzle that Gore has been tracking for years, because it turns out that climate change denial was the canary in the coal mine.

“In order to fix the climate crisis, we need to first fix the government crisis,” he says. “Big money has so much influence now.” And he says a phrase that is as dramatic as it is multilayered: “Our democracy has been hacked.” It’s something I hear him repeat – to the audience in the ballroom, in a room backstage, a few weeks later in London, and finally on the phone earlier this month.

What do you mean by it exactly? “I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,” says Gore, “have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn’t. It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial groups. It’s clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to this existential threat.”

One of Trump’s first acts after his inauguration was to remove all mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is that one of Theresa May’s first actions on becoming prime minister – within 24 hours of taking office – was to close the Department for Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it’s this network of power that Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.

“In Tennessee we have an expression: ‘If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be pretty sure it didn’t get there by itself.’ And if you see these levels of climate denial, you can be pretty sure it didn’t just spread itself. The large carbon polluters have spent between $1bn and $2bn spreading false doubt. Do you know the book, Merchants of Doubt? It documents how the tobacco industry discredited the consensus on cigarette smoking and cancer by creating doubt, and shows how it’s linked to the climate denial movement. They hired many of the same PR firms and some of the same think tanks. And, in fact, some of those who work on climate change denial actually still dispute the links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.”

The big change between our first conversation in Denver and our last, on the phone this month, is the news that Gore had been desperately hoping wouldn’t happen: Trump’s announcement on 1 June that he was pulling America out of the Paris Agreement. The negotiations in Paris are right at the heart of the new film, its emotional centre, and when I watch it in March, the ending still sees Gore expressing guarded optimism.

So, what happened? “I was wrong,” he says on the phone from Australia, where he’s been promoting the film. “Based on what he told me, I definitely thought there was a better than even chance he might choose to stay in. But I was wrong. I was fearful that other countries for whom it was a close call would follow his lead, but I’m thrilled the reaction has been exactly the opposite. The other 19 members of the G20 have reiterated that Paris is irreversible. And governors and mayors all over the country have been saying we are all still in and, in fact, it’s just going to make us redouble our commitments.”

The film had to be recut, the ending changed, the gloves are now off. What changed Trump’s mind? “I think Steve Bannon and his crowd put a big push on Trump and convinced him that he needed to give this to his base supporters. He had blood in his eyes.” It’s instructive because Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, is also the ideologue behind Trump’s assault on the media. And Bannon’s understanding of the news and information space, and efforts to manipulate it via Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, both funded by another key climate change denier, Robert Mercer, are at the heart of the Trump agenda.

And what becomes clear if you Google “climate change” is how effective the right has been in owning the subject. YouTube’s results are dominated by nothing but climate change denial videos. This isn’t news for Gore. He has multiple high-level links to Silicon Valley. He’s on the board of Apple and used to be an adviser for Google. “We are fully aware of the problem,” he says with what sounds like resigned understatement. Gore has had more than a decade fighting climate change denial, and in some respects, the problem has simply worsened and deepened.

“On the other hand, two-thirds of the American people are convinced that it’s an extremely serious crisis and we have to take it on,” he says. “And there is a law of physics that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. And I do think there is a reaction to the Trump/Brexit/Alt-Right populist authoritarianism around the world. People who took liberal democracy more or less for granted are now awakening to a sense that it can only be defended by the people themselves.”

And it’s in this, his belief in social progress against all odds, that he takes his lead from the civil rights movement. The cut of the film I see compares the climate change movement to the other great social movements that eventually won out: the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights. Something profound and disturbing is happening right now, though, he admits. “The information system is in such a chaotic transition and people are deluged with so much noise that it gives an opening for Trump and his forces to wage war against facts and reason.”

Is it, as some people describe, an information war? “Absolutely,” he says. “There’s no question about it.”

What there isn’t much of, in the film, is Al Gore, the man. In 2010, he split from Tipper, his wife of 40 years and the mother of his two grown-up daughters, and what becomes clear is just how much of his life the fight takes up. When I catch up with him next, he’s in London for a board meeting of his green-focused investment firm, Generation Investment Management, and I ask him to tell me about his recent travels.

“Two weeks ago, I had three red-eyes in five days. I’ve been in Sweden, the Netherlands, Sharjah, then let’s see, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles. Where else?” he asks his assistant.

“Vegas,” she says. “We did CinemaCon.”

“Vegas, we did that. And then, let’s see, Nashville, on my farm.”

I assume this amount of travel is connected to the release of the film, but no. “I’ve been at this level for the past 10 years and longer.” He hesitates to use the word “mission”, he says, and then uses it. “When you feel a sense of purpose that seems to justify pouring everything you can into it, it makes it easier to get up in the morning.”

He does tell me a bit about his parents though. He describes his father, Al Gore Sr, who grew up poor then became a lawyer and a politician, as “a hero to me”. And it was at the family farm in Carthage, Tennessee, that he held the first Climate Reality training, an informal get-together of 50 people that has morphed into the event I witnessed in Denver. There’s no “type” or demographic, I shared a table with a disparate group – including a consultant for the aerospace industry, a French lawyer and an American chef. And they seemed to have almost nothing in common aside from their passion to do something about climate change. “I’m a gardener so I’m seeing what’s happening with my own eyes,” the chef, Susan Kutner, told me. “You can’t ignore it.”

In light of Trump’s fixation with fake news, it’s fascinating to see. Gore has been fighting disinformation for more than a decade. And, he’s developed his training programme counter to the prevailing ideology. The answer is not online. Social media will not save us. We will not click climate change away. The answer he’s come up with is low-tech, old-fashioned, human. He takes the time to talk to people directly, one to one, in the hope they will speak to other people – who will speak to other people.

The course is run by Gore. He is on stage almost the entire time over three intensive days. And the heart of it is still the slideshow. One of his aides tells me how he was up until 2am the night before. “He’s obsessed with his slides, he has 30,000 of them and he switches them around all the time.”

In the film, you see him perpetually hustling, calling world leaders, rounding up solar energy entrepreneurs, training activists. Hearing information from “people you know” is at the heart of his strategy. “You need people who will look you in the eye and say: ‘Look, this is what I’ve learned, this is what you need to know.’ It works. I’ve seen it work. It is working. And it’s just getting started. We’ve got 12,000 trained leaders now.”

How many people do you think it’s impacted?

“Millions. Honestly, millions. And a non- trivial percentage of them have gone on to become ministers in their countries’ governments or take leadership roles in international organisations. They’ve had an outsized impact. Christiana Figueres [the UN climate chief], who ran the Paris meeting, she was in the second training session I did in Tennessee. And, right now, people are getting really fired up.”

Al Gore shared the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his efforts in combating climate change, but in some ways it feels like he’s just getting started. The rest of the world is only now cottoning on to the enlightenment struggle that’s at the heart of it – a battle royal to defend facts and reason against people and forces for whom it’s a truth too inconvenient to allow. For Gore, the US oil companies are the ultimate culprits, but it’s only just becoming apparent that Russia has also played a role, amplifying messages around climate change as it did around the other issues at the heart of Trump’s agenda, and we segue into his visits to Russia in the early 90s, during one of which he met Putin for the first time.

What did you make of him? “I would not have thought of him as the future president of Russia. I once did a televised town hall event to the whole of Russia and Putin was the one who was in charge of making sure all the cables were connected and whatnot.”

What does he make of the investigations into Russian interference? “I think the investigation of the Trump campaign’s collusions with the Russians and the existence of financial levers of Putin over Trump is proceeding with its own rhythm beneath the news cycle, and may well strike pay dirt.” It’s also worth pointing out that when someone passed his campaign stolen information about George W Bush’s debate research, he handed it to the FBI.

And then he amazes me by pulling out a reference to an interview I conducted with Arron Banks, the Bristol businessman who funded Nigel Farage’s Leave campaign. He’s been reading up about the links between Brexit and Trump, and Banks’s and Farage’s support of Putin and Russia. “He told you: ‘Russia needs a strong man,’ didn’t he? And you hear that in the US, and I don’t think it’s fair to the Russians. I am a true believer in the superiority of representative democracy where there is a healthy ecosystem characterised by free speech and an informed citizenry. I really resist the slur against any nation that they’re incapable of governing themselves.”

Brexit, Trump, climate change, oil producers, dark money, Russian influence, a full- frontal assault on facts, evidence, journalism, science, it’s all connected. Ask Al Gore. You may want to watch Wonder Woman this summer, but to understand the new reality we’re living in, you really should watch An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Because, terrifying as they are, in some ways the typhoons and exploding glaciers are just the start of it. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+29 # librarian1984 2017-07-30 09:52
This week Chris Hedges spoke (on RT!) with Russell Mokhiber of Corporate Crime Reporter. He's exposed numerous instances of public interest, advocacy and watchdog groups having been gagged by corporate money.

The American Diabetes Assn takes money from Oscar Mayer and Coca-Cola! The World Wildlife Federation gets 6% of its budget, about $13 million, from corporations. The Nature Conservancy says it's an organization that represents compromise and cooperation between conservationist s and corporations! The Sierra Club helped push fracking in WV after it got $25 million from Chesapeake Energy, its president saying natural gas was a 'bridge' to clean energy. Sound familiar? This was a talking point used often by Obama and Clinton.

Many watchdog/advoca cy groups were started in the 1970s by Ralph Nader and were successful in getting regulatory legislation passed. Can't have that! Corporations found it served their purposes to donate to these groups and then threaten to withdraw $ if they were criticized.

The Cleveland Clinic surveyed 400+ patient advocacy groups. 10% took more than $1 million from corporations, which supply more than half the funding to 12%.

Mokhiber called Congress a lost cause for now but said grass roots actions can be effective. (MD just banned fracking.) But Ag Gag laws are problematic. Under the Patriot Act it's illegal to 'harm the profits' of Big Ag or animal ag business!

Corporate $ has bought the DP too.
+15 # economagic 2017-07-30 11:34
Yes, all of the above. And collectively we must fight "all of the above." Gore says, “In order to fix the climate crisis, we need to first fix the government crisis.” Climate can't wait, but neither can government. There can be no chicken; there can be no egg.

Gore is certainly right about all of the obstacles being entwined, pieces of the same puzzle, including "the assault against reason," all part of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" (although I believe that line belongs to someone else). The coincidence had not struck me before, but we now know that a key player in this "information war" was born in Tennessee, a contemporary of Al Gore. Sr. Historian Nancy MacLean's recent book, "Democracy In Chains," recounts how a whole new radical school of economic thought, even more favorable to oligarchic rule than the Austrian School, was founded in stealth sixty years ago when future Nobel laureate James McGill Buchanan persuaded the president of Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia to create a new center on that campus to provide the intellectual underpinnings to negate the recent "Browm v Board of Education" ruling. It did that, and then expanded to encompass all major right-wing causes, with Charles Koch himself financing Buchanan's work for a time.

A better term for the "information war" is a "war of propaganda," because the ammunition on one side is almost entirely hollow--false-- with the remainder filled with half-truths designed to deceive.
+16 # librarian1984 2017-07-30 12:14
"The rich have subverted all reason"

Sanders, too, speaks about the irrational greed of our inbred oligarch class. He says they're addicted to power and money, and that rings true. They've bought control over nearly every aspect of our lives -- but instead of being sated they want to suck the marrow from our children's bones. A documentary about the economic crisis in Spain (also on RT) interviewed numerous EU economists and activists; several made the point the European middle class is doing slightly better than us because their oligarchs aren't quite as greedy! OURS are the WORST oligarchs -- so little Tommy is going to die without his medicine.

But there's more to their actions than just plain greed. Chas Koch can't spend the $ he has -- yet he persists. Why? As someone said of Trump, he's not satisfied to win; everyone else must lose. There's a pathology at work. The oligarchs have conflated our suffering with their success. They derive pleasure from the pain, suffering and death they cause.

If a liberal is someone who hasn't been mugged yet, a conservative is someone who doesn't have friends outside their financial circle.

Regulation is essential in keeping them from destroying our country -- but it's not enough. We need to change the oligarch culture. We need to alter their belief that our suffering is entertaining. These people are addicted and they are mentally ill and they need an intervention.

How do we reach them?
+6 # SHK 2017-07-30 13:31
How do we reach them? Vote them ALL out of office and start over from the ground up. Other than that, pitchforks and torches?
+6 # librarian1984 2017-07-30 15:36
That gets at the oligarchs' enablers but not at the financiers and powerful elite who own the politicians. We need to change their culture.

There are people (like Gore Vidal and FDR) who disagree with the Zeitgeist of TPTB. I saw a documentary about one young man who went after the elite -- his relatives! I don't remember the name of it.

I'm all for pitchforks and torches though too :-D How emotionally satisfying it would be to see THEM afraid for a change.
+7 # economagic 2017-07-30 20:48
I'm working my way through Naomi Klein's "NO IS NOT ENOUGH" (sic!), after reading Snyder's "On Tyranny" twice and creating a summary; highly recommended as inoculation against being taken in by their slick deceits. I THINK Klein has some concrete ideas for action. It is likely to be a long fight for which we don't really have time because of the climate issue.
+9 # lfeuille 2017-07-30 18:35
I don't think we can. We have to reach the people they are hurting and overpower them with politically. At that point it might be possible to create a new business culture for a new generation of business leaders, but not while these guys are still in control. They are not going to concede anything.

As to what motivates them besides money, I think it is ego and the power it brings over others. For too many of them it has become an addiction.
+3 # Observer 47 2017-07-31 14:08
Yes, there's more than greed operating. There's also an insatiable lust for power, and, at bottom, a profound fear of loss of control over their lives. None of these issues, however, means that the oligarchs are mentally ill, unless evil is designated an illness. Even if they ARE mentally ill, though, who's going to intervene? Who's going to get to them behind their walls and in their limos and in their office towers? Not happenin'.
+2 # Depressionborn 2017-08-01 09:12
How do we reach them?

simply establish that no person may impose on another's life or property.
+5 # NiskyNerd 2017-07-30 17:27
How do we reach them? Chuck Collins has years of experience working on this huge problem. See
0 # Depressionborn 2017-08-01 14:05
How do we reach them? why do you want to "reach" them, 1984? Why not simply leave them alone? as in "mind your own business"?
+2 # librarian1984 2017-08-01 21:13
I'd be happy to leave them alone. For decades the people haven't hassled even the most rotten rich people. They have better everything, they look down on people, they have a separate justice, better opportunities, they cheat their workers and the government -- but everybody lets it go, because that's just the way things are. The evil get rich and/or the rich get evil, but I've got my own stuff to worry about. Like that.

But for the past 40 years the 'elite' haven't been satisfied to let us live our lives, live and let live. At every fork in the road they've chosen to harm us, harm our kids, so they can have another nickel.

The oligarchs have declared war, the most insidious war going: class warfare. And they've gone too far.

So we either 'reach' them and convince them to change their ways .. or we adopt a new/old policy: eat the rich.

There are many more of us than there are of them.
0 # GeorgePenman 2017-08-01 14:15
To appreciate where this leads, see Democracy in Chains by Nancy McClean.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.