I spent two hours one-on-one with Gore just before An Inconvenient Truth was released. Much of our interview focused on an irony that seems to have escaped many of those who have urged him to run for president: the last time Gore served in the White House, he failed to deliver much progress against global warming. During its eight years in office, the Clinton-Gore administration did not pass a single major law against climate change. It did sign the Kyoto Protocol, but only after watering it down with crippling loopholes, and then it chose not to seek Senate ratification of the treaty.No prize at the end of this road, just the gratitude of posterity.
In our interview, Gore acknowledged these failings. But he argued that the blame lay not with him or Clinton, who, he said, "was much more responsive than not." Rather, Gore said, "the resistance was tremendous" from the status quo. The two richest, most powerful industries in American history, oil and autos, were fiercely opposed to cutting emissions, as were coal and electricity companies. Kyoto was "blocked by pressure from the polluters," Gore told me, adding that ExxonMobil and other big companies "purposely confused people" with tens of millions of dollars of advertising and lobbying that misrepresented and disparaged the science behind global warming. This disinformation campaign encouraged "massive denial in the country as a whole" and "conditioned the battlefield" in Washington so that Congress ended up blocking reform.
The lesson Gore seems to have drawn from his defeats in the White House is that being president is not enough to create real change, especially if powerful interests are against you. The only way to defeat them is to recondition the battlefield -- to build such a pervasive wave of public pressure that no matter which politicians get elected, each will feel compelled to take action, even if it means disappointing ExxonMobil and friends.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
At Grist, Mark Hertsgaard explains that Al Gore has a more important job than being president: