Al Gore, climate crusader

Former US Vice-President Al Gore has forged new territory in his fight for a cleaner environment and a solution to the climate crisis.

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Former US Vice-President Al Gore has forged new territory in his fight for a cleaner environment and a solution to the climate crisis.

“Hi, I am Al Gore, and I used to be the next president of the United States.”

Former Vice-President Al Gore hardly needs an introduction, however. The man who so famously lost the 2000 US presidential election to George W. Bush in a Supreme Court ruling has deftly reengin-eered himself from an object of pity into a fearless environmental crusader, investment banker, wired citizen, lecturer, media mogul, foreign policy wonk and Internet enthusiast. He says in interviews that he is having the time of his life.

And if Gore wasn’t a household name before, he certainly became one when his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was released worldwide in mid-2006. Usually, movie stars become politicians. With Al Gore it is the other way around.

Based on more than 1,000 lectures he has given around the world to anyone who will listen, the movie paints a dire picture in which a warming climate threatens civilization, and if the human race wants to survive, we have about 10 years to start turning things around.

The movie got rave reviews when it opened at the Sundance Film Festival. In Los Angeles, it got standing ovations. But Al Gore isn’t just a movie star with a one-man show, which is basically the format of his movie.

After losing the presidential race, Gore and his wife, Tipper, took a six-week holiday to Greece and Spain. He came home unshaven, with a huge beard that made him look like Grizzly Adams. He was lampooned without mercy on the late-night talk shows. “It was just his way of saying he was free,” said Tipper Gore in a Wired magazine interview, in his defence.

Al Gore once described himself as a “recovering politician.” He also calls the political process “toxic,” which is understandable, given that he missed the most powerful job in the world by only a few chads and a Supreme Court verdict.


Today, Al Goreis hotter and hipper than ever, and in interview after interview he eschews any plans to re-enter politics and run for president in 2008, despite huge popularity ratings in US polls. The former vicepresident is on the board of Apple Computer and is an advisor to top management at Google, arguably the two most innovative companies on the technology landscape.

Two years ago, Gore and David Blood, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, formed Generation Investment Management, an investment fund based on the principles of sustainability. Their business idea was to capitalize on the carbon-constrained economy that they see coming in the near future. The Financial Times couldn’t resist the headline “Blood and Gore launch firm with a difference.”

And then Gore and a consortium of investors rallied up 70 million US dollars to buy fledgling TV cable news network Current TV, the idea being that viewers could participate in the programming, much like what YouTube, the popular free video sharing Web site, is doing today on the Internet. Ironically, when Gore was studying at Harvard, where he shared a room with Hollywood actor Tommy Lee Jones, he wrote his thesis on television’s relationship to the presidency.


So how do allthese different roles – movie star, Internet enthusiast, journalist, policy wonk, environmental advocate, teacher, investment banker, media mogul, lecturer – fit together?

In Gore’s world, all these endeavours are pieces of the same puzzle. Gore is a neo-green entrepreneur with a messianic faith in the power of technology to stop global warming. His goal is to find market-driven, technological solutions to the climate crisis through a combination of public awareness, federal action and good, old-fashioned capitalism. True to form, he calls the climate crisis a non-partisan issue.

After its run in cinemas worldwide, An Inconvenient Truth will tour through schools in the US free of charge, as a kind of public service. Gore and his wife are currently training an army of presenters with the same visual, PowerPoint and photographic materials to go on the road and spread the message even further.

It is pretty unusual for a former US vice-president such as Al Gore to have such a strong media personality after he leaves office. The thing is, when he was vicepresident and running for office, Gore was hampered by consultants who advised him not to focus on envir-onmental issues. President Bush called him, in one memorable debate, “the Ozone Man.”

Ozone or no ozone, ice melts or no ice melts, Al Gore has managed to harness the power of the Internet to his advantage. Gore was never a media lighthouse while in office and was often overshadowed by Bill Clinton’s exploits.

“As it turned out, Al Gore as presented by Al Gore is infinitely more electric and attractive than the anodyne stiff the media popularized and the voters remembered,” writes Ezra Klein in an article in American Prospect, a liberal US magazine.

And here is where Al Gore shines. Out of office, with no strings attached, Gore can concentrate on what interests him most.

Gore has been particularly hurt by how the media portrayed him over the years. Despite being a journalist at heart, he has been lambasted for being a wild exaggerator, an ideological chameleon and a bore. Gore’s defence is that the press is dysfunctional and fails to inform the people.


One thing Gorehas done to avoid the scrutiny of the press after his failed presidential bid is to post his speeches on the online-activism powerhouse Web site, which offered Gore a direct conduit to millions of engaged activists worldwide.

The idea is to bypass the traditional and established media outlets to reach a greater public that appreciate Al Gore’s messages.

“Gore wants to change things, and not be part of the distorting and stifling process of the mainstream media,” said former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt, a close friend of Gore’s, in Wired magazine.

Every time Gore gives a speech, a guaranteed three million MoveOn members get the link blasted directly into their inboxes. It is Gore unplugged, and everyone has a ticket.

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