The Paradox of Al Gore

Wed, 2007-10-17 13:50Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Paradox of Al Gore

A DeSmogBlog exclusive weekly column by best-selling author and science writer, Chris Mooney.
 

When Al Gore won the Nobel Peace prize last Friday–along with the very deserving U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–the fulminations predictably followed. Previous victims of what Paul Krugman calls “Gore Derangement Syndrome” had new flare-ups of the disease, often in the most embarrassing of places. There was a rash of bad science reporting, suggesting that Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (the film version) is somehow much more inaccurate than it actually is.

And then came the powerful defenses of Gore, the skewerings of the Gore deranged, and just general voicing of reason. Alas, the Gore defenders, while being broadly accurate about Gore's “broadly accurate” film, also seem to have missed some key matters that bear addressing.

So let's add some needed perspective here.

First of all: Al Gore eminently deserves the Nobel Peace prize. He deserves this highest of honors because as a communicator and as a leader, he has done a truly remarkable thing: Transformed the global warming issue, thereby making it much more likely to be solved, thereby potentially saving the world massive grief.

In case you hadn't noticed, today it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that we are going to take serious action to curtail human-induced greenhouse gas emissions pretty soon. Denial has gone out of style. There is still much work to do, to be sure, and we are far from being saved–we need, among other things, a new U.S. president first–and most troubling of all, it's probably too late to avoid at least some serious alterations to the planet. But nevertheless, you'd have to be blind not to notice that the politics of this issue are really, finally changing.

Media attention to climate change is at an all time high. Legislation is being drafted en masse in Congress. Major corporations are coming around, and in fact, demanding regulatory action. Another core part of the traditional U.S. Republican base–evangelicals–are also awakening on the issue. Indeed, not even President Bush can deny the science and obfuscate any longer–and neither, to a large extent, can Republican presidential candidates. Much as I hate to admit it (as the author of The Republican War on Science), the issue is becoming less officially partisan, as major states with Republican mayors like California and Florida swing into action.

In short, momentum is building for a change on climate change–and Gore has been a tremendous part of that. His film, his book, his congressional testimony, his Oscar, and now his Nobel…With ample and much needed help from Hollywood, in the last year and a half Gore has grown into a media and communications juggernaut, a personage and a public intellectual who is now more or less synonymous with this new period of heightened attention to climate change. Given the incredibly powerful and yet also extremely fickle nature of the modern media, to triumph as a communicator on so complex and difficult an issue, on so massive a scale, really does merit an award as prestigious as the one that Gore has now been granted.

And yet we must–must–include some caveats along with these statements. Gore's film–the front wedge of his communications juggernaut–is indeed broadly accurate, and yet most emphatically not perfect. What documentary is?

There has been a lot of silly talk of alleged “errors” in the film; many of the charges, however, are either dubious or irrelevant to the big picture. To be sure, and as I've explained previously, there are certainly things I would have done differently had I been the auteur behind An Inconvenient Truth. For example, I would have included many more scientific caveats, particularly when it comes to knotty issues about the relationship between climate change and weather events. But I am not going to take Gore unduly to task over this here; to do so would be both perverse and unproductive. Inevitably, the Gore deranged are much more misleading about climate science than you could ever accuse Gore of being. So I refuse to play their game and take potshots at someone whom they themselves have no business criticizing.

Let them tend to their own houses first.

However, there's one arena in which we seriously ought to criticize the Gore communications juggernaut–it just isn't the realm of scientific accuracy. Rather, the true issue is the one that Matthew Nisbet has been highlighting, and what I might term the “Gore paradox”: Gore is our top mass media communicator on climate change, and yet Gore turns off many audiences that we definitely need to reach. This fact puts anyone who cares about the climate issue in an awkward position: On the one hand, we must applaud Gore for drawing dramatic new attention to the crisis; and yet at the same time, we must lament that too many Americans distrust Gore and simply won't listen to him.

Because while it's funny as hell to talk about “Gore Derangement Syndrome,” the truth is that we need the people who currently suffer from this malady to join the climate cause. And Gore, because of his immense political baggage, because of the many preconceptions that persist about him, seems unable to reach them.

The data on this are clear and stark. As Nisbet explains: “Despite Gore's breakthrough success with Inconvenient Truth, public opinion today is little different from what it was in May 2006 when the movie was released.” Gore is mobilizing the base, and Gore is generating tremendous media attention, but he doesn't seem to be winning converts. A huge gap still exists between the two parties' rank and file in terms of how seriously they take the global warming threat.

And that should hardly be surprising: As Nisbet further notes, thanks largely to our partisan politics and in particular to the bruising 2000 election and Florida recall, only half of the U.S. public has a favorable opinion of Gore, while only 24 percent of Republicans think he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. If you think about it, that makes perfect sense: Millions of conservative Americans spent the 2000 election season bitching about Gore on a daily basis, and then vigorously pulled their levers against him, and then bitched some more about why he wouldn't step down and let Bush be president during the Florida recall.

Fair or unfair, right or wrong, on some level Gore may never be able to overcome that political baggage.

That's the Gore paradox, and it may be the Gore tragedy as well. He is awesome, he is a hero, he should have been president–and yet thanks to our goddamn partisan politics, when it comes to communicating on global warming he still may not be good enough.

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Comments

A paradox indeed…
Perhaps Mr Gore should have been President of the United States,but just maybe he’s been able to more good on the subject of Global Warming than if he had been President.
As a private citizen he didn’t have to fight a Republican Senate and Congress on a daily basis and he’s been able to sidestep all the lunacy of Washington DC.
As for having another “messenger”…..who?
A Hollywood star, a religious figure? There’s alot of baggage out there! Deserved or not….
Even to those who doubt, Mr Gore has managed to bring Global Warming and Climate Change to the forefront…rub our noses in it if you will.
At this point in time, I believe Mr Gore is leaving a far greater legacy to future generations than is George W Bush.

From which former Enron advisor/full-time moonbat Krugman stole the term.

“DeSmogBlog is a registered non-profit, and we count on reader’s donations to help us do what we do. So donate today, $10, $25, heck even $5,000”

Pass the collection plate, believers. You could see that coming a mile a way.

“great US science writers like Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and Stormworld.”

Science writer? LOL!!!

Do you have anything of substance to say, or are you just passing on your wingnut spam?

Best, D

I don’t know why it should be so hard to find someone like Gore or better. Being a leader on this issue should bring a lot of benefits, and I imagine that a lot of talented, charismatic folks out there would like a shot at those benefits (look at how many people apply to be on those insipid ‘reality’ shows; surely more would like to do something important). The most effective person might be a Republican convert, someone with some conservative street cred (unlike McCain), but such a person probably could not flourish in the role because of Gore’s incumbency. Huh … probably the best we can hope for is to have many leaders emerge on the issue, from many parts of the social mosaic, just like is happening now.

On a related note, I think I heard somewhere that the White House did not want an American to head the IPCC, and that folks with influence in the US wanted it to be some guy from a place like India with an accent and a name that is hard to spell, pronounce, remember. That is, the leader of the IPCC was intentionally not somebody whom the average US citizen would consider a leader. Is that just crazy conspiracy stuff?

When the IPCC Chairmanship renewal was up, at the behest of Exxon/Mobil, the Bush administration undercut the current chairman Bob Watson in favor of Pachauri, who has turned out to be pretty darned good anyway.

http://www.slate.com/id/2064611/

Chris

I just left this comment over at The Intersection…

I’m working with a coalition to make sure Congress sends the president a strong energy bill with meaningful changes for our environment and planet. This legislation would be a monumental step toward stopping global warming. Please go to http://www.energybill2007.us and sign the petition. This is our chance for real progress, don’t let Congress back down.

Congress finally has a chance to pass meaningful energy legislation. The bill they are about to pass includes the best fuel economy standards ever (35 mpg by 2020) and a renewable electricity standard (15% by 2020) that guarantees the growth of renewable, clean energy. But there is a chance these two key advances won’t make it through to the final bill.

Please let your readers know and thanks for your support!

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The Washington Post ran a Right of Reply from Gore’s office. It’s here: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2007/10/an_inconvenient_truth_team_gor_1.html

is that people take him seriously, inspite of himbeing both a hypocrite and a liar.
How can anyone respect Gore? Does anyone respect Gore?

Apparently the folks at Nobel managed to hold their noses long enough to make the award.

Well, I just happened to visit desmogblog again, and, I noticed, to my satisfaction, that there is as little attention paid to this site as ever. So I decided to stir up some debate to help you out.

Since when did Mr. Gore lie? Since when is Mr. Gore a hypocrite? Please, can you provide us with any sources?

If one does not live as one learns, one is a hypocrite.

If one deliberately spreads information that is not correct, one is a liar.

Gore does both.

You can google gore, browse around a bit, and you’ll find plenty sources.

This is getting very tedious. For every instance where you allege that Gore lied, there are a dozen I could quote re: the “truthiness” of the guys in denial. Maybe you should read that judgment again. The judge did NOT find that they were “errors of science”, but rather that they were points on which there is a range of opinion which should be made clear.

The hypocrisy thing usually centres on Gore’s home and his flying habits. Considering his home houses his own office, his wife’s and several others, is powered & heated by renewable energy sources etc etc etc, I don’t consider that one particularly compelling. Clustering home, office and employees under one roof is more efficient in terms of energy use than separate establishments, and they don’t have to drive to work, either. Which leaves flying.

Yes, Al Gore flies a lot. Much more than I do for certain. But I don’t spend all day every day doing something to save the planet. I feel a lot better about Gore flying than the thousands of people who travel for business when a teleconference would do the trick, or folks who can’t imagine a holiday that doesn’t involve a beach and drinks with little parasols. And then there are the brain-dead “A-listers” who think that celebrity entitles them to jet between London, Paris & New York as though they were just around the block from each other.

Gore’s speaking fees have also been a sore point, but I would be very surprised if most of that doesn’t go towards funding programs and initiatives that advance the cause of educating people and looking for solutions.

He’s been at this for 30 years, since long before it was the flavour of the month for others – and judging by your photo, since you were in short pants. I think he deserves that Nobel.

“Gore is our top mass media communicator on climate change, and yet Gore turns off many audiences that we definitely need to reach”

I presume when you say “our” you mean for Americans, although you fail to make that clear.

“Fair or unfair, right or wrong, on some level Gore may never be able to overcome that political baggage.”

Again, this “political baggage” is only relevant within the US. Sad to say Chris but you are making the same silly mistake Matt Nisbett keeps making and that is you assume that everyone should tailor their message to suit the needs of the US even when they are addressing a global audience. Outside the US Gore is known as a former US vice-president who lost an election to become president and has now found a role warning about the dangers of global warming. Nothing gets in the way of that message for most people, and it is misleading for you claim it does.

I really cannot make my mind up about you and Nisbett. You seem intelligent people and yet you both exhibit this form of American exceptionalism in that you think the only place of importance is the US. If I did not know better I would say it had a whiff of nationalism about it.

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[x]

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

A now-famous 1972 photo of Earth taken by Apollo 17 astronauts from 45,000 kilometres away became known as “the blue marble”. The late scientist Carl Sagan described a 1990 picture taken from six billion kilometres away by the unmanned Voyager 1 as a “pale blue dot”.

The vision of Earth from a distance has profoundly...

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