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25/07/2006 | Al Gore: ''I'm Already Involved in a Campaign''

Spiegel Staff

Former US vice president Al Gore talks about his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," his battle against global warming, and rumors of his return to politics in the 2008 race for the White House.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Gore, what kind of car do you drive? Gore: About a year ago we bought a hybrid, but I don't drive very much. We've changed our entire lifestyle. We made the decision to be carbon-neutral and eliminate any net CO2 contribution to the environment. Even "An Inconvenient Truth" was produced in part using carbon-neutral, alternative energies. Paramount also made the decision to ensure that the tour and the promotional activities would be done in a carbon-neutral way.

SPIEGEL: But your noble commitment seems to be just a drop in the bucket. You keep saying yourself that we only have ten years before climate change starts to destroy humanity.

Gore: Yeah. Well, I think that we're going to solve the crisis. But it's going to take a lot of changes quickly.

SPIEGEL: You advertise the movie as "by far the most terrifying film you will ever see." For Europeans the most terrifying aspect is how little most Americans seem to know about global warming. How do you explain that?

Gore: The purpose of the movie and the book is to change that. But as to why that's the case: The oil companies and the coal companies have too much influence in the US.

SPIEGEL: And the reason for this influence is that the industries are so closely connected to the US government? Your successor, Vice President Dick Cheney, was after all CEO of Halliburton, an oil-services company.

Gore: Yes. Leadership does make a difference in the way people think. Bush and Cheney have led us in the wrong direction. But it's also true that a lot of Democrats are resistant to change on this issue. I think it has to do with our political history and culture, with our "frontier mentality," which used to mean striking out for new horizons and now I think plays into our habit of driving great distances.

SPIEGEL: The whole American lifestyle is "larger than life." Big cars, McMansions, air conditioners. Does the way of life have to change?

Gore: When the United States joins either the Kyoto treaty or a tougher treaty that may take its place, then people in other countries who now feel good about what they are doing partly because it's in such contrast to how badly the US is doing will have to think twice. Everyone will have to check and make sure they're doing enough. That's the other reason why it's so important for the US to join the world community -- so the world can get on with making the next round of big changes.

SPIEGEL: With all due respect for your optimism, hasn't the Iraq war been waged to secure adequate oil supplies for the US?

Gore: The system works more like this, if you look at the overall pattern: The United States borrows money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf and burn it at home -- in ways that destroy the planet. That is not good. We need to change all those things.

SPIEGEL: Oil and gas are becoming poker chips in a global power game. Dick Cheney just accused Russia of blackmailing Ukraine with its state-owned natural gas monopoly, Gazprom.

Gore: He's right about that, but I don't think he really got concerned until some of the oil companies started losing contracts in Russia.

SPIEGEL: Is he still acting like the head of an oil-services corporation?

Gore: Well, I must warn you that I have begun to fear that I'm losing my objectivity on Bush and Cheney.

SPIEGEL: Would these problems be easier to solve if the man in charge were an environmentalist?

Gore: Where are you going with this question?

SPIEGEL: You seem to understand: Will you run for the White House in 2008?

Gore: I'm a recovering politician. I have run four national campaigns. I have been there and done that. I've found other ways to serve my country and I enjoy them. When I'm giving my slide show, I see looks of recognition in the audience, and I hear afterwards how people are changing their lives because of the slide show or the movie. I'm fulfilled by that. And I also feel good that I think I'm making progress.

SPIEGEL: Where do you see this progress?

Gore: I think the change is now underway. Eighty-five conservative evangelical ministers, long supportive of President Bush, just announced their opposition to his policies on the climate crisis and called on their congregations to solve the crisis. Quite a few big business leaders that have been supportive of Bush, including the CEO of General Electric, have now broken with Bush over this issue. Two hundred and thirty cities, many of them with Republican mayors, have independently ratified the Kyoto treaty. Grassroots organizations in every state are collecting signatures and organizing. All these things together make me believe that the message is having an impact. And there's now another voice in the debate: Mother Nature has spoken.

SPIEGEL: You mean natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Gore: That was a wake-up call for millions of Americans.

SPIEGEL: Should you have done more about climate change when you were in the White House?

Gore: Well, I enjoyed being in the Clinton-Gore Administration. I'm proud of the work we did. I helped to get the breakthrough at Kyoto and I worked very hard to make changes in US environmental policy. But it wasn't my administration. I shared in it. And I learned in that process that the most urgent need in the US is to change the minds of the American people. Because the politicians, no matter who they are, no matter if they're environmentalists or not, will be able to do more or less depending upon how the people feel about the crisis.

SPIEGEL: Do you want to transform this from a political issue to a moral one?

Gore: Yes, yes. The civil rights movement in the US began to make progress when it was redefined as a moral issue. And the climate crisis should be seen as a moral issue and an ethical responsibility rather than a poltical issue because the survival of human civilization is at risk. We only have one planet, we have a common future, and it's not Republican or Democratic or conservative or liberal.

SPIEGEL: Some Republicans would call you a tree-hugger who's out of touch with the problems of middle-class Americans.

Gore: First of all, it's a myth to say as they sometimes do that you have to choose between the environment and the economy. There are billions of dollars being made by companies introducing solutions to this crisis. The old patterns aren't that enjoyable anyway: sitting in traffic jams, breathing smog. I would like to have light rail systems and comfortable mass transit. We can improve the quality of life, create more jobs and raise incomes as we clean up the environment. Look at the automobile industry: The Republicans and others have argued that we in the US should have the worst standards for fuel efficiency in the world in order to help General Motors and Ford. What's happening to GM and Ford?

SPIEGEL: They're losing market share.

Gore: Yes. And companies that are doing well are companies like Toyota. Every Prius (hybrid car) they're doing has a long waiting list.

SPIEGEL: Some big polluters have started to change. You mentioned GE, and Exxon Mobile has started pushing environmental themes in its ads.

Gore: Exxon Mobile is pretending to say something positive about the environment. They call it "green-washing." They are the worst of the opponents when it comes to trying to solve this crisis. They spend millions of dollars a year to spread false information about global warming. It's shocking, really. It's what the tobacco companies did to deceive people about the science connecting smoking with lung disease. It's the same thing. They should be ashamed of themselves.

SPIEGEL: Who will lead the Democrats in 2008, if you're not available? Hillary Clinton?

Gore: I don't know. It's too early to tell.

SPIEGEL: Vanity Fair called "An Inconvenient Truth" "maybe the most important film of the year," and put you on the cover of their "Green Issue" ...

Gore: ... along with Julia Roberts and George Clooney.

SPIEGEL: And The New Yorker called you "Mr. Ozone," like a superhero. The Economist believes you're a viable rival to Hillary Clinton. Don't you feel at least a little bit flattered that everybody considers you a candidate for 2008?

Gore: Sure. I'm only human. But I'm also old enough now and have been through enough in politics not to take that very seriously. I'm already involved in a campaign, but it's not a campaign for a candidacy, it's a campaign for a cause. And the cause is to change the minds of people all over the world, especially in the US, about why we have to solve the climate crisis. If we don't do that, the rest of it doesn't matter at all. It won't matter how you are rebembered in the history books if there are no history books. And no one to read them! (laughs)

SPIEGEL: When did you discover your black sense of humor? After the 2000 election?

Gore: They say a lot of comedy is born of pain. My sense of humor always benefits from low expectations.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Gore, thank you very much for this interview.

Interview was conducted by Andreas Borcholte and Martin Wolf.

About Al Gore

Albert "Al" Arnold Gore, 58, was Vice President of the United States under Bill Clinton, from 1993 till January 2001. In November 2000 he ran for president himself - - and lost a close and controversial race to George W. Bush. Gore went on to found a TV channel; he also works as a university lecturer and a financial manager. Above all he campaigns for the environment, and lately he's put his cause on film. The documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," which shows Gore as an inexhaustible and surprisingly charismatic Cassandra warning about climate change, has excited American critics as well as filmgoers. The movie premieres this week at the Munich Film Festival.

Spiegel (Alemania)


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