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Former US Vice-President discusses his documentary film 'An inconvenient truth'; and his 30 years in politics.

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Tues day, 12 September 2006



FRAN KELLY:  In the year 2000, Al Gore ran for the President of the United States. He lost to George W. Bush in the closest race in American history. It was a massive blow to the Democrat senator from Tennessee, who was also Vice-President to Bill Clinton. When he was recently asked about whether or not the energy he devotes to spruiking his documentary, An inconvenient truth was as much about saving himself as saving the globe, he responded: this is not therapy, rather it’s passion of long standing.


Al Gore is currently in Australia to talk about that passion.


[Excerpts from film]


Is it possible that we should prepare against other threats besides terrorists?

The Arctic is experiencing faster melting. If this were to go, sea levels worldwide would go up 20 feet.

This is what would happen in Florida. Around Shanghai, home to 40 million people. The area around Calcutta, 60 million.

Here’s Manhattan. The World Trade Center Memorial would be under water.

T hink of the impact of a couple hundred thousand refugees and then imagine 100 million.


FRAN KELLY:   It’s a diabolical picture he paints and, as you just heard, his film outlines the perils of global warming with the aid of cartoons, graphs, computerised images of familiar coastlines redrawn by surges of melted polar ice.


I caught up with Al Gore yesterday. Al Gore, welcome to Breakfast .


AL GORE:   Thank you.


FRAN KELLY:   Mr Gore, Australia’s Industry and Resources Minister, Ian Macfarlane, has dismissed your movie, An inconvenient truth as entertainment and he says you’re just here to sell tickets to a movie; it’s one man’s interpretation of the facts. What do you say to that?


AL GORE:   Well, I’ve been trying to tell this story for 30 years and I do want people to see the movie but it’s not for the ticket price. In fact, my wife and I are giving 100 per cent of any profits to an educational, non-partisan campaign to spread the word further on the climate crisis; same for the book.


The truth about our climate crisis is inconvenient for some of the largest polluters and some of their advocates. It’s inconvenient to all of us in some ways because change is always something that can seem to be difficult. But the truth is the truth, nonetheless, and most of the changes are going to be good for us. They will improve the quality of life and we cannot continue dumping these obscene amounts of global warming pollution into the earth’s atmosphere and expect the consequences to be benign. They’re not. And the scientific community is overwhelming; they’re almost shouting from the rooftops at this point and we really have to listen to them.


FRAN KELLY:   We’ll come to that in a moment. This issue, climate change, particularly in this country, it’s a political hot potato really. But you make the point in the film that this is beyond politics. There is a moral case to global warming. What is that moral case?


AL GORE:   We have a responsibility to our children and our grandchildren, especially when the harmful consequences are being felt right now in our generation. The real question here is whether we are capable of reigning in all this pollution that is destroying the habitability of the earth.


Let’s take the specific case of Australia. Australia, in many ways, has more at risk than any other nation. You have climate extremes now because of your latitude and your place in the middle of the ocean—an island continent. And those extremes are predicted to get worse. What’s happening already is in keeping with the past predictions of the global warming scientists. You have here, in Sydney, in Brisbane, in Perth and elsewhere, shortages of drinking water. You have more fires. You have threats to the Great Barrier Reef. You have more category five cyclones. And most importantly of all, the soil moisture is being threatened as scientists have told us it would be. Australia is the driest of the inhabited continents and you’ve ingeniously created this magnificent society and civilisation in a place where the water is marginal. And yet global warming threatens that.


We can solve it but in order to avoid that harm, we have to see it as a moral issue and discharge the responsibility we have to those who come after us.


FRAN KELLY:   Your film shows a very gloomy picture. Our Prime Minister John Howard has said he’s sceptical about the more gloomy scenario surrounding global warming. You say in the film we have 10 years at best to fix this before it does irreparable damage to the earth’s climate. It’s as big a threat to our civilisation as terrorism. How do we know who to believe? How do we know which interpretation of the science to go with?


AL GORE:   Well, the scientific community has arrived at a consensus long since. The idea that there is disagreement about the science is a myth. The National Academy of Science here in Australia, in the United States, in every advanced country agrees on this. The international ....


FRAN KELLY:   Not agreement on the scale, though, and that’s what our Prime Minister says.


AL GORE:   No, there actually is. There’s an international group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Two thousand scientists from 100 countries, including Australia, that have worked for 20 years on this and they regularly update the scale of the consequences that are predicted as a consequence of global warming. It’s the most serious threat we’ve ever faced.


Some of the largest polluters spend a lot of money to try to cloud the air with pseudo-science to pretend there’s disagreement about this. There really isn’t.


FRAN KELLY:   Our Prime Minister has also ... obviously Australia has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and John Howard says to do so would destroy jobs and raise the cost of energy for consumers. He said in the parliament: my first responsibility is not to an ideology on this but to Australian workers.


Now, you say Australia has more at risk. John Howard would say: Australia has more to lose from Kyoto.


AL GORE:   It’s a myth that we have to choose between the economy and the environment. Time after time, industries that have been asked to cut back on their pollution have always raised the spectre of causing economic harm if we clean up the environment. And in almost every case, the reverse has proven to be true. In my country, the automobile companies said we can’t have tougher standards because we’ll lose our customers. Well, they got what they wanted, the lowest standards in the world, and now they’re near to bankruptcy because the consumers want more efficient, cleaner cars and they’re buying them from Japan and Europe.


Australia’s future, as my country’s future, depends on moving forward, past the old, dirty, polluting technologies of the past to invest in brain power and productivity and innovation. That’s where the jobs in the advanced countries are going to be found in the future.


FRAN KELLY:   Does that bring us to the notion of more efficient, cleaner, coal? Australia, if we can move beyond Kyoto and look at the Asia-Pacific partnership, which Australia and the US and several other countries have set up, it’s all about focussing on the development of low emissions technology, like clean coal technology, to cut greenhouse gases. Will that work?


AL GORE:   Well, the rump group that’s posed by the US and Australia as an alternative to Kyoto is not really taken seriously as a device for really solving the problem. But the technology of capturing and sequestering the carbon emissions may well have a bright future. I hope it does. There’s a lot of research going into it. If we put a price on carbon, if we force the companies creating all this carbon pollution to accept responsibility for it, that would do more than anything else to speed up the development of carbon capture technologies. It may well be that it will be limited to the places where there are appropriate underground storage reservoirs adjacent to the deposits of carbon and the efficiency of the capture technology. I hope that works.


FRAN KELLY:   So there’s value in pursuing it?


AL GORE:   There definitely is. The US, like Australia, has massive supplies of coal and if we could take the pollution out of it and capture it and prevent the harm from being done then, yes, we could continue to use it.


FRAN KELLY:   Despite the gloomy predictions about the fate of the world in your film, you remain optimistic, and you remain optimistic, you say that politicians will eventually meet the challenge. Why are you so confident? Where is the leadership coming from?


AL GORE:   Well, I know one thing about the political system from my almost 30 years in it that is sometimes overlooked by the pessimist. The political system is similar to the climate system in one respect: it can seem to move at a snail’s pace but then it can cross a tipping point and all of a sudden shift into high gear. And when enough people feel the appropriate sense of urgency, understand the nature of this crisis, see the solutions, then they will demand that political leaders act. And when there’s a critical mass of people demanding it, then the political system can move with astonishing speed.


FRAN KELLY:   If we can move directly to the political now, and reviewers of your film say that this is Al Gore as we’ve never seen him before: funny, engaging, open and passionate. You introduce yourself as the man who used to be the next President of the United States. Is this your pitch for a second attempt at the presidency?


AL GORE:   No. No, it’s not. I don’t intend to run for president again. I am involved in a campaign but it’s a campaign not for a candidacy but for a cause—to change the minds of people on the climate crisis.


FRAN KELLY:   So no thoughts of moving back into that presidential race?


AL GORE:   I don’t have any intention of doing that. It’s true that I haven’t ruled it out 100 per cent but that’s not a placeholder or an effort to be coy. It’s just shifting gears internally after 30 years in politics, and I’m 58 years old and that’s the new 57, you know.


FRAN KELLY:   The 2000 presidential election was one of the closest in American history. You came so close and then, as we all remember, the recount was stopped by the Supreme Court. When you look at the events which have occurred on George W. Bush’s watch since then, in particular September 11 attacks, and we’re currently experiencing the 5 th anniversary of September 11 and those attacks, you must have thought a lot about how you would have handled this crisis if you’d been president when those planes ploughed into the Twin Towers.


AL GORE:   Well, my thoughts on this anniversary of the tragedy go first to those who have suffered losses. I think of their continued suffering. I think of the sacrifices that so many have made. I think, with gratitude, of the friendship Australia extended to the United States in the wake of that tragedy, and we are all so grateful.


But if you look at the events that unfolded after September 11, I think President Bush did an excellent job in rallying the country and invading Afghanistan to track down Osama bin Laden. But I think the mistakes started thereafter. I think he should have continued pursuing Osama. Osama is still out there. His band is still out there, and instead of invading Iraq, which didn’t attack us, we should have continued to pursue Osama and we should have rallied the country to become independent of Middle East oil and oil generally. That’s the source of so much of the funding for these terrorist groups, and the instability that’s created in part by the obscene dependence by the West on these reserves, found in such abundance in the Persian Gulf, that’s really at the heart of one of the problems here, and we need to move beyond that.


You know the Stone Age didn’t end because of a shortage of stones and the Fossil Fuel Age won’t end because we’ve run out of coal or oil. It’ll end when we decide to move on to something better, more efficient, cleaner, that creates a better way of life for us, and that’s renewable energy and conservation and efficiency and the new technologies that will create new jobs and a better way of life and save the ecology of this planet.


FRAN KELLY:   Just staying with the September 11 attacks, back in the United States this week, President Bill Clinton [sic] and his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright attacked the American ABC Network over its miniseries, Path to 9/11. The miniseries places a fair bit of the blame for the September 11 attacks specifically on the Clinton administration. Now, in fact, you were obviously No. 2 in that administration. What’s your response to that? Was the Clinton administration soft on terror? Did it not go after Osama bin Laden when there was the chance?


AL GORE:   We did go after Osama bin Laden and the Clinton administration was not at all soft on terror. It’s a different ABC, we should tell your audience.


FRAN KELLY:   Yes, American ABC, we should stress. Thank you.


AL GORE:   They know that, I’m sure. But I haven’t seen that program. Based on what I heard about it, I did write a letter to ABC and ask them to withdraw it because memories are important and memories of important, historical events and particularly tragedies like 9/11 have to be dealt with, with a commitment to accuracy. And making an entertainment program with known inaccuracies woven into the treatment of historical events, particularly on the eve of a national election where this basically is the central issue, whether or not the Bush administration has made a horrible mistake in responding in a way that hurts our security rather than helps it, it’s a questionable exercise. And I’ve said that previously, although I have to acknowledge, I haven’t had the chance to see the program and I sympathise with creative types who say: how can you criticise it if you haven’t seen it.


But we know enough about it, I think, to say that these concerns and questions are legitimate and they say they edited out objectionable features. I don’t know if that’s the case. I will look forward to learning about it.


FRAN KELLY:   As you say, the US is on the eve of the mid-term elections coming up in November. Again, the focus at this moment is on terrorism. George W. Bush says America is a safer place five years on. What’s your view on that?


AL GORE:   Well, I think that his drop in the opinion polls is evidence that the American people have concerns about the way he has been pursuing the policy in Iraq, which has placed us smack-dab in the middle of a violent civil war that seems to be getting worse with each passing day. I don’t think that that makes us better off. Some things have been done well and I give credit to where it’s due. But overall, I think that the position of the United States in the world has not been enhanced over the last six years. I think that our capacity for leadership has been undermined. I think that our surplus has turned into a huge debt. The ports are still not secure. I could go down a list of things but this is a judgement that the voters will make and my guess is that the contest for the US House of Representatives is likely to reflect a big shift in power. I’m hoping that my own party will win control of that, the lower house of Congress. I think that’s likely to happen.


FRAN KELLY:   Al Gore, just finally, do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good candidate for the Democratic presidency, and is America ready for a female president?


AL GORE:   Well, to the latter question, yes, I think so. But on specific candidates, it’s too early to comment on the line-up. She herself is running for re-election to the Senate and has discouraged comment and speculation on her potential candidacy for president. There are others who are out there actively running. I think that after the November election there will be a shift in focus politically to look at that race. But I think it’s premature at this point.


FRAN KELLY:   Al Gore, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast .


AL GORE:   My pleasure. Thank you for having me.


FRAN KELLY:   I’m not sure if that was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ on Hillary. That’s Al Gore and An inconvenient truth opens this Thursday at cinemas across the country.