Whatever happened to Al Gore?

The last 24 hours or so should have seen a massive worldwide campaign for climate action, exposing the fallacies of the sceptics, those funding the deniers. A video would be downloaded and watched by millions, and Facebook and Twitter filled with nothing else for the key hour in each timezone.

Or so Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project hoped. But interest in it seems to have been pretty minimal, even among dedicated environmentalists. The Guardian newspaper website, which can normally be relied upon to pick up anything remotely significant, did mention it. But not in the Environment section, and attributing it to Reuters – so essentially just reprinting the press release.

What went wrong? Not, I think the quality or truth of the presentations, which seem to have been excellent with a selection of well-informed local speakers. But it seems to me this outcome was completely predictable, and the whole thing was a bad misjudgement on the part of Al Gore and those who advised him.

One reason is that pronouncements from on high seem to be increasingly less helpful. Pretty much everyone seems to have decided in favour or against climate change (or that they don’t care either way) on the basis of all the coverage over many years now. We need to find new ways of campaigning, and ways to help those who do want to take action to do so. (Topics covered here and elsewhere at length.) Another worldwide event is coming this month: 350.org’s Moving Planet which seems better placed in these regards: grass-roots based, focussing on action, and partnered by many other significant organisations.

The other, unfortunately, is the involvement of Al Gore himself. For all the good he has done in being one of the first US politicians to spot the issue of climate change and to campaign on it, he has become something of a toxic brand. Opponents criticise him for asking us to spend money we can ill afford. He can “go green” easily out of his considerable wealth, but even after having done so, with his multiple houses and frequent air travel, his carbon footprint easily exceeds that of the average American, let alone the per capita figure we would need to get CO2 emissions under control.

Whatever the truth of these allegations, he must know how he is perceived. A gesture towards cutting his considerable levels of consumption would go an enormous way to restoring his credibility. And indeed might help move the debate from climate change alone to the general sustainability issues we know are key.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Whatever happened to Al Gore?

  1. klem

    “with his multiple houses and frequent air travel, his carbon footprint easily exceeds that of the average American”

    I don’t think so. Ever notice how Al Gore has no wind or solar panels on any of his mansions? Gore is utra rich and can fly in private jets, live in multiple mansions and drive enormous SUVs. He can afford anything he wants yet he does not invest in wind or solar for his mansions. But I believe his carbon footprint is still lower than the average American or even yours. He simply buys the carbon offsets he needs to reduce his gross carbon gluttony and achieves a zero carbon foot print. You can drive hybrids, put solar panels on your roof, erect windmills, eat tofu and Gore will still have a lower carbon footprint than you. He simply buys enough carbon offsets so that he becomes carbon neutral, might cost him a couple of hundred bucks a year, that’s all. Which would you do, spend $200 in carbon credits or $50,000 for solar panels? Exactly. Gore is no fool. He does not spend thousands needlessly. He knows solar panels and wind turbines are for suckers. Be like Al.

  2. Colin Bell

    That’s a matter of definitions, and the kind of people who object to his lifestyle probably don’t think carbon offsetting counts for anything.

    But either way it doesn’t matter – it’s the “carbon gluttony” (good phrase!) which people see. And it’s quite clear that if a large proportion of the population started carbon offsetting, the price would rise sky-high – there’s only so many projects you can offset into.

    • klem

      “there’s only so many projects you can offset into.”

      There are thousands of projects to offset into. Over in the EU people are selling carbon certificates out of their homes, I’ve seen them sold on Ebay in the US. Of course, almost all of the certificates are fraudulent but as long as ones conscience is clear that’s all that matters. Hey, I can sell a few carbon offset certificates too, could make a few bucks doing that.

      • Colin Bell

        There’s always the possibility of fraud, which is why any market-based solution requires careful regulation. You can buy fake anythings on Ebay without trying too hard.

        But anyone with a real conscience will also investigate what their carbon offsetting is doing in practice, and there are many good schemes out there which are doing exactly what they promise to do. Your cynicism is not justified.

        The problem is that we only have so many acres to plant trees in, so many people who need to replace old-style inefficient lightbulbs with low energy ones… so if millions of people try to offset their entire carbon usage, they won’t be able to. The only solution is cutting footprints in the first place.

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