AL GORE INTERVIEW / THIS WEEK
AL GORE IS INTERVIEWED ON ABC'S "THIS WEEK"
JUNE 3, 2006
(14:21:42) STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you very much for doing this.
GORE: Thanks for coming to Tennessee.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you were reluctant to do this movie at first, but you're getting great reviews, good box office so far.
What exactly do you hope to achieve with it?
GORE: I hope to get the message about the climate crisis to more people in a shorter period of time. I've been trying to tell this story for 30 years, and the debate in the science community is over.
And my single objective is to try to move our country -- and to the extent I can play a role in it, people elsewhere -- past a tipping point, beyond which the politicians in both parties will feel compelled to start competing by offering genuinely meaningful solutions to the crisis.
(14:22:28) STEPHANOPOULOS: Some of your critics share your goal, but they question some of the tactics in the movie.
One of the most arresting scenes in the movie is that scene where the World Trade Center site is flooded. Greg Esterbrook of Slate looked at that and said, the chances of that happening any time in the next century are very remote, and he accuses you of disaster movie speculation.
(14:22:53) GORE: The last time that temperatures were as high as they're forecast to rise, because of the global warming that has already been programmed into the system, sea levels were much higher than that. They don't know how to put a timeframe on what's happening...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the consensus is several inches over the next century, right? Not 20 feet.
GORE: No, not at all. Not at all.
(14:23:23) What he's doing and what you just said is based on an extrapolation of the slow increases that are based on the mountain glaciers melting and what they call the thermal expansion of the oceans.
But the two wildcards are Greenland and West Antarctica. Either one of them, if it melted or broke up or slipped into the sea, would raise sea level worldwide by 20 feet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the chances of that are remote, aren't they...
GORE: You can't say that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... in the next century?
GORE: You cannot say that.
(14:23:53) If you ask the scientists who specialize, for example, in studying the ice on Greenland, they will tell you that they don't have any models that give them a high level of confidence in saying that it's going to be gradual at all.
In fact, the accelerated melting on Greenland, just in the last five years, has really astonished the scientists. (14:24:18) Moreover, just in the last three years, they have started having a doubling of these events they call "icequakes." And seismometers all over the world are now picking up these icequakes -- the equivalent of earthquakes -- from Greenland.
What happens is, the accelerated melting adds water straight down through the ice that lubricates the surface of the ice next to the bedrock of Greenland -- 10,000 feet of ice. And so, it is affected by gravity and moves toward the sea.
(14:24:55) They don't know what is happening either in West Antarctica, because it's propped up against the sides of islands, so that its mass is resting on the land. But the warmer ocean water is now coming underneath the largest section of that ice sheet and causing radical destabilizing of it, according to the experts who study this.
I wrote about that phenomenon 14 years ago.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But just to be clear, the consensus is, they're only expecting a several-inch rise over the next century.
GORE: No, it's not true.
(14:25:27) There is a debate between the American ice science community and ice scientists elsewhere in the world. There's been a lengthy exchange of letters between the two scientific communities.
The ones I most trust -- for example, teams at Ohio State, and where West Antarctica is concerned, Robert Bindschadler -- I think they have the better view of the science and have spent more time with it.
And what they say -- Lonnie Thompson at Ohio State, who I think is the leading expert in the world -- they will say, we don't know how rapidly Greenland, to take that case, could undergo a very significant shift. They just don't know.
(14:26:09) STEPHANOPOULOS: Other critics buy your analysis, but say you're pulling your punch. And exhibit A, you don't call for an energy tax.
(14:26:17GORE: Well, I've called for an energy tax, and I called for a CO2 tax when I wrote "Earth In The Balance," at the beginning of the Clinton-Gore administration. I tried very hard to get a CO2 tax. It survived as something with another name, and then passed one house of Congress, but failed narrowly in the other.
In my own view, the political system in this country is nowhere near being able to digest and process the kind of change that is really needed.
(14:26:52) And that's why I'm concentrating on trying to expand the limits of what's possible, by changing the minds of people.
But let me just come back to your question.
What I really think should be done, when and if it becomes possible, is to have a shift of the burden of taxation away from payroll taxes and toward pollution taxes, principally CO2.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, maybe have a...
GORE: So that it would be revenue neutral.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... gas tax, but cut payroll taxes.
GORE: So that it would be revenue neutral. And the emphasis ought to be on CO2.
(14:27:26) But, the reason why a proposal like that is not front-and-center now is that it's considered so far outside the boundaries of what this Congress or this political environment...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're not in politics anymore.
GORE: ... which I (ph) think (ph) is reasonable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not -- why not go out there and try to shape that debate?
GORE: Well, I am. That's why I'm -- that's why I'm giving this slide show everywhere. That's why I helped them make the movie. That's why I've written the new book, "An Inconvenient Truth," that is out there now.
Because the main objective is to change the way people think about this.
(14:28:05) George, we have a planetary emergency. That phrase may sound shrill or alarmist, but it's not.
The leading scientists -- the people like Jim Hanson at NASA -- are now saying we may have less than 10 years before we cross a point of no return, unless we make a really good start toward dramatic changes in reining in the incredible amounts of global warming pollution that the world is putting up into this thin shell of atmosphere around the planet every single day.
It's trapping much more of the sun's heat in the atmosphere. It's wilting, parching, baking, drying out a lot of the most vulnerable parts of the earth. The North Pole is in the process of melting now.
Not only Greenland and West Antarctica are vulnerable.
(14:29:00) We are also seeing stronger hurricanes, because of the warming of the top 200 feet of the oceans around the world.
We're seeing more extensive drought, and ironically, more flooding at the same time, because more of the rainfall comes in big storm events.
(14:29:17) The insurance industry worldwide is really kind of shouting from the rooftops about this, saying that they're noticing it right away.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Given all these consequences, when you look back when you were in politics, when you were in the White House, do you regret that you didn't do more?
(14:29:34) GORE: I don't regret any lack of effort or imagination or passion about it. But the principal learning experience for me was that the political environment has to be changed in order to allow the kind of solutions that are necessary.
(14:29:55) When I went to Kyoto -- against the advice of many -- to help get the breakthrough there, we did a great thing there. And it has become the binding law in most of the world...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it was never presented in the...
(14:30:09) GORE: Well, and that's what I'm getting at.
When I came back home, I could only find one senator out of all 100 who was willing to say that he or she would definitely ratify it.
And so, that is one of the learning experiences that has caused me to make this movie, to write this book, to start a training program to teach others. At the end of the summer I'll start it in Nashville to train 1,000 to give my slide show in their voices.
(14:30:42) Look, this phrase, "planetary emergency," is worth focusing on, because the real ethical and moral challenge for us -- those of us alive right now with children -- you have children, I have grandchildren.
(14:30:58) I don't want, decades from now, to hear a question from them aimed back at us in the year 2006. What were they thinking? Why didn't they wake up?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think your former Democratic colleagues in the Senate get it?
You also in the movie talk about fuel efficiency standards. You show that our standards aren't even up to China's. Yet, the Democrats in the Senate don't even include an increase in their energy bill.
Are they being too timid?
(14:31:21) GORE: Yes, I think they are.
But rather than simply criticize them -- and they're much better than their counterparts on the Republican side -- but rather than criticize them, I want to put the spotlight on the real issue, which is that we have to change the minds of the American people, not only about the scientific consensus.
What about the sense of urgency that is appropriate to this?
(14:31:50) This is not a political issue. It is a moral issue.
The survival of human civilization is at risk.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what specifically is the next step? The movie's going to play through the summer. It's going to go on DVD.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You're going to continue giving the slide show.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you make it concrete?
GORE: Well, Tipper and I are giving 100 percent of all the profits we earn from the movie and the book to a bipartisan, nonprofit, educational campaign.
Lee Thomas, President Reagan's former EPA head is on the board; Brent Scowcroft, a very distinguished national security expert; Teddy Roosevelt IV; Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Foundation; Carol Browner, who ran the EPA in the Clinton-Gore administration.
(14:32:35) And they will -- they are planning to run a nationwide, continuing persuasion campaign -- not to endorse any specific legislation, but to get the facts of this climate crisis before the people.
(14:32:49) We cannot fail in this. We cannot.
Because what we're doing now -- just to back up a second.
(14:32:57) We have quadrupled the population of the earth in 100 years. We've magnified the power of our technologies thousands of times...
STEPHANOPOULOS: And a lot of good has come from it.
GORE: And a lot of good has come from that, but a lot of unintentional harm is being done.
(14:33:11) We are now putting tens of millions of tons of CO2 every single day into the atmosphere.
And, you know, if we walked outside on this farm and found a way to go straight up to the top of the sky, it'd be just a few miles. It's seriously (ph) thin.
And we're now filling it up with global warming pollutions that trap much more of the sun's energy inside the atmosphere. It's changed the relationship between the earth and the sun.
(14:33:41) And the earth is heating up in such a dramatic fashion that it is changing the ecological niches. It's driving the extinction of many species. It's reorganizing the wind and ocean currents.
(14:33:55) And human civilization -- her (ph) cities are only 9,000 or 10,000 years ago. And we've never known a climate balance other than the one we have had.
And what we're risking now is radically reorganizing the earth's climate in a way that makes the planet hostile to human civilization.
(14:34:16) STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what do you think that people who agree with you should demand of politicians who are running for office?
GORE: First of all, they should learn about it, go see the movie, buy the book, learn about it enough...
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a good plug.
GORE: ... so that they can say this in their own words.
And then make it important as a personal priority.
We have a Web site, climatecrisis.net, that will show you what you what you can do personally to solve the, to help solve the problems.
(14:34:44) But then become active politically, in your local community, in national politics, as a global citizen, as a consumer.
Look, this is -- if you believe what the scientists are saying about this -- and I do -- a lot of these other things just don't matter.
(14:35:03) STEPHANOPOULOS: So, if you were king for a day -- not president, but king for a day, here in the United States -- what's the one thing you would do?
GORE: Well, I think the United States ought to join the global treaty to fight global warming. I think that we ought to quickly negotiate the successor to the Kyoto Treaty, and start letting the market forces work for us, by allocating money in the market system to the most efficient ways to speedily reduce the carbon dioxide.
We're wasting about 90 percent of all the energy we think we're using now. There's a lot of so-called long-hanging fruit. (14:35:41) That's why companies like General Electric and DuPont and Synergy (ph) -- and a lot of Fortune 500 have looked at their hold (ph) cards (ph), and they're seeing, A, it's morally right for them to provide leadership on this, and B, they're finding ways to make money out of it.
(14:35:57) STEPHANOPOULOS: President Bush this week appointed an ally of yours in the fight against global warming, Hank Paulson, as Treasury secretary.
Do you think that shows a change of heart by the president on this issue?
GORE: I would like to think so. I think -- I mean, I doubt it. I would love to be proven wrong about that.
(14:36:15) His first secretary of the treasury was terrific on the issue of global warming, but it didn't make any difference to the president...
STEPHANOPOULOS: How can Hank Paulson make a difference?
(14:36:27) GORE: I read that he may have negotiated a wider portfolio. I don't know if that's true or what it means, but I would urge him, as some columnists have, to resist the pressures that he will come under to trim his sails on his beliefs.
(14:36:48)To the extent that he has an opportunity to address this issue, he knows the seriousness of it. And I hope that privately he will try to convince the president to change his mind.
I don't exclude the possibility that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney will be forced to change their minds about global warming during these next two years. Reality has a way of intruding on illusion, and they've tried to create their own reality where global warming is concerned and a few other things as well. And over time, that tends to collide with the real world.
Hurricane Katrina was wake-up call for millions of people who came to the conclusion in this aftermath that we've heard this predicted, we saw what the scientists told us was going to happen, and now we have this long string of much more powerful hurricanes.
(14:37:44) And when we get clear warning from the leading scientists in the world, and the consensus on this is as strong as any consensus ever gets in science -- if warnings like that are ignored, then the Biblical prophecy applies, where there is no vision and people perish. We have to have vision to see this crisis.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn to Iraq. Haditha was in the headlines all week. How do you think the administration is handling this issue?
(14:38:18) GORE: Well, I don't have enough evidence to see how they've handled that particular set of charges. I don't think that we have enough information now to know how they have handled it. I think that the situation in Iraq itself has contributed to the impossible situation our soldiers so frequently have found themselves in, and so that's a part of it. (14:38:48)But it looks to my as if the senior officers in the chain of command appear not to have reacted quickly enough.
But, you know, the environment has been set where truth is a career decision for this administration. When General Shinseki told the truth about what was needed before the war in preparing for it, he was cashiered prematurely. And so, the environment is partly involved, but where these specific allegations are concerned, I think that we need to let the process work, and I think the process of military justice can, and I hope we'll deal with this appropriately.
(14:39:40) STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the broader issue? It's no secret you were against the war early and strongly. What would you do right now?
(14:39:47) GORE: Well, I would pursue the twin objectives of trying to withdraw our forces as quickly as we possibly can, while at the same time minimizing the risk that we'll make the mess over there even worse and raise even higher the danger of civil war and/or (inaudible)...
(14:40:15) STEPHANOPOULOS: John Kerry says there should be a complete pull-out by the end of this year. Do you agree with that?
GORE: Well, not necessarily. Maybe it could come sooner than that.
GORE: Well, maybe, maybe sometime after that. I think that we need to pursue these twin objectives.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Without a deadline, though.
GORE: Probably without a deadline.
(14:40:39) I think the setting of a deadline is intended to -- sometimes it's described as a way to set in motion forces that will improve our options and improve the situation on the ground.
(14:40:53)It's possible that setting a deadline could set in motion forces that would make it even worse. I think that we should analyze that very carefully.
(14:41:10) My guess is that a deadline is probably not the right approach; but again, you have to weigh that question in the context of how the political decisions are made between the Congress and the executive branch. Sometimes the Congress itself has blunt instruments and limited options to play a role in matters like this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Like cutting off funding?
(14:41:33) GORE: Well, I don't think anybody will be talking about that, ever. But in terms of meeting these twin objectives, getting our troops home as quickly as possible without making the moral mistake of worsening an already bad situation, that's delicate; it's difficult.
And it's going to be hard, whoever -- now, we ought to have a new national security team, of course -- I mean, that's nothing new for me to say that -- but whoever is in charge of it, it's going to be difficult, and it's going to be tricky.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, about every six months you come out and give a speech that's very tough on the White House; you let it rip. You did that back in January on the issue of warrantless wiretapping, and you told our Teddy Davis that this warrantless wiretapping could be an impeachable offense. Do you believe that it is?
(14:42:28) GORE: I don't know. I mean, that's for the Congress to decide.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you were in the Congress?
GORE: I would look at the evidence.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you do believe the president has broken the law here.
(14:42:35) GORE: I think that in all likelihood it is -- from what we know about it, it's hard not to conclude that it's a violation of the law.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You kicked off this campaign for the movie going on Saturday Night Live with a very funny bit, talking about an alternate universe had you become president. What's the serious answer? How would America be most different had you become president?
GORE: It's hard to look in a crystal ball and see what would have happened. Let's just take the question of global warming. I would have urged the Congress and done my best to lead the country to take on this climate crisis, become independent of carbon-based fossil fuels as quickly as we can, to shift towards conservation, efficiency and renewable energy.
(14:43:44) I really believe, George, that history will judge this generation alive today by whether or not we rise to meet this challenge.
(14:43:58) You know, there's an old cliche about the way the Chinese write the word crisis: two symbols together. The first means danger; the second means opportunity. And I think we've focused on the danger of the climate crisis, but I think the opportunity is also unprecedented, and I would like to see leadership from the president and from the Congress to move our country to take advantage of these opportunities.
(14:44:27) Look at the automobile industry, just as one example. Ford and GM got what they wanted with the worst environmental efficiency standards among any of the advanced nations, and that was supposed to help them economically. But instead, they're unfortunately in deep trouble, and Toyota and Honda, making more efficient vehicles, are the ones doing well.
When Tipper and I were first married we bought a Chevrolet Impala. Now the Impala is the top-selling American-made car, but there are five or six Japanese-made cars that are above it, because people want more efficient, more environmentally responsible automobiles.
(14:45:15) And that's an example of the opportunity in one industry that exists in all industries...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But couldn't you make the most of this opportunity if you were president?
GORE: Well, I'm under no illusions that there is any position in the world with as much influence as that of president of the United States.
(14:45:33) But I ran for president twice, and I was in politics for a quarter century, and I honestly believe that the highest and best use of my skills and experience is to try to change the minds of people in the U.S, and elsewhere in the world, about this planetary emergency that we simply have to confront.
(14:45:54) STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, a lot of Democrats are trying to change your mind about that. Here's how their argument goes: They said you were ahead of the curve on global warming, ahead of the curve on the Internet, right to support the first Gulf War and oppose the Iraq war. No one has as much experience in national office. And they believe that because of all that, you have not just the right to run again but a duty to do it.
(14:46:17) GORE: Well, thank you. I appreciate them saying that, but I don't feel that I have to apologize for focusing my energies on trying to create a sufficient awareness and sense of urgency on the single biggest challenge that humankind has ever faced.
(14:46:47) This has to do with the future of the human race, literally. Because if we really should cross this point of no return that the scientists are warning us about, the world wouldn't end tomorrow. The world wouldn't end in a century, but it would mean that the process of degradation would then be irretrievable.
If the North Pole melts, for example, it wouldn't come back in any time frame relevant to the human species. And the radiative balance between the earth and the sun would be forever altered, as far as our species is concerned, and we would see this downward spiral. It doesn't have to happen.
(14:47:31) We can solve it. We can stop the worst of the results of this crisis, and we have everything we need -- save, perhaps, political will.
(14:47:40) And in America, that's a renewable resource, but the way to renew it is to follow the advice of James Madison and to cultivate a well-informed citizenry. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. It's a saying that we've lived by.
(14:47:56) STEPHANOPOULOS: You're determined to educate and not to run for president again.
GORE: I have no plans to be a candidate for president again. I don't expect to ever be a candidate for president again. I haven't made a so-called Sherman Statement, because it just seems unnecessary, kind of odd to do that. I'm 58 years old; that's the new 57 now.
(14:48:19) STEPHANOPOULOS: There's another debate going on in Democratic circles that says that a lot of what's going into this is you're relationship with Senator Clinton, big (inaudible).
GORE: Going into what?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Into your decision to run. Two schools, here's what I've heard. Tell me what's right and tell me what's wrong.
(14:48:35) One group says, if Senator Clinton runs, you're not going to be able to help yourself, you're going to have to get into the race. The other is, you'll only get in if there's a vacuum, if she chooses not to run. Any truth to any of that?
(14:48:48) GORE: No, no.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And her decision has nothing to do with yours?
GORE: No, no.
(14:48:54) STEPHANOPOULOS: In 2008, it just isn't going to happen.
GORE: Well, as I told you, I haven't made a Sherman Statement, but that's not an effort to hold the door open. It's more the internal shifting of gears. I can't imagine any circumstances in which I would become a candidate again. I've found other ways to serve. I'm enjoying them.
There's a lot about the political process I really don't like. It's a toxic process. There are things I miss: having the ability to influence events from the White House, of course. It's unparalleled, as I've said.
(14:49:33) But, you know, there's a lot about politics I don't think I'm particularly good at.
And I also think that the urgency of creating a political environment where whoever runs for president in either party will be forced to respond to this crisis is the most important thing that I can possibly do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And do you believe that the Democrats have taken advantage of this opportunity? And how would you advise them to, going into 2008?
GORE: The opportunity...
STEPHANOPOULOS: The opportunity to change awareness on this issue.
(14:50:04) GORE: Well, I don't think it should be a political issue. I do think it's a moral issue. It has political dimensions to it, and I do understand why nobody is really putting it at the top of their agenda. I understand that, because the country is not yet at a point where that is seen to be a politically credible thing to do. That's what I want to change, and I think that it's beginning to change.
(14:50:38) Eighty-five conservative evangelical ministers publicly broke with Bush and Cheney on this issue and called on their congregations to face up to it. Two hundred thirty American cities, quite a few with Republican mayors, have independently ratified the Kyoto Treaty, and some are now meeting its standards while thriving economically.
(14:51:01) We're seeing, at the grassroots level and in the executive suite, big changes. A lot of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, including many Bush supporters, have now broken with him on this issue and are now advocating bold action and leadership.
So I think that we may be nearing a tipping point; and when we get to it, I hope that the politicians in both parties will start really speaking out forcefully.
(14:51:30) In England, you know, both parties are now vigorously competing with one another to be out in front on this issue, and it's a healthy development there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.
(14:51:42) GORE: Thank you, George.