Green Lantern: Gore’s Return to the Spotlight Has Implications for 2018 and Beyond

Accepting the Vice Presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention 25 years ago today, then-Tennessee Senator Al Gore declared:

I’ve spent much of my career working to protect the environment, not only because it is vital to the future of my State of Tennessee, our country and our earth, but because I believe there is a fundamental link between our current relationship to the earth and the attitudes that stand in the way of human progress. For generations we have believed that we could abuse the earth because we were somehow not really connected to it, but now we must face the truth. The task of saving the earth’s environment must and will become the central organizing principle of the post-Cold War world.

And just as the false assumption that we are not connected to the earth has led to the ecological crisis, so the equally false assumption that we are not connected to each other has led to our social crisis.

Those words are even more accurate today than they were a quarter-century ago. This July will mark another milestone in Gore’s remarkable life: the release of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, the follow-up to the landmark 2006 documentary that awakened the world to the threat of the climate crisis. Look for Fox News hosts to remove their lips from Donald Trump’s rear end long enough to once again trash Gore for daring to fight for the health and safety of future generations. Look for Gore to once again brush all the dirt they throw at him from his shoulders, and continue the work of climate justice.

In the years since An Inconvenient Truth’s release, Gore has galvanized a generation, as a recent profile in Men’s Journal noted:

Gore has been holding [Climate Reality Project events] for a decade, training more than 11,000 people from 136 countries in how to spread the word about climate change, spar with skeptics, lobby their elected officials, and push businesses to become more climate friendly…[Climate Reality Project] events are free; attendees just need to cover their travel and lodging.

The first was an intimate affair: just 50 people who gathered 10 years ago at Gore’s farm in Tennessee to watch his slide show on the climate crisis and learn about ways to take action. That slide show became the basis for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which won an Oscar and made Gore’s name synonymous with global warming…

The son of a three-term U.S. senator, Gore, 69, won his first congressional election just seven years after graduating from ­Harvard and long had an eye on the White House. But a quarter-century political career ended in 2000 when his presidential hopes were dashed by some hanging chads in Florida. He learned about global warming as an undergrad in the late ’60s, in a course taught by Roger Revelle, one of the first scientists to sound the alarm about rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. As a junior congressman from Tennessee in 1977, “one of the first questions I asked was, ‘What is being done about global warming?’ ” Gore recalls. “The answer was basically, ‘Nothing.’ ” So he organized a hearing, bringing in his professor to testify, “naively” expecting that his colleagues would be moved to act.

More than four decades later, he’s still pressing for action. “It never occurred to me that I would end up devoting most of my life to this mission,” Gore says. “But I could not lay this task down or set it aside even if I wanted to.”

The timing of the sequel could not be better, says Ken Berlin, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and longtime Democratic donor who is president and CEO of the Climate Reality Project. Trump’s election, he says, “completely changes the game and raises the level of activism we all have to be involved in.” The environmentalist community, Berlin says, “does well when it has its back up to the wall. I’d rather have a Democratic administration. But the public support for climate change will evolve more quickly in a Trump era.”

That’s what Trump, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry and their minions inside and outside of this administration fear the most. If Gore’s sequel succeeds and fuels a renewed demand for federal action on the climate crisis, it could spell trouble for climate deniers in the House of Representatives and Senate in 2018–to say nothing of the climate denier in the White House in 2020.

Polluters hate hope and thrive on despair. It should not have been a surprise that climate scientists such as Michael Mann objected to David Wallace-Wells’s rather melodramatic assessment of the worst-case scenarios of human-caused climate change; it’s impossible to read Wallace-Wells’s piece without concluding that we’ve already hit the point of no return, that humanity is beyond hope, that we’re condemned to an international funeral pyre–and therefore, that the Koch Brothers have won. If the planet is indeed terminally ill, why bother continuing treatment?

Once people conclude that there’s no point in reducing emissions, the polluters win the argument. Gore, to his credit, has always eschewed the politics of despair. In his decades-long fight to reduce carbon pollution, he has never suggested that hope is foolish, that the game is rigged, that the cause is doomed. He has never submitted and never surrendered.

The deniers will be screaming and scheming as they’ve done before. Yet Gore will nevertheless persist–and if his new film serves as the catalyst for a changing of the guard in Washington, and the triumph of leaders who will fight as he fought in the House and Senate (and as he would have fought had he not been screwed out of the Presidency), then he will be remembered for having launched a successful counterattack on what he once called “the assault on reason.”

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.