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Al Gore Talks Climate Change And Middle America (Full Interview)

In an exclusive interview with Newsy, the former vice president talked about his new film and what climate change could mean for much of America.
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Al Gore Talks Climate Change And Middle America (Full Interview)

NEWSY'S ZACH TOOMBS: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for sitting down with us.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Thank you.

TOOMBS: Your new film is "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," and the ending is kind of bittersweet because Donald Trump, a skeptic of the science behind climate change is in the White House; he's pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. I guess an obvious question is: Why do you seem so optimistic right now?

GORE: Well, I was pretty concerned when he made the speech, but immediately afterwards, I was relieved and gratified when the whole rest of the world redoubled its commitment to the Paris agreement. Then, here in the U.S., so many governors and mayors and business leaders stepped up and said, "we’re going to fill the gap, we're still in Paris, we're going to meet these commitments of the U.S. regardless of what President Trump does." In addition, the technology and business trends are pretty powerful now. They are moving to reduce the costs of renewable electricity in a very dramatic way. And so, economics is now playing a big role in driving the change that we need. 

TOOMBS: In the film you visit Georgetown, Texas. I visited Georgetown, Texas, and spoke to Mayor Dale Ross a couple years ago for a report. And it surprised me, one of the first things they said was: "We don't want people to think we are a bunch of Al Gore tree huggers."

GORE: Yeah, I know!

TOOMBS: So, that's something you are liable to hear in parts of the country. How do you change these perceptions? How do you cross these political lines?

GORE: Well, what's changing the perception is the cost of renewable electricity. And Dale Ross and his team have done an outstanding job. He happens to be a CPA, so he ran the numbers. The numbers were really persuasive. They're saving money now by switching to renewables. And another point: Batteries are starting to come down in cost dramatically now, too. That's going to make a world of difference because then you can use the electricity from the sun, even when the sun's not shining. And you can use all of that electricity the wind generates at night during the day. A lot of the business analysts are now predicting that the addition of affordable batteries to renewable electricity generation is a complete game changer.

TOOMBS: New surveys show us — new data from Yale University and others — show us that most Americans do believe that climate change will hurt Americans in their lifetime, but most don't believe that it will impact them personally. And that's especially true in middle America. How do you — what do you say to people, especially between the coasts, who say "it's not going to impact me"?

GORE: Well, it is impacting people, and I think it's already convincing many people who might not feel comfortable using the phrase "global warming." They still are getting the feeling that, wait, wait a minute here, something big is going on and it's not good. In my hometown of Nashville not many years ago, we had a once-in-a-thousand-year rainfall and thousands of my neighbors lost their homes and businesses and had no flood insurance because the areas flooded had never, ever flooded before in living memory. That kind of thing is happening in a lot of places. You mentioned Texas. Houston, in one 12-month period, had two once-in-500-year floods and one once-in-a-thousand-year downpour in the same year. The U.S. as a whole, we've had 11 once-in-a-thousand-year events in the last seven years. This is now having a real impact on people's thinking. And I think that it's really wearing down the resistance to the recognition that we really have to change.

TOOMBS: Ranchers and farmers can talk about the effects of drought, something that the Dakotas are going through right now and a lot of parts of the country. 

GORE: Yeah, the same extra heat that's trapped by the man-made global warming pollution and causes these big downpours also sucks the moisture out of the first several inches of the soil and makes the droughts set in more quickly, last longer and cut deeper. This is really a problem. And where you have dried out land and vegetation, the fires are bigger and more frequent. Today there are 24 large fires in the U.S., most of them in the West, and that's becoming commonplace. The fire season in California has increased 105 days out of the year. This is the kind of thing that people are getting very concerned about. Every night on the TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. And even if the newscaster doesn't connect the dots, people are connecting the dots on their own. 

TOOMBS: So 10 years ago there were some Republicans who were campaigning on combating man-made climate change. How do you think we've gone from that to so many people in Congress denying that the problem even exists? 

GORE: Yeah, you know, John McCain — God bless him, wish him a speedy recovery as everyone does — when he was the Republican nominee for president in 2008, he was all for a cap and trade system and made eloquent speeches about the need to solve the climate crisis. Then in early 2009, the Tea Party cranked up, and the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobil and others started funding climate denial at a much higher level. And I think that caused a lot of resistance for a while, during the Great Recession especially. But I think now people are seeing through that. They know they took the playbook from the tobacco industry, and they don't like it. I think now we are finally beginning to gain altitude and start solving the problem more effectively. 

TOOMBS: Let's talk about jobs just briefly. Wind and solar: What potential do you see for job growth in those industries, and what do you think the country has to gain economically? 

GORE: Well, it's pretty interesting. The latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, solar jobs are now growing in the U.S. 17 times faster than other jobs. It's a real bright spot. And the single fastest growing occupation is wind turbine technician. Predicted to be that way for at least the next 10 years. So, not only in the U.S. but in other countries, the most dynamic new job growth is coming in renewable energy and other parts of the sustainability revolution. And if we get serious about retrofitting buildings to reduce emissions, then that will be millions of jobs in every community, and they can't be outsourced. 

TOOMBS: And what's your message to young people in the U.S. who might feel locked out of the political process around climate change right now?

GORE: I always encourage young people to get involved in the political process. It looks harder than it really is. Now in the age of social media it's pretty easy to send a message to your elected representatives and the candidates for office. But remember that there is strength in numbers. Even though big money still calls a lot of the shots in politics in the U.S. now, people still hold the ultimate power if they organize, remember that there is strength in numbers, and if they bring their passion to the process and let these candidates know that you care about this. And depending on what they do, you'll either be for them or you'll defeat them and do everything you can to make sure they're not in office anymore. 

TOOMBS: Do you think we need to take politics out of discussions about climate change? You know, I speak to a lot of people from red states across the country about climate change, and often they are seeing the impacts, but maybe they are not connecting the dots in the way you talked about. 

GORE: Yeah, I think that, first of all, politics represents one of the ways we make decisions together in this country. But I certainly believe that the partisan nature of politics needs to definitely be taken out of the climate issue. It didn't used to be part of it. It used to be a bipartisan issue. I hope we can get back to that. We are now seeing an increase in the number of Republican members of Congress who've switched their position. Miami, the Republican mayor of Miami, recently said politics has no business in the climate. This is a serious crisis we need to solve it in a bipartisan way. 

TOOMBS: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President. I appreciate your time.

GORE: Thank you, absolutely.