Calling out the Republican party as "wedded to provable idiocy on climate science," Al Gore says it's time to "take back" American democracy and solve the world's most urgent crisis along the way.
Nearly a decade has passed since Gore accepted his Nobel Peace Prize after the release of "An Inconvenient Truth," and the former vice president returns to the silver screen when "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," hits theaters this weekend.
From rising sea levels to "rain bombs," promoting awareness on climate change remains Gore's central issue, but his message has broadened to include a rallying cry against the power of big money in modern American politics -- a campaign beast he describes as central to the proliferation of climate change denial.
Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power":
On Dec. 5, 2016, less than one month after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, Al Gore met with the then-president elect at his Trump Tower abode in New York.
After warning that a Trump presidency would be a "climate catastrophe," Gore met with the billionaire businessman in hopes that a person who once deemed climate change a "hoax" and said he would "cancel" the Paris climate agreement while on the campaign trail could be eased out of hardline approaches to federal and global environmental policy.
"We're the only country in the entire world with a major political party wedded to provable idiocy on climate science," Gore tells AOL News. "There's an old saying that if you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be pretty sure it didn't get there by itself — and the same is true of these persistent levels of climate denial."
Gore describes a dark money ecosystem powered by fossil fuel giants who bankroll political action committees and lobbyists backing climate change-denying lawmakers and actively contrarian scientists who seek to sway public opinion on the scientific consensus that A. the Earth is warming, B. that warming is causing alarming changes to global weather patterns, and C. these hazardous outcomes are driven primarily by man.
"[Denial has been] artificially created by the large carbon polluters who took a playbook from the tobacco companies and hired the same PR firms that previously hired actors and dressed them up as doctors to reassure people that there were no health consequences from smoking cigarettes," Gore says. "It's deeply unethical and immoral, but the carbon polluters have put so much money behind these efforts to create false doubts that they've pulled the wool over a lot of people's eyes."
Gore has revealed he spoke with Trump multiple times throughout the first months of his presidency, but admitted his thinking during discussions with the commander in chief after Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement in early June, saying, "I thought that there was a chance he would come to his senses, but I was wrong."
A majority of Americans -- including 57 percent of Republicans -- supported U.S. participation in the Paris deal, yet Trump ran as a populist candidate and prides himself as a president for the people and against "the swamp." Gore pushes back on this label in describing Trump as a president "in the grip" of corporate interests heavily vested in carbon, which scientists have deemed the driving force of climate change.
"Our democracy has been hacked by big money and lobbyists for polluters long before Putin hacked our democracy," Gore tells AOL News. "And too many politicians bow down to the large big money contributors because they feel like they have to beg them for money to buy TV ads."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, workers in the oil and gas industries gave former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton $944,131 in campaign contributions, compared to $921,123 that Donald Trump received. While his campaign ended in July 2016, Bernie Sanders received $107,375 in contributions from the same donor pool. This, Gore says, signals a "healing" in American democracy.
"The Bernie Sanders campaign, whether you agree with his agenda or not, proved that it's now possible to run a formidable campaign without taking any special interest money, but instead relying on small contributions on the internet," Gore says. "We are now beginning to see a turning in our democracy toward a restoration of the ability of the American people to reclaim what our founders intended us to have — a government of, by and for the people."
"Our democracy has been hacked by big money and lobbyists for polluters long before Putin hacked our democracy."
When he's not diving into the complexities of campaign finance, Gore is traveling with his painstakingly-topical and data-robust climate change presentation made famous in his first cinematic venture. From scenes at his climate leadership training workshops to a look at how the Paris climate agreement sausage was made, Gore's personal passion for the environment plays a more central role in his sequel than in his original film -- shining light on his hectic travel schedule, all-hours phone calls and constant tweaking of his methodically-crafted powerpoint.
A Persuasive Mother Nature
Florida was the state on America's mind in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state ruling relative to the presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore ending the counting of Florida's disputed presidential votes.
Today, Florida plays a different role in Gore's life as the Miami-Dade region finds itself literally sinking due to sea level rise threatening city infrastructure with increasing frequency.
A scene from the new film shows Gore walking through flooded Miami streets on a sunny day with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is one of the more prominent city officials in the nation leading resilience efforts in the wake of
The wide spread of the Zika virus, Hurricane Sandy, the emergence of climate change refugees, the rapid melting of ice in Greenland, the rise in heat causing severely powerful storms -- each of these have been labeled an outcome of climate change. As the list of key climate change indicators grows, Gore believes public opinion will continue to curb on the issue.
"The climate-related extreme weather events have become so much more numerous and so much more destructive," Gore said over the phone. "Mother Nature is more persuasive than the scientific community, and people are feeling these impacts in their own lives."
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A Sustainability Revolution
Gore's legacy as a climate crusader began in 1976 when the then-Democratic senator held America's first congressional hearing on climate change.
"There is no longer any significant difference of opinion within the scientific community about the fact that the greenhouse effect is real and already occurring," Gore said at the time of the urgency with which America must face the global climate crisis.
A critical portion of the film shows Gore as a central deal broker in getting India to sign onto the Paris agreement. Acting as a middle man between SolarCity (a solar energy company based out of California) and India, Gore cuts out nation state-nation state negotiations and goes right to the source by harnessing the power of American capitalism.
When asked how the government can work better with the private sector in forging solutions relative to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, Gore offers one main suggestion of transferring government subsidies from "dirty coal" to renewable energy.
"We're seeing a sustainability revolution that has the magnitude of the industrial revolution but the speed of the digital revolution," Gore tells AOL News. "We're seeing efficiency improvements and emissions reductions and many businesses are way ahead of the politicians now, and thankfully a lot of governors and mayors are stepping up to fill the gap in saying, 'We're still in the Paris agreement. We're probably going to meet our commitments under the Paris agreement in spite of Donald Trump.'"
Gore spoke of the exigent nature of the global climate crisis when he received his Nobel Prize in 2007.
"The future is knocking at our door right now," Gore said. "Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: 'What were you thinking; why didn't you act? Or they will ask instead: 'How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve'"
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Gore often refers to his state of Tennessee frequently when contextualizing the heartland impacts of climate change -- and rhetorical gimmick or not, it's clear his mission to proselytize climate change advocacy hits home.
In the wake of Trump's pulling out of the Paris deal and rolling back of Obama-era environmental regulations, the 2018 elections will play a critical role in setting a tone for the future of climate change action, adaptation, resilience and preparedness on a city, state and federal level. With 2018 midterms on the horizon, candidates who feel morally inclined to stand up on, but Gore says that all depends on who they're accountable to.
"If candidates continue accepting huge contributions from polluters, of course they feel obligated to them, that's human nature," Gore said. "But candidates who are listening carefully to what the American people want — including moderates — will start advocating solutions to the climate crisis."
"An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power" is in theaters everywhere August 4.