As a climate change activist, former Vice President Al Gore is used to speaking in front of both hostile and friendly audiences. But there is one individual he has all but given up on.
"I have no illusions about the possibility of changing Donald Trump's mind," Gore says. "I think he has made it abundantly clear that he's throwing his lot in with the climate deniers."
In withdrawing from the Paris climate accord in June, Trump said he "cares deeply about the environment" but argued that the deal imposed burdens on the U.S. that would hurt American workers "while imposing no meaningful obligations" on other leading polluters like China. Administration officials at the time sidestepped questions about whether Trump believed that climate change was a "hoax," as he had said prior to becoming president. When pushed in an interview on CNN, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said, "President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation."
Gore spoke with the president multiple times prior to Trump's announcement about the Paris accord. Gore is now focused on building a bipartisan consensus to address the climate crisis.
Part of creating that consensus is spreading awareness of an issue that Gore has been following for decades. His 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which was basically an adaption of his PowerPoint presentation about the effects of global warming, was a surprise box office success. Now he has a new documentary, called An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
Gore warns that climate change is not just an issue that affects future generations: "It's happening to us now. This movie is designed to drive those points home, but also to make people aware that in the last decade, the solutions to the climate crisis have become available to us."
On conversations he has had with Trump about climate change
I have taken the old-school view that conversations with a president should be kept confidential, but I will tell you that my simple focus was to convince him to stay in the Paris agreement and I had reason to believe that there was a real chance that he might. Previously, before his presidential campaign, he had signed a full-page newspaper ad demanding that President Obama take bolder action to solve the climate crisis, so I felt there might be something to work with, and there are some people in his inner circle who certainly do believe that we have to solve the climate crisis. But he has surrounded himself with a rogues' gallery of climate deniers, coming out of the fossil fuel industry, and I think it's rather obvious that they've gained control of his thought process on this issue.
On why he believes Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement
I think he felt it was another way to throw a bone to his hardcore base. He's adopted the strategy of ignoring any effort to reach out to those who did not support him or to build broader coalitions across party and ideological lines, and seems to be counting on the fervor and passion of his shrinking base to keep him and his presidency afloat. I think that a part of his base has been particularly passionate in trying to deny the existence of a climate crisis.
On the "distracting quality" of the Trump presidency
One of the many problems he's posing for our country is the endless series of distractions — the new round of tweets, the new absurdities every day. When there's a new outrage, I feel as if I have to download some existing outrage onto a hard drive so I can make room for the new outrage. The distracting quality of what he says and does is very harmful to our country's ability to sustain our focus on the most important challenges we have. ...
I have no interest in access to the Trump White House. I have no interest in any further dialogue with him. I wouldn't rule it out, because who knows what circumstances could develop, but I have no reservation about withholding criticism of him on those grounds. I just don't want to contribute to the constant distraction that takes us away from what we ought to be focused on.
On how big money is playing more of a role in the denial of climate change
[The fossil fuel industry] financed a major cottage industry of climate denial with pseudoscientists who crank out these phony pseudoscientific reports. Their principal product is doubt. They know they don't have to win the argument; they just have to create enough doubt to lead people to lose any sense of urgency about solving this crisis. They have made some headway. But again, because Mother Nature has a more persuasive voice than any of us, they're losing this battle. The Paris agreement was truly a historic breakthrough, illustrating that all around the world, opinions are getting stronger and stronger in favor of solving the climate crisis. We're the only country with a major conservative party wedded to provable idiocy on climate science.
On how technological advancements can help combat climate change
Electricity from the sun and the wind is now in many regions much cheaper than electricity from dirty fossil fuels. Electric cars are becoming affordable. Batteries are coming down very quickly in cost and, coupled with renewable energy, will utterly transform the world's energy systems. And along with sustainable agriculture and forestry, we now have a chance to use these tools to really solve the climate crisis in time to avoid the catastrophic consequences that would otherwise fall upon us.
On whether he ever imagined a reality TV star could be president
I did envision that someone with the skills of an actor on the screen might become president, and it was not long thereafter that Ronald Reagan was elected. I think it's not coincidental that someone like Donald Trump with not only the skill set of a reality TV star and the social media skills of what he has become, the tweeter in chief, was successful in today's media environment.
I do think that we need to reclaim the integrity and functionality of our constitutional system, and I hope that we'll see continued progress in moving the forms and patterns of democracy onto the Internet — which, with all of its many problems — the echo chambers and all the rest — nevertheless [restores] the ability of individuals with command of the facts and the ability to express themselves clearly to attract those who agree with their point of view and use knowledge as a form of power that substitutes for great wealth or force of arms.
Lauren Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper, Shirley Henry and Dana Farrington adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, former Vice President Al Gore, likes to refer to himself as a recovering politician. He started his political career by working with his father, who was a senator from Tennessee. Al Gore was elected to the House of Representatives in 1976 and served four terms before becoming a senator. He was elected vice president in 1992. After losing the contested presidential election of 2000, he had to redefine himself and figure out a new life. Now he's one of the most influential climate change activists in the world. He shared a Nobel Prize in 2007.
His interest in climate change predates his political life. One of his college mentors, Roger Revelle, was among the first scientists to warn about global warming. Gore's 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," which was basically an adaptation of his PowerPoint presentation about the effects of global warming, was a surprise box-office success. Now he has a new documentary called "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power."
Al Gore, welcome back to FRESH AIR. The movie starts with you watching melting Arctic ice forming waterfalls - like, there's so much melting ice. What are we seeing, and what's the significance of it?
AL GORE: Well, we're seeing a rapid acceleration in the melting of the land-based ice in Greenland. And it is leading to increased sea level rise around the world. The same process is underway in Antarctica, where there is much more ice still. But after making several trips to Greenland, this trip last year was quite stunning. And one of the leading scientists there said that he and his colleagues were shell-shocked by what they're watching.
GROSS: You ask in the movie, where is all the water going, all this, like, melting ice. And you answer, some of it's going to the streets of Florida. It's coming out of the manholes and drains. Do you mean that literally or figuratively?
GORE: No, that's quite - it's literally happening. And it's happening on sunny days when the high tide comes in. I went to Miami the last time during one of the highest high tides of the year where the sunny-day flooding is most pronounced. And I literally saw fish from the ocean swimming in the streets of Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and other areas in Florida. And the same thing happens in many communities in - on the Atlantic coast and the - in North America.
GROSS: Yeah, you say Miami's the No. 1 city at risk in the world. Why Miami?
GORE: Well, there are two ways to measure the cities most at risk. One is by population. And on that list, it's Kolkata and Mumbai. And actually Miami is on that list as well. But when you measure the cities at risk by assets at risk, Miami is the No. 1 city at risk in the world. And it's because of the incredibly valuable real estate concentrated there at a very low altitude in areas that are extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.
GROSS: There have been some pretty remarkable rainstorms lately in Philadelphia where I live. You talk about rain bombs in the movie. And I'm wondering, have I experienced rain bombs, or are they just, like, incredible downpours? So what is a rain bomb?
GORE: A rain bomb is a huge downpour of a kind that might have occurred once in a thousand years in the past but now occurs quite regularly. And the reason it happens is that more than 90 percent of the extra heat energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution is going into the oceans. And that accelerates the evaporation of water vapor off the oceans into the sky.
And when that water vapor is transported over the land by prevailing winds and often in what the scientists now call atmospheric rivers and they encounter storm conditions, a much larger volume of rain is released at the same time. And when it's cold enough, you get what we've heard referred to as Snowmageddon (ph) or Snowpocalypse (ph).
But the shift overall is from snow to rain. And the rain - the whole pattern of rainfall is shifting, with a much higher concentration in these large storm events and typically a longer period of time between rainfalls, during which the droughts take hold more quickly and last longer and are deeper.
GROSS: You live in Tennessee. Have you been seeing direct effects of climate change where you live?
GORE: Oh, absolutely. And in fact we had a rain bomb a few years ago. Thousands of my neighbors lost their homes and businesses in a huge downpour. And they'd had no flood insurance because it had never in recorded history flooded in the area - most of the areas that were affected. It was truly a kind of apocalyptic event for those directly affected. You know, just in the last seven years, Terry, in the U.S. alone, we've had 11 once-in-a-thousand-year events.
GROSS: You know, a lot of people say that climate change can lead to war. It can lead to civil strife. And in the movie, you talk about the drought in Syria that lasted from 2006 to 2010. Sixty percent of the farms were destroyed. Farmers were forced to move into cities. Does that figure into the civil war in Syria?
GORE: Yes. Many researchers believe that it does. Now, there were other factors of course that were involved - the perfidy of the dictator Assad there, the proxy war fought by factions in the Middle East. But many researchers believe that the climate-related drought, the worst ever measured - the records go back 900 years there - and they know it's climate-related.
A very carefully done study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is one of the studies that connected the dots very convincingly. And when you have the agricultural sector devastated - not only did they lose 60 percent of the farms. Eighty percent of their livestock was killed. One-and-a-half million climate refugees were driven into the cities of Syria, where they collided with another 1-and-a-half million refugees that had come from the Iraq War.
And WikiLeaks released information, including conversations among the Syrian ministers well before the civil war there started, saying, we cannot handle this; it's beyond our capacity. There's going to be a social explosion. And indeed there was, and the gates of hell opened.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is former Vice President Al Gore. And he has a new documentary about climate change. And it's called "An Inconvenient Sequel."
As we near the end of the movie, you're at the Paris climate meeting. And the accord was passed. That was a victorious moment for you and for many other people. The agreement actually went into effect on November 4, 2016. Four days later, Donald Trump was elected president. What went through your mind when he was elected? And just narrow that down at first to what went through your mind regarding climate change.
GORE: Well, I was worried of course that he had been supported by the large carbon polluters and had made a number of statements during his campaign that parroted the extreme climate denial that has been provoked by the carbon polluters for years. And then I decided to try to convince him to stay in the Paris Agreement. And I went to see him and began a conversation that continued even after he went into the White House. I had hoped that there was a real chance he would come to his senses, but I was wrong.
GROSS: Can you tell us anything about what that meeting was like, what - like, what the main points were you wanted to make to him to show him the dangers of climate change and the reality of it?
GORE: Well, I have taken the old-school view that conversations with a president should be kept confidential. But I will tell you that my simple focus was to convince him to stay in the Paris Agreement. And I had reason to believe there was a real chance that he might. And previously, before his presidential campaign, he had signed a full-page newspaper ad demanding that President Obama take bolder action to solve the climate crisis.
And so I felt there might be something to work with. And there are some people in his inner circle who certainly do believe that we have to solve the climate crisis. But he has surrounded himself with a rogues' gallery of climate deniers coming out of the fossil fuel industry. And I think it's rather obvious that they've gained control of his thought process on this issue.
GROSS: What's your understanding of why the president pulled the U.S. out of the accord?
GORE: I think he felt it was another way to throw a bone to his hardcore base. He's adopted the strategy of ignoring any effort to reach out to those who did not support him or to build broader coalitions across party and ideological lines and seems to be counting on the fervor and passion of his shrinking base to keep him and his presidency afloat. And I think that a part of his base has been particularly passionate in trying to deny the existence of a climate crisis.
GROSS: When I ask you about your impressions of the Trump presidency, what are your guidelines in determining how open you want to be about how you're thinking?
GORE: Well, I have no illusions about the possibility of changing Donald Trump's mind on the questions that I believe are most important, first among them the need to solve the climate crisis. I think he has made it abundantly clear that he's throwing his lot in with the climate deniers.
But one of the many problems he's posing for our country is the endless series of distractions - the new round of tweets, the new absurdities every day. When there's a new outrage, I feel as if I have to download some existing outrage onto a hard drive so I can make room for the new outrage. And the distracting quality of what he says and does is very harmful to our country's ability to sustain our focus on the most important challenges we have.
And my main focus is on building a bipartisan consensus that we have to solve the climate crisis. I have no interest in access to the Trump White House. I have no interest in any further dialogue with him. I wouldn't rule it out because who knows what circumstances could develop? But I have no reservation about withholding criticism of him on those grounds. I just don't want to contribute to the constant distraction that takes us away from what we ought to be focused on.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is former Vice President Al Gore. And he has a new film that's a sequel to his film about the climate crisis called "An Inconvenient Truth." The new film is called "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power." It opens wide on Friday. We're going to take a short break, and then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is former Vice President Al Gore. He has a new documentary called "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power." And like his first documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," it's about climate change and the climate crisis.
So I had asked you earlier what your reaction was in terms of climate change when Donald Trump was elected president. What was your more general reaction when he was elected? And did you think he was going to win?
GORE: I did think there was a real chance he was going to win. I actually predicted to friends throughout much of the contest that there was a great danger that he would probably win. I lost that - I lost my nerve in making that prediction the weekend before the election when the mainstream polls had - almost all of them had the race outside the margin of error going the other way and after the FBI director had revisited his late comments about Secretary Clinton. And yet what many people saw happening did actually come to pass.
GROSS: So I know that you wrote your dissertation on the subject, the impact of television on the conduct of the presidency 1947 to '69. How would you like to update that now?
GORE: (Laughter) Well, I think some of the observations - thank you for referring to that. It's been a long time ago. But I think that the marriage between the presidency and the television screen did change the prominence of the executive branch relative to the others.
I think we've gone through two major transitions. The printing press was dominant when our country was founded, and reason more often than not played a more prominent role in our discussions as our founders intended. And I think the dominance of television and the eclipsing of the print media by television actually installed gatekeepers that charged access for the privilege of connecting with the public's thinking process and that restricted access to those with huge amounts of money, corporations and very wealthy individuals and told politicians that they had to spend most of their time begging for money from special interests and lobbyists and wealthy individuals.
But now we're in the midst of a second, large transition toward Internet-based media. And it's not complete yet. But we saw in the Bernie Sanders campaign last year - whatever you think of his agenda, he nevertheless proved that it is now possible to run a very credible, nationwide campaign without any special interest contributions, just by relying on small donations from individuals over the Internet. And it is my great hope that other campaigns will adopt that model and give us a chance to break free of the dominance of big money over American democracy.
GROSS: You say in your film that in order to fix our climate, we have to fix our democracy. What do you mean?
GORE: I mean that our democracy has been hacked by big money long before Putin hacked it. And the very fact that members of Congress now spend, on average, 4 to 5 hours every single day begging special interests for money to buy their 30-second TV ads. It is a real danger sign. Often, legislation is now written by the lobbyists and just introduced by members of Congress who depend on those lobbyists and their patrons for their re-election funding.
And that is a form of hacking. When I was first elected to the Congress in the mid-'70s, I didn't have a single fundraiser. One of the first bills I introduced was for 100 percent federal funding of all national election campaigns, all federal - for all federal offices - House, Senate, the president, et cetera. And yet during the time that I was in the Congress, I saw this degradation of our democracy gain momentum and speed.
And those that I served with who are still serving today tell me privately that they feel a sense of grief for what has happened to the way the Congress operates now. They don't really spend their time in committee hearings very much or on the floor of the Congress. They're in these insipid cocktail parties, again, begging for money. And they go off Capitol Hill to make telephone calls to an endless list of lobbyists and special interest representatives every single day.
And human nature being what it is, they began to think more frequently about how the following day's calls are going to go than what the effect of the legislation is going to be on their constituents.
GROSS: While we're talking about money and in "An Inconvenient Sequel" you mention that big money is playing more of a role in climate change denying than it has before. What are some of the new ways you've seen big money enter climate denial?
GORE: Well, they've financed a major cottage industry of climate denial with pseudo scientists who crank out these phony pseudo-scientific reports. Their principle product is doubt. They know they don't have to win the argument. They just have to create enough doubt to lead people to lose any sense of urgency about solving this crisis. And they have made some headway.
But again, because Mother Nature has a more persuasive voice than any of us, they're losing this battle. And the Paris Agreement was truly an historic breakthrough illustrating that all around the world, opinions are getting stronger and stronger in favor of solving the climate crisis. We're the only country with a major conservative party wedded to provable idiocy on climate science.
And in my home state of Tennessee, there's an old saying that if you see a turtle on top of a fencepost, you can be pretty sure it didn't get there by itself. And in that same way, when you see this persistent climate denial on Fox News and elsewhere, you can be pretty sure that didn't happen on its own. It's been intentionally and artificially created.
GROSS: My guest is former Vice President Al Gore. His new documentary about climate change is called "An Inconvenient Sequel." After a short break, we'll talk about leaving politics and becoming a climate change activist after losing the contested 2000 election. And we'll talk about what politics was like back when he was helping his father, Senator Al Gore Sr. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with former Vice President Al Gore. He served in the House and the Senate before his two terms as vice president. After losing his presidential run in 2000, he left politics and has since become one of the most high-profile climate change activists in the world. His new film "An Inconvenient Sequel" is a follow-up to his 2006 documentary about climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth."
So in the 2000 election, you won the popular vote, although you lost the election after the Supreme Court decision. You said, while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. When Donald Trump was asked during the campaign if he'd concede if he loses, he said, I will keep you in suspense. What was your reaction when you heard him say that?
GORE: Well, I thought it was one of many reckless and irresponsible statements and actions that he's taken. The bedrock of our constitutional democracy is the rule of law. And, you know, Winston Churchill once famously said of the American people they generally do the right thing after first exhausting every available alternative. When I heard the Supreme Court's decision, that's essentially what I did because there was no intermediate step between a final Supreme Court decision and violent revolution.
GORE: So it seemed to me that the support necessary for the rule of law ought to lead me to respect the rule of law and accept the outcome, as bitter as that was.
GROSS: What are you finding most unprecedented in the Trump administration?
GORE: Oh, gosh, there's so many things I don't even know where to begin. The single worst decision he's made has been to leave the Paris Agreement. It doesn't even make sense on his own terms. That was the most serious mistake I have seen him make. And I think it was the most serious because the consequences could be grave.
However, let me add, while I was fearful that other countries might use that decision as an excuse to pull out themselves, I was gratified when the entire rest of the world immediately doubled down on their commitments to the Paris Agreement as if to say, we'll show you, Mr. Trump. And then in this country, governors, mayors, business leaders stepped up to fill the gap and said, we're still in the Paris Agreement, and we're going to meet the commitments anyway.
And now our country does have a realistic chance to meet those commitments, regardless of Trump. But all of the commitments by every country in the Paris Agreement still do not add up to enough to solve this crisis. It gives us a very solid foundation upon which to mount further efforts, which we could make more effectively if we had a president who was prepared to lead and who was prepared to have this country lead the world as the world expects of the US.
GROSS: So you've been in - you were in politics (laughter) for, you know, so much of your life. And you started in politics before you actually entered politics 'cause you worked with your father. You helped him when he was a senator. So if you could take us back to, like, the days when your father was in the Senate and you were following his career and helping him with it, what was debate like then?
And that wasn't, like, you know, a nostalgic time where everybody was on the same page and everyone was really civil. I mean, you know, it was the anti - it was the Vietnam War era. The country was totally divided about the war. There was this huge cultural divide because of youth culture in the U.S. It was a really volatile time. I mean, there were demonstrations in the streets, students were getting tear gassed and, in some cases, shot.
So again, I'm not trying to make it seem like that was such, like, a lovely part of the past where everybody held hands. But given how divided the country was, what was debate like in the Senate then?
GORE: Well, first of all, debates in the Senate played a much more prominent role in shaping the outcome of legislation back then. Our countries had many turbulent periods and partisanship in previous eras has exceeded even that we see now. You go back to the election of 1800 and it's really astonishing what some of the candidates said about one another.
And what's going on now is serious, but there are precedents. But during the 1950s and '60s when I watched my father debate on the Senate floor, there were people like Paul Douglas and Hubert Humphrey and it's a long list of individuals - Margaret Chase Smith - who commanded respect from their colleagues. The bipartisan camaraderie was much greater.
And when I went to the House of Representatives in the 1970s, there was still a lot of bipartisan camaraderie. There were many controversies where bipartisan majorities would determine the outcome of votes. Now there seems to be the notion that you have to have a majority of one party and then twist arms until you get enough to pass legislation with the votes of one party alone.
And that really doesn't work well for our country and the kind of legislation that results is often very poor.
GROSS: Do you feel like you were vice president during a turning point in political relations in part because President Clinton was impeached in the House? And I think there was such strong Republican opposition to Bill Clinton at that time.
GORE: Well, yes, but if you ask Republicans in the Congress at that time, they will almost always direct you back to the Nixon presidency and the bitter denunciations of Richard Nixon, which, of course, I thought were usually deserved. But I think that was the beginning of a new era. And by the way, my father was defeated in 1970, which was a midterm election often cited as the first time when these highly negative 30-second TV ads, funded lavishly by special interests, began to determine the outcome of elections.
And Roger Ailes came in as an advisor to Richard Nixon during that era. And a lot of the practices that have spun out of control now may have really begun with the increasing dominance of television as the principle medium through which our politics have been conducted. Television surpassed newsprint in the early '60s in the fall of 1962.
And the dominance grew throughout the '60s and '70s. And television 30-second ads became the currency of the realm. And facts and reason-based discourse declined accordingly.
GROSS: And that takes us right back to your dissertation (laughter).
GORE: Sorry about that.
GROSS: No, no (laughter). I was not looking for an apology.
GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is former Vice President Al Gore. He has a new documentary called "An Inconvenient Sequel." And like his first film, "An Inconvenient Truth," it's about climate change. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is former Vice President Al Gore. His new documentary, "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power," which is about climate change, opens wide on Friday.
You got interested in climate change a long time ago when you were in college. You studied with Roger Revelle, who is an oceanographer and one of the first scientists to warn about climate change. What caught your attention about it? What got you so interested in it at a time when really hardly anyone was talking about it?
GORE: Well, Roger Revelle was a true giant. There's a major prize named for him that goes to a climate scientist each year. Kevin Trenberth won it this year, deservedly. He was - Revelle was the first scientist to design the experiment that measured CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere. And when I was fortunate enough to walk into his classroom in the late-'60s, he presented to our class the first seven or eight years of the measurements that were then starting from atop Mona Kai on the big island of Hawaii. And even after seven years, it was really obvious what was happening. The summer-winter cycle was clear, but each year, the peak of CO2 rose quite significantly. And he sketched out where this was leading, what it would mean and why we needed to be prepared to take action. And so he's the one that opened my eyes to this.
And some seven years after that when I was elected to the House of Representatives, I immediately asked what's going on with respect to global warming. And when I found out that nothing was going on, I got permission from one of my subcommittee chairs to organize the first congressional hearing on climate change. And I invited Professor Revelle to be the lead-off witness and naively thought that his testimony would create the same epiphany for my colleagues that I had received (laughter) during a full college course. And when it didn't happen, that's the first time I began to ask myself how it might be possible to communicate what he taught to a wider audience in general terms.
GROSS: And that's what you're trying to do now with your films and with your - you know, with the speeches that you give, you know, around the country and around the world. I should mention you also went to Divinity School at Vanderbilt. And I think this was a program for people who were pursuing secular careers. Why did you go to divinity college?
GORE: Well, it was an outgrowth of my decision to go to Vietnam. I opposed the war in Vietnam but felt I should volunteer to it. My draft board was in a small town in Tennessee, and everybody knew who was eligible each month. And it just didn't feel right to come up with some fancy excuse to get out of it. But it left me torn in a way that a 21-year-old can (laughter) really make such an issue quite serious.
And I decided that when I came back from the Army, that I would devote some serious time to investigating the questions that were really looming large for me at the time. And it was a very valuable year that I spent. I was a journalist at the same time and continued working for the then-Nashville Tennessean for five years before I ran for Congress.
GROSS: What were those questions that were looming large for you?
GORE: Well, how do you reconcile your duty as a citizen to - with a moral conviction that the war your country was waging was based on false premises and triggered by a lie - in that case, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Later on, of course the invasion of Iraq was similarly based on a lie. And you know, when you're 21 years old, those kinds of questions can really take hold of you. And I wanted to really immerse myself in the ethical systems that might give me some answers. What I found were better questions.
GROSS: Like what?
GORE: Well, how do you live a meaningful life?
GROSS: Oh, what's the answer? (Laughter).
GORE: Well, be true to yourself. I mean I - my faith tradition plays a role for me. I think the purpose of life is to glorify your creator. I don't often talk this way because it sounds like I wear it on my sleeve, and I really do not. But it's part of my grounding. It helps me keep my bearings.
GROSS: Well, that leads to an interesting question about politics because religion had really entered politics in a big way. And did you ever feel like you were expected to talk a lot about your religion when you were running for office?
GORE: No, not really, not really. I've always believed very deeply in the founder's conviction that church and state should be separated. Of course Jefferson was the most articulate advocate of that view, and it's controversial to this day. But I think history is filled with lessons of the tragedies that result (laughter) when the power to guide people's souls is intermingled with the secular power in governments. And I think that we flirt with the erosion of that line at our peril.
GROSS: You became a congressman at age 28. And you were part of - I think of, like, the youngest presidential ticket. Bill Clinton was 45. You were 44 when you ran. When you look back now from the vantage point of being in your late-60s, do you think you were really young at the time?
GORE: (Laughter) Sure. I didn't feel that way then (laughter). I felt - you know, that's true for all of us, Terry. You...
GROSS: I know. I know.
GORE: Yeah. But no, I didn't feel I was really young at the time. Now, when I ran for president on my own the first time in 1988 - I announced when I was 38 - I did feel I was young at that time.
GROSS: What made you feel like you really were young?
GORE: Well, if you look up chutzpah, as they say...
GORE: ...You'll see a picture of me announcing at the age of 38. But I carried seven states - primaries and caucuses. And I learned a lot. And I certainly would do it again. But I was certainly young for that challenge.
GROSS: You've referred to yourself as a recovering politician. What do you mean when you say that?
GORE: Well, I mean that the longer I go without a relapse, the less likely one becomes.
GROSS: (Laughter) When you lost the 2000 election and you were out of politics, did that set off an identity crisis of, who are you now? You'd been in politics most of your adult life.
GORE: No, I wouldn't say it set off an identity crisis. You might call it a professional puzzle.
GORE: What was I - of what the hell was I going to do? But no, I had the privilege of studying with the great Erik Erikson, again, back in the '60s. And he was the great psychologist of identity. And I was long past that age by then. But it did lead me to wonder what I was going to do. And I'm so happy that I found my way back to dusting off the slideshow I had been giving about the climate crisis. They were then on Kodak slides and carousels. I developed a really fancy one with three carousels...
GORE: ...And three slide projectors. And when I joined the board of Apple, Steve Jobs helped me transfer all that to the Apple Keynote program. And it started evolving very rapidly then. And I've been at it ever since.
GROSS: My guest is former Vice President Al Gore. His new climate change documentary is called "An Inconvenient Sequel." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with former Vice President Al Gore. His new documentary is his second about climate change. It's called "An Inconvenient Sequel."
When you're trying to figure out what to do now in terms of your educational work and activist work to slow climate change, how do you figure out what you can do to be most effective?
GORE: Well, I think about that question every single day. I have a large staff in Nashville, Tenn., who are really great men and women who help me scour the internet every day for the latest evidence of climate-related extreme weather events and the latest evidence of the dramatic advances in renewable energy and efficiency - batteries, electric vehicles, et cetera.
And I update my slideshow every single day with an eye to answering the question you've asked. How can I be more effective in convincing people to be a part of the solutions? And this movie opening on Friday around the country is the latest, best-organized effort that I have been a part of to give people everything they need to know about the crisis, about the solutions and how they can be a part of the solution.
GROSS: You were one of the advocates and one of the major forces behind the Deep Space Climate Observatory, the DSCOVR satellite. And why don't you explain rather than me explaining what this satellite does?
GORE: Well, this is a terrific satellite observation system that has a unique orbit around the sun in tandem with the Earth so that its camera is always facing the sunlit half of the Earth. And the climate instruments on the satellite are able to measure for the very first time the planetary energy balance of the Earth. That is energy in minus energy out.
We'd been able to measure in the past the amount of energy coming in because it comes from the sun, but we haven't been able to measure the amount of energy going back out into space. And that sum is really the problem that we call global warming or the climate crisis. And understanding it with greater precision will help us and already is beginning to help us get a better grip on exactly how serious it is and how it is proceeding.
GROSS: Part of the mission of DSCOVR is taking photographs of the Earth from - what? - a million miles away. Do you...
GROSS: Do you look at those photos every day?
GORE: I do. I am one of millions who remember with awe when the first "Earthrise" photograph came from the first Apollo mission to go out and circle the moon. They didn't land. They were searching for landing sites for the - in December of 1968 for the moon landing mission the following July. And one of them noticed - one of the astronauts noticed out of the corner of his eye this startling image. And the soundtrack is available on the NASA website. And it's like a scene from a family in a station wagon on vacation. Get my camera quick. Where's the color film?
And when they sent that picture back to Earth, it was - it really brought about an amazing change. Within 18 months, the first Earth Day was organized. And soon thereafter, major environmental legislation passed in the U.S. and in many other countries around the world. And four years later, the most commonly published photograph in history, the so-called "Blue Marble," was the first image of the Earth fully illuminated, floating in the void of space. And the DSCOVR satellite takes that picture many times each day. And it has been my hope that more such images would have the same kind of inspirational effect that the first Apollo images had.
GROSS: In addition to using those photos in your slideshow, what do those photos do for you?
GORE: Well, they drive home the essential truth that we all share the same planetary home. We have a common future, a common destiny. And other photos from space show that the sky is not a vast and limitless expanse. It's a shockingly thin line around the planet. And we're capable of changing its chemical composition dramatically. We're putting 110 million tons of man-made global warming pollution into that thin sky every day as if it's an open sewer, and that's what's causing global warming. And we have yet to fully take onboard the risks that we are imposing on our ability to govern ourselves, on our ability to continue seeing humanity flourish. And these risks are unethical. And it's not just what we owe to future generations. It's happening to us now.
And so this movie is designed to drive those points home but also to make people aware that in the last decade, the solutions to the climate crisis have become available to us. Electricity from the sun and the wind is now in many regions much cheaper than electricity from dirty fossil fuels. Electric cars are becoming affordable. Batteries are coming down very quickly in cost and, coupled with renewable energy, will utterly transform the world's energy systems. And along with sustainable agriculture and forestry, we now have a chance to use these tools to really solve the climate crisis in time to avoid the catastrophic consequences that would otherwise fall upon us.
GROSS: Al Gore, thank you so much for talking with us.
GORE: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Al Gore's new documentary is called "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power." It opens wide in theaters Friday.
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GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be journalist Bill Moyers. His latest article is about how President Lyndon Johnson launched Medicare 52 years ago in spite of the opposition. Moyers was LBJ's special assistant, then press secretary. We'll talk about how Medicare was passed, the attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Moyer's impressions of the Trump administration and life at the age of 83. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed our show today. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED NASH'S "SPOKEN AT MIDNIGHT - JAWAHARLAL NEHRU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.