Al Gore’s Falling Star

Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ruby Cramer have an article on BuzzFeed on Al Gore’s Incredible Shrinking Climate Change Footprint”.


That soul-searching process, said Stiles, led to the group’s current iteration: “Chapter 3.” From the embers of the lobbying effort came a smaller, less ambitious Alliance. The group that had planned to bring revolution to climate change advocacy instead sought out a smaller part of the existing movement. “We saw as our niche to bring together leaders in the advertising and social media and marketing worlds from some of the world’s most innovative companies,” Stiles said.

The former top official said it was an end to the broad ambitions. “Everyone hunkered down and stopped going for the moonshots,” the former official said. Gore himself took a step back, as his involvement was seen as politicizing in a way that it hadn’t at the outset, when his documentary was an international hit.

The smaller operation has drawn less interest from the national media — and even from some of the group’s own early backers. Susie Tompkins Buell, a California-based Democratic donor and one of Hillary Clinton’s closest friends, seeded $5 million in 2007 to the organization, but now says she hasn’t “followed it very much” or contributed since.

Buell cited her admiration for Gore — for “sticking with it,” she said in an interview by phone — but acknowledged her frustration at the lack of progress from the group, and the climate movement on the whole. (Last year, she notably declined to contribute to Obama’s reelection campaign because, she said, he had not been “vocal enough” on environmental issues.)

“I don’t regret doing it,” Buell said of her initial donation. “I think, honestly, we were all very naïve. We thought this would catch on. I really felt with the right media, with everything in place, we could really bring this problem to the forefront and really solve it.”

But was it impossible? Or was it a botched effort? It’s time to face the question. I have great admiration for Al Gore on many fronts, but after Inconvenient Truth his team has been ineffective.

In particular, ask anyone familiar with computer gaming what they think of “Reality Drop”. It’s an embarrassment and it’s time we admitted it.

I say this as someone who has long thought “gamification” could well be the answer to organized climate denial on the web. But doing it right is much harder than just slapping together some cute graphics.

The irony of Gore is that he’s so smart about everything except politics. His book “Assault on Reason” is well-crafted and true and about as convincing and compelling as a broadly accessible book on political philosophy could be. And the voice it is written in is unmistakably Gore’s. I’m not suggesting it was ghostwritten, but Mr. Gore conducts his public programs as if he had never even read the thing.


  1. Haven't played much with Reality Drop but haven't really heard sterling reviews of it either, although the impetus for it (denialist astroturfing in comment sections through the use of bots) is a major concern.

    Mr. Gore has, from my understanding, continued to be enormously successful on the international stage, even as he's had to make a tactical shift away from the U.S. domestic political scene because of the ferocity and depth of climate polarization here and because the mainstream media has been continually making facile attempts to slander him and his credibility for the last 15 years (with perhaps the exception of a few years from 2007-2009).

    The mainstream media is 100% culpable for the "Gore invented the Internet" absurdity that has lingered around his public persona and portrayal ever since, even as he has proved himself time and again to be one of the most incredibly intelligent and far-sighted public servants that our country has had in decades.

    ACP should definitely be considered a key player in the failed lobbying effort/ coalition strategy on the 2010 climate bill, but what major environmental group wasn't neck deep in that effort? Monday morning quarterbacking and assembling a typical liberal firing squad are so easy, and much more satisfying to some, like the Buzzfeed folks, than identifying the real culprits (our feckless media and the crazed Tea Party insurgency in 2010)

  2. The person who wrote this article brings us some fascinating insights and clearly has done a lot of work. Equally, it's obvious they've somehow overlooked the net effect of 300,000,000+ repeats of "Al Gore is fat," "Al Gore has a fleet of supersonic private aircraft permanently orbiting his coal-powered indoor ski hill," etc.

    The massive numbers of parrots launched against Al Gore suggest he became a target too dangerous to ignore. Summarizing his arc while failing to properly account for that leaves an incomplete narrative.

  3. I think a large part of Gore's climate change effort was that it was Gore's. It don't mean the std.septic junk that amounts to "Al Gore is fat"; I just mean that, intrinsically, tying something as broad as that to one person is wrong, and doomed to fail. AIT stood by itself, and though it had Gore presenting it, that didn't matter much. But translating that into an ongoing campaign keyed off one person? No.

  4. Methinks the problem is not that the effort was somehow botched or somehow too Al-Gore-ish. It looks the problem is:

    You can't rise awareness where there is no capacity for awareness

    This is a deeply troubling epiphany I had recently. Where are the fabled cultural creatives? They are irrelevant! They don't have the capacity to grasp in their minds, and more important in their hearts what is at stake and what we are doing to the Planet.

    Terminal civilizational dementia.

  5. Please, name me one effective communicator or other public figure who has provided effective climate information of any kind who has not been relentlessly targeted, Drudge- and/or climategate-style. I've been a volunteer in the climate discussion for almost ten years, and continue to be surprised by the naivete of reality-based thinkers about this campaign. Many people know it's there, but just like those who say they ignore mass media and advertisement, they underestimate the power and influence of a continuous campaign and its fellow-traveling volunteers.

    Certain topics are guaranteed to bring the hordes out of the woodwork, and Al Gore's success with An Inconvenient Truth and his sincere efforts before and since have been at the top of the list of the heavy industrial strength attacks. Mike Mann is near the top. Pachauri and Phil Jones got a bucketful. On issues, anything that increases the temperature record gets top billing, and Arctic melt and extreme weather get a lot of attention. The list goes on.

    Good intentions are not enough to overcome dishonesty, money and the best PR vast wealth can buy. I see far too many people of goodwill setting aside this blatant exploitation while critical time dribbles by, and inertia and wishful thinking win the day. Our culture is not becoming more mindful, it is becoming more passive.

  6. Al hasn’t had anything new to say since AIT that was as impressive. His links between weather events and climate change are tenuous at best (so far) and wrong at the other extreme. Has there been any major climate event since 2006 that he or other key figures haven't linked to global warming? Even the most ignorant weather observer must know that some of them must be natural because the natural events didn’t stop just because CO2 was emitted. Eventually people realise that they’re being sold a story. Most people I know hate that, even if it’s for a good cause.

    And, just as you folks have tiptoed around, he’s hardly a shining beacon for cutting CO2. A good leader would have empathy for the followers because he/she would have trodden the same path before them. As I can attest, each tonne of CO2 reduced feels like it is exponentially harder to shed than the one before. The lower you go the harder you question whether it’s worth it. Al Gore makes an unlikely leader for a low energy crusade.

  7. I don't buy that the leaders of the anti-CO2 movement need a small footprint; their activities are best thought of as amortized over the entire world population. The question is whether the chances are that the total emissions will be less as a result of his activities.

    I'm pretty sure Mr. Gore buys offsets, too.

    McKibben has rued his personal footprint.

    Writing a story about Bill McKibben, you become acutely aware of the hundreds of pounds of fossil fuels you are consuming on your way to meet him: the car to the airplane, the airplane, the rental car from the airplane. McKibben is well aware of the same contradiction in his own life and can find no way to reconcile the demands of his role as global speaker on behalf of the environment with the vast amounts of carbon his travel emits. “One of the great ironies of my life is that I have a carbon footprint the size of a small Indian village,” he says.

    I think the "can find no way to reconcile" is just bad reporting. Obviously the costs have to be weighed against the benefits.

    McKibben is great; I can rarely find fault with him. But he is not the orator we need, nor is Gore.

  8. When deniers sneer that anyone who advocates government action to counter AGW has to demonstrate sincerity by modeling a fossil-fuel-free lifestyle, they reveal their ignorance of the tragedy of the commons.

  9. Here is the condensation of a text by Arne Næss, Norwegian philosopher, mountaineer, inventor of the term deep ecology. Written 1986. Gore and McKibben sure have read it. Alas, Næss has no suggestion except "enjoy landscapes more"...

    Self realization
    The ecological self of a person is that with which this person identifies.
    The philosopher Immanuel Kant introduced a pair of contrasting concepts which deserve extensive use in our efforts to live harmoniously in, for and of nature: the concept of moral act and that of beautiful act. [AN1993]
    What I am suggesting is the supremacy of ecological ontology and a higher realism over environmental ethics as a means of invigorating the ecology movement in the years to come. If reality is experienced by the ecological Self, our behaviour naturally and beautifully follows norms of strict environmental ethics. We certainly need to hear about our ethical shortcomings from time to time, but we change more easily through encouragement and a deepened perception of reality and of our own self, that is, through a deepened realism. How is that to be brought about is too large a question for me to deal with here.


    Source 1: Excerpt of a lecture help 1986 in John Seed et al: Thinking like a mountain - towards a council of all beings (1988)
    Source 2: Enlarged version 1995 here

  10. Michael, that's exactly the sort of thing one would expect from a couple of standard-issue Beltway gossip stenographers (noting their other output). As it's no more than a distraction from the big picture, I'm surprised to see you repeating it. Yeah, after AIT Gore hasn't come up with a similar breakthrough, but neither has anyone else (partial exception for Bill McKibben, although it's still early days in terms of impact assessment). More to the point would be to consider this graph and its causes, none of which are Al Gore (albeit that AIT *may* have been a co-factor in the earlier spike).

  11. I read with interest the two books Al Gore wrote after producing AIT. The first, The Assault on Reason, has my wholehearted agreement as it included the premise that TV and mass media have dumbed down and addicted the public to two-dimensional passive entertainment and removed us from real reflection and action. The second, Our Choice, was the most comprehensive presentation of problems and alternatives in energy, pollution, and solutions I have ever seen, an amazing document.

    The fact that these two sank more or less without a trace is very sad. We have a habit of seizing the fashion of the day, finding it easier to opine than to act. Our loyalty is fickle. We were offered a genuine leader and let a clamoring movement not a million miles removed from expert PR and finance persuade us to disrespect this top thinking and leader.

    In the process of searching out these two titles, I found this new one and will be interested to read it. I do, however, agree with those who observe that in his effort to be inclusive and acceptable, he has compromised with corporation entities who have divided loyalties and an eye on the main chance:

    As for highfalutin' philosphers, that's all very nice, but it doesn't get us where we need to go. I think facing how bad things are is a necessary first step to preventing a future that becomes increasingly risky with each acceptance of doubt and delay. As we prevaricate, our future is prevaricating us.

  12. So you approve of a new form of social stratification, where the rich and powerful are allowed to emit as much as they want and the rest of us have to cut even more? Will the rich buy up forests so that they can claim the CO2 reduction as their own? Once the carbon offsets are all sold, where will that leave those who couldn't afford them? Since most CO2 taxes and charges are not based on income, the poor pay a disproportionate amount for their energy both directly and indirectly.

    That might work for you but I suspect it doesn't work for many. It's no more pallatable than a politician demanding we pay higher income tax even while stashing their money in protected schemes.

  13. I begin to smell a troll here.

    Yes, of course, if we use a pricing mechanism to limit carbon, rich people will not suffer as much relative deprivation as poor people do. This is the reason I prefer some more complex policy. Most likely the right will not allow it; the carbon tax is more politically palatable in North America at least than a more complex regulatory scheme and has the virtue of simplicity. People crying crocodile tears for the poor on this score tend not to worry about them much the rest of the time...

    Anyway so what? This has nothing to do with the conversation so far as far as I can tell. If you're just scoring points you're wasting your breath. Nobody here cares.

  14. Indeed, high falutin' philosophers won't get us anywhere. That's why I quoted Arne Næss (1912-2009). He seems to be keenly aware of why we're getting nowhere. And this is all 20+ years old insights! Here's from his last book:

    Without feelings, no change.

    a high falutin' interpretation of Spinoza (1632-1677)... (don't worry, Susan, I'm not miffed - in a sense you're totally right...)

    I'm currently reading some more forgotten old stuff of last century. More quotes later.

  15. I love the web but it makes us undervalue most of human intellectual history. I think we'll be producing a couple of cohorts of university graduates whose idea of intellectual history starts around 2002. This is exacerbated by copyright law designed to protect authors in a different technological environment.

  16. TinyCO2, if history teaches us anything, it's that it's better to be rich and powerful than poor and disenfranchised. But a carbon-pricing mechanism need not be regressive. I favor a Hansen-style tax (or fee) and dividend myself. Besides, the objective is not to punish fossil-fuel users forever, but to put the Invisible Hand to work replacing FFs with renewables.

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