Source: Channel 4 News
Date: 31/01/2013
Event: Al Gore: George Osborne is "seriously misinformed" about business and the "health of the planet"
Attribution: Channel 4 News

  • Al Gore: 45th Vice President of the United States, author of An Inconvenient Truth
  • Krishnan Guru-MurthyChannel 4 presenter and journalist

Krishnan Guru-MurthyGeorge Osborne is "seriously misinformed" and David Cameron could be backing off the green agenda because of "influences in his party". That's the warning tonight from Al Gore, the former American Vice President turned campaigner and author. Having done climate change with An Inconvenient Truth, his latest book is about an altogether easier topic - The Future. Al Gore's 25-year political career took him to the White House and the world stage. He served as VP to Bill Clinton for 8 years before losing his own campaign for the Presidency to George W Bush in that disputed election of 2000. He then stepped aside from politics but not from campaigning. 

Al Gore [speaking in An Inconvenient Truth]: I am Al Gore, I used to be the next President of the United States...

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Now best known for his work on climate change - the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth was a box-office smash in 2006. A year later, he was joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Vastly rich from investments in the media, the internet and renewable energy, he's not a man who needs to work any more but he has put his mind to The Future - the title of his new book, which explores the forces shaping the world and driving global change, from biotechnology and the internet to shifting global power and depletion of the world's resources. Well, I spoke to Al Gore by satellite from New York. You can see much more of it online, but here's some of what we discussed. 


Krishnan Guru-Murthy: One of the more controversial arguments you put, from a European perspective perhaps, in this book is that you say the best chance for success in shaping a positive future for the world is still global leadership by the United States. Does that not risk looking rather arrogant, in 2013, to be saying that, still?

Al Gore: Yes, there is a risk. I wouldn't call it arrogance, but chauvinism perhaps - overweening pride in my own country. I plead guilty to that. And I write about this risk. But I seriously believe that an objective analysis of global politics in 2013 would lead most reasonable observers to conclude that the European Union is not likely to be able to pick up the standard of global leadership, if the United States does not carry it. China does not have the trust and confidence or moral authority to play that role - they're dealing with terrible problems at home. Who else can do it? Certainly not Russia, not Brazil... I do think that, objectively speaking, we need global leadership. And I think, objectively speaking, the United States remains the indispensable nation, and if that sounds like it comes from a place of too much pride in country, I guess I'll have to just own up to that. But I do think it's the truth.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But you have to wonder whether the whole idea of global leadership is a past idea. That in a world where, as you describe, the shifts of power - of economic power, of military power - to the east, you can't have a single global leader. India and China aren't going to listen to the US in ten, twenty years' time. 

Al Gore: Well, that may be true, but it may not be true. I have served for many years in the US government, including eight years in the White House, dealing with other countries all over the world. And I can tell you that even though it's true that power is moving from west to east and is being dispersed to lots of emerging centres of power, nevertheless, when the world as a whole confronts a difficult challenge, the role of leadership is still essential.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Let's talk a little bit about this whole question of electoral politics and the influence that has. Isn't that a lot to do with why America didn't lead the way on climate change, when it came to the Kyoto Protocol and other issues? I mean, you know, the reality of who will vote for what in what constituency is always going to trip you up.

Al Gore: I disagree, because 70% of the American people want to see something done, to start solving the climate crisis.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But they don't vote for it - 

Al Gore: And yet - well, because in the election system, as it operates today, the dominance of television advertising gives preference to those who have huge amounts of money - corporations, for example, and other special interests - to plead their special case.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But the climate change issue that really, sort of, took off around the world after An Inconvenient Truth, and where you think we are now - if you look at a country like Britain, you will see political leaders rolling back the environmental agenda, saying things like "We're not going to save the world by wrecking our business, or going out of business". Are they making terrible mistakes?

Al Gore: Yes. [Laughs.] Yes. And I think that there were such hopeful signs when Prime Minister Cameron came into power. I have worried that there are influences in his party that have backed him off. But I don't give up hope, and I think that it's cause for optimism that both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, solid majorities of people want to see this issue dealt with. 

Again, just look at the consequences from climate-related events, just in the past year. The flooding in the United Kingdom has been horrendous and has alternated with drought. Here in the US, we had the hottest year, in 2012, ever recorded in history - 60% of our country was in dangerous drought, $110 billion was lost to climate-related disasters and Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New York City and New Jersey and some other places. And yet not one single question was asked in any of the innumerable Presidential debates by any member of the news media about the climate crisis. Isn't that odd? I think that's terribly odd. 

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But it's a very lively debate over here, partly because you've got a debate going on within the coalition government in Britain, between Liberal Democrats who are very pro-action on climate change and some elements of the Conservative Party who are less keen on it, in this economic climate. The Chancellor said "We're not going to save the planet by going out of business". What would you say to him?

Al Gore: Well, first of all, I'm not an expert on your politics, and don't wish to interfere in your politics. But anyone who opposes a direct conflict between the health of business and the health of the planet and the health of the environment, in a great country like the United Kingdom, is seriously misinformed. Business suffers from flooding, from drought, from these wind storms, and sustainable business prosperity really has to be based on a view of the future that is grounded in facts. 

We presently put up 90 million tons of global warming pollution every 24 hours. The extra heat trapped each day is the equivalent of the energy released in 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs - every single day. This is disrupting the water cycle. It is disrupting the balances in nature that are important, not only to living species including us, but also to business. And it is short-sighted indeed to believe that the future of business and the future of the environment are in conflict. They are not. We can create millions of new jobs by leading this transition toward renewable energy sources, much higher levels of efficiency and recycling and sustainable capitalism.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: And yet here we are, at the beginning of this year, and you've been accused by lots of people of playing the same game, of selling your own television network, Current TV, to Al Jazeera, which as you know is Qatari money, which is reliant on oil. 

Al Gore: Well, I'm proud of what my partner Joel Hyatt and I did with Current TV. We won every major journalism award in the United States and some international awards as well. It's difficult for an independent to survive in the age of conglomerates. But I'm very happy that Al Jazeera has established itself long since, as a high quality journalistic and news-gathering organisation. It has no commercial breaks. Its climate reporting, incidentally, is far superior to that of any of the networks here in the United States - 

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But it is funded by oil -

Al Gore: - and I think they've earned the right to be recognised - I'm sorry?

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: It is funded by oil, though, isn't it. It's an excellent network, nobody would dispute that. But its money comes from the same interest groups that you accuse of corrupting the world political system.

Al Gore: Well, the government of Qatar, with its gas revenues and oil revenues, sponsored and started Al Jazeera. But Al Jazeera deserves to be recognised for what it is. It has done a truly outstanding job, and I think the net result for the US media landscape is going to be very positive.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But what do you say to those - people have been pretty vitriolic about this, when it comes to you, there. They've accused you of being a hypocrite on this. What do you say to that?

Al Gore: Well, there's nothing new about attacking the messenger, when the message is unpopular. I do of course understand the critique that you're referring to. I simply disagree with it.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: And yet this week respected scientists in Norway put out a report that grabbed a lot of headlines, saying global warming isn't as bad as people like you were warning.

Al Gore: Well, I disagree that that's what that particular report said. There are many reports that analyse what degree of sensitivity the Earth has to global warming. This is one of them, but even in this report that you refer to, they predict a three-and-a-half degree Fahrenheit increase within 37 years, And look at the devastation we've had with only a one degree increase, with Arctic ice cap melting, the jet stream meandering, the droughts and floods and escalating strong storms. This is - this is something that we really have to face up to. 

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Can I ask you a little bit about you now, I mean, you describe yourself as a "recovering politician". Does that mean being a politician is a bad thing that you don't want to go back to? 

Al Gore: It means that the chances of a relapse have been diminishing over long enough to increase my confidence that I will not succumb to that temptation again. 

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: So "temptation" implies you do think of it as something to disparage, as a bad thing. I mean, you're using the language of alcoholism or drug abuse.

Al Gore: Ah - well, it's a joke. It's intended to be humorous, but - 

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: So you don't mean it.

Al Gore: Well, there's often - well, I do mean it. And there is often truth in humour. I honour the profession of politics and I encourage young people to go into it. I don't have plans to become a candidate again, though.