A brief history of Al Gore’s climate missions to Australia


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Al Gore has been visiting Australia this week – partly because he has a new film to promote, but also because he and Australian climate policy have had a surprisingly long entanglement. Given that this year is likely to be a bloody one as far as climate policy goes, don’t be surprised if he’s back again before 2017 is out.

Gore has a long and honourable record on climate change, although ironically his weakest period on climate coincided with the peak of his political power, as US Vice President.

As he says in his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, he was first alerted to climate change by Roger Revelle, who can justly be called the (American) father of climate science. On becoming a Congressman, Gore was part of the move by Democrats to sustain momentum on climate policy that had stalled with the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President.

Gore organised Congressional hearings in 1981, and 1982 (NASA climatologist James Hansen’s first congressional testimony).

Even back then, the familiar political narrative around climate change had already formed, as journalism academic David Sachsman recalls:

The CBS Evening News for March 25, 1982, included a two minute and 50 second story by David Culhane on the greenhouse effect. Chemist Melvin Calvin raised the threat of global warming, Representative Al Gore called for further research, and James Kane of the Energy Department said there was no need for haste.

This report from the following year tells a similar tale, noting the political difficulty of solving the climate problem:

A youthful Gore in 1983.

By the time of the seminal Villach conference of October 1985, Gore was a Senator, and helped to organise the first Senate hearings since 1979. Gore’s colleague, Republican Senator David Durenberger remarked that “grappling with this problem [of climate change] is going to be just about as easy as nailing Jello to the wall”.

The following year, as Joshua Howe notes in his excellent book on the politics and science of climate change, Behind the Curve (2014), the then Senator Joe Biden introduced an initiative mandating that the president commission an executive-level task force to devise a strategy for responding to global warming – a strategy the president was meant to deliver to Congress within one year.

Gore scored another political victory on May 8, 1989, when Hansen testified that George H. W. Bush’s administration had ordered him to change the conclusions in written testimony regarding the seriousness of global warming

From Vice President to movie star

However, as Vice President to Bill Clinton, Gore disappointed environmentalists. An energy tax was defeated by industry lobbyists in 1993, and the Clinton administration (perhaps wisely) opted not to try and pass the Kyoto Protocol through a defiant Senate.

After leaving the West Wing he embraced Hollywood, where his budding movie career attracted derision in some quarters, despite the hefty policy achievements earlier in Gore’s career.

Besides an Inconvenient Truth (see here for an account of its impact in Australia), Gore “starred” in another movie, the 1990 philosophy-based talkie Mindwalk, starring Sam Waterston as Senator Jack Edwards, a thinly veiled version of Gore.

Former Australian industry minister Ian Macfarlane certainly considered Gore more entertainer than policymaker when speculating on his reasons for visiting in 2006:

Well, Al Gore’s here to sell tickets to a movie, and no one can begrudge him that. It’s just entertainment, and really that’s all it is.

Gore and Australia

Gore has been on these shores many times. During his May 2003 visit Gore urged the then Prime Minister John Howard to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. He met with the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, and also with former Liberal leader and current climate hawk John Hewson. He spoke at an event co-hosted by the Business Council of Australia to advocate sustainable development.

After a controversial visit in 2005, Gore visited twice in 2006. As Joan Staples notes in her PhD, he teamed up with the Australian Conservation Foundation to launch his Climate Project:

Having reached out to the wider NGO sector, to doctors, unions, and the corporate sector, this initiative then moved ACF’s efforts towards influencing individual citizens. Gore’s organisation aimed to harness the power of mass mobilisation by expanding the message of his film An Inconvenient Truth.

Gore returned in 2007 and spoke at a A$1,000-a-plate event on the Sustainability and Cleantech Investment Market, with Carr introducing him while clutching a copy of Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance.

He had his share of Australian critics too. On a frosty morning in July 2009 Gore’s launch speech of the Safe Climate Australia initiative attracted around 30 members of the newly formed Climate Sceptics Party, who handed out leaflets and wore t-shirts bearing their slogan: “Carbon Really Ain’t Pollution – CRAP”.

Gore also offered an opinion on Kevin Rudd’s proposed climate legislation:

It’s not what I would have written, I would have written it as a stronger bill, but I’m realistic about what can be accomplished in the political system as it is.

Gore seems to have (wisely) eschewed direct involvement during the tumultuous Julia Gillard years, but pitched in in October 2013 when the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to link bushfires with climate change.

The Palmer moment

Perhaps the most bizarre, rub-my-eyes-did-that-just-happen moment came in June 2014, when Gore stood alongside Clive Palmer in a deal to save some of Gillard’s carbon policy package from Tony Abbott’s axe.

In July 2015, with the Paris climate conference approaching, Gore visited on a whistlestop tour that included meetings with senior business figures (BHP, National Australia Bank, Qantas, and Victorian state government ministers) to try and build momentum ahead of the crucial summit.

Looking into the crystal ball

Despite his Nobel Prize shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, not everyone is a fan, with Canadian journalism academic Chris Russill arguing that Gore’s approach “narrows our understanding of climate change discourse”.

And just because some climate sceptics think he’s a very naughty boy – and can change the weather by his mere presence – that doesn’t mean he’s the messiah.

Ultimately, we all need to find new and better ways of exerting more sustained pressure, not only on policymakers but also other institutions and norm-makers in our society, to change the trajectory we’re currently on.

The ConversationGore will keep banging on about climate change. He will turn up to give speeches, and will be both praised and derided. What matters is not what he does the same, but what we all do differently.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ten years on: how Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made its mark


John Cook, The University of Queensland

Ten years ago, An Inconvenient Truth opened in cinemas in the United States.

Starring former US vice president Al Gore, the documentary about the threat of climate change has undoubtedly made a mark. It won two Academy Awards, and Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to communicate human-induced climate change.

An Inconvenient Truth (AIT for short) is the 11th-highest-grossing documentary in the United States. According to Texan climatologist Steve Quiring:

AIT has had a much greater impact on public opinion and public awareness of global climate change than any scientific paper or report.

But has the film achieved what it set out to do – raise public awareness and change people’s behaviour in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Measuring the film’s impact

A public survey by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press found that in the months following the documentary’s release, the percentage of Americans attributing global warming to human activity rose from 41% to 50%. But how do we know whether AIT contributed to this increase?

Several studies have experimentally tested the impact of viewing the film. A UK study found that showing selective clips from AIT resulted in participants feeling more empowered and more motivated to make lifestyle changes to fight climate change.

Similarly, surveys of moviegoers and students found that watching AIT increased knowledge about the causes of global warming and willingness to reduce greenhouse gases. However, this increased willingness didn’t necessarily translate into action. A follow-up survey conducted a month later found little change in behaviour.

One novel approach found a 50% increase in the purchase of voluntary carbon offsets in areas where AIT was shown. This is encouraging evidence that the film did lead to tangible behaviour change. But again, the effect wasn’t long-lasting. A year later, there was little difference in carbon offset purchases.

An analysis of drivers of public attitudes towards climate change found a significant relationship between media mentions of AIT and public perception of the urgency of climate change. In other words, the film produced a significant positive jump in the general public’s perceptions of the issue.

This study also found that polarisation decreased after the release of AIT, pouring cold water on the claim that Al Gore polarised the climate debate. Rather, the polarised positions on climate science among Democratic and Republican leaders (one party broadly accepting the science, the other significantly rejecting it) was found to be the key driver of public polarisation on climate change.

This led the study’s author, Robert Brulle, to state:

I think this should close down forever the idea that Al Gore caused the partisan polarisation over climate change.

This body of research underscores the difficulties confronting any public awareness campaign. AIT was successful in raising public awareness of climate change, increasing willingness to change behaviour and, in some cases, actually changing behaviour.

However, the effect didn’t last long. This indicates that persistent communication efforts are required to promote sustained behaviour change.

Scientists critique An Inconvenient Truth

While AIT was effective among the general public, there is no tougher crowd for a science documentary than scientists. A survey of members of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union found that among the scientists who had seen and rated AIT, 72% said the film was either somewhat or very reliable.

To put this in perspective, only 12% of scientists who had read Michael Crichton’s contrarian novel State of Fear rated it as somewhat or very reliable.

Going into more detail, an edition of GeoJournal had four scientists critique the scientific accuracy of AIT. Unfortunately, the panel was made up of two mainstream scientists and two contrarian scientists – a false-balance form of coverage that actually causes confusion rather than increases literacy in the context of media coverage. (For an incisive look at false-balance coverage of climate change, watch John Oliver’s statistically representative climate change debate.)

A statistically significant climate change debate

The outcome is somewhat predictable, with mainstream scientists reporting a more positive assessment of the accuracy of AIT than the contrarian scientists. Nevertheless, a useful overview of the exercise is provided by Texan climatologist Gerald North, who concluded that while there were some inaccuracies in AIT, on the whole it represented mainstream scientific views on global warming.

Ultimately, the factual inaccuracies in AIT were deemed inconsequential and don’t undermine the main message of the film.

Inspiring others

While most of the research into the impact of AIT investigates the direct effect on viewers, a potentially more significant impact is the film’s role in inspiring others to follow Gore’s example in communicating the issue of climate change to others.

Personally, I can attest to this influence. Before 2006, I hadn’t given much thought to the climate change issue. Watching AIT raised a number of questions about the human role in global warming.

With the issue salient in my mind, I got into conversations with family members who happened to reject the scientific consensus on climate change. This precipitated the founding of Skeptical Science, which led to me becoming a researcher in climate communication at the University of Queensland.

I’ve spoken to or know of many other climate communicators whose awareness of the issue dawned with their viewing of AIT. While the direct effect of the original screening of the film may have dissipated, the impact of those inspired to communicate the realities of climate change persists.

For me, the film precipitated a series of events that ultimately redirected the course of my life. An Inconvenient Truth wasn’t just behaviour-changing, it was life-changing.

No lab experiment can quantify that level of impact.

The Conversation

John Cook, Climate Communication Research Fellow, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Al Gore: ‘the will to act is a renewable resource in itself’


Ralph Sims, Massey University

With the main negotiations getting bogged down in such issues as whether to include a 1.5℃ target along with the accepted 2℃ goal (St Lucia and small island states say yes; Saudi Arabia and oil-exporting countries say no), much of the interest is found at the many side events going on at the same time.

One of them was today’s appearance by Al Gore – climate campaigner, former US vice-president, and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Changing to a low-carbon economy is a daunting prospect,” he told a packed audience, before posing three questions:

Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?

“Yes” he said to the first, because our energy supply, food supply, transport systems and forests are all under various levels of stress and increasing risks.

“Yes” to the second, as improved energy efficiency continues and the shift to renewable energy is moving fast. In many cases, renewables are now competing on cost with fossil fuels – not just for electricity but also for heating and transport.

And he said the answer to “Will we change?” will be known when the final text from the Paris meeting is agreed at the end of next week – only then will businesses and investors know where they stand.

“Investors now need to look closely at investing in fossil fuel companies else they may be left with stranded assets because much of the known coal, oil and gas reserves have to be left in the ground or under the sea,” Gore said. “Now is the time to consider divestment of such investments.”

This was supported in the ensuing panel discussion, in which one speaker made the point that the composition of company boards will have to change to accommodate “climate-comprehending members”, and not just bankers and lawyers.

And a question from the floor from a member of the World Council of Churches, which includes some major investors, asked if progress towards this level of understanding is happening rapidly enough.

Gore’s earlier closing statement – “the will to act is a renewable resource in itself” – summed up the potential well.

The Conversation

Ralph Sims, Professor, School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

If you think climate politics in the U.S. are crazy, wait till you see what just happened in Australia


Grist

Hold on to your hats! Australia’s already-bizarre carbon price adventures veered into the utterly surreal overnight.

Picture this: An eccentric billionaire mining baron, most famous outside Australia for commissioning a replica of the Titanic, appearing alongside the world’s most recognizable climate campaigner and former U.S. vice president, Al Gore, to announce Australia’s relatively new carbon tax will be scrapped, and a new emissions trading scheme proposed, effectively screwing over the sitting conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, who is hell-bent on getting rid of carbon legislation altogether.

It’s a big blow to a prime minister who said recently in Canada that he has “always been against” an emissions trading scheme, and believes fighting climate change will “clobber the economy.”

For watchers of Aussie politics, it was a visual feast of weirdness. For U.S. readers, imagine — I don’t know — industrialist Charles Koch jumping on stage with writer and activist Bill McKibben and you’re…

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How Al Gore is using social media to try to change the conversation on climate change


Gigaom

Climate change has a serious communication problem. Will Al Gore be the one to help fix it?

These two lines of thought simultaneously ran through my head as I dialed into a phone interview last week with the former Vice President, who earlier that week had confirmed that he once tried unsuccessfully to buy Twitter and merge it with Current TV (first reported in Nick Bilton’s book). Naturally Gore and his team behind environmental social media effort The Climate Reality Project had an agenda for the interview: to tell me about their third annual 24 Hours of Reality, a live online broadcast that kicks off this Tuesday and which over a 24-hour-period will showcase the local effects of extreme weather and carbon pollution across six continents.

Gore, who’s as congenial as he is media-trained in a phone interview on the topic of climate change, launched the first…

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