What Gore hasn’t done much of, though, is talk directly about American politics and political candidates, including the dynamics within the party that nominated him for president 18 years ago.
Gore and I spoke recently for a story about Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, who is readying a presidential campaign that will make climate change and America’s response to it the central issue and cause. (Gore says he isn’t making an endorsement, or at least not yet.) We talked about why he thinks the national conversation on climate has changed and what he thinks hasn’t changed quickly enough. Here’s more of our interview, which has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Isaac Dovere: Where do you see the politics of climate change right now?
Al Gore: I think that we are extremely close to a political tipping point. We may actually be crossing it right about now. The much-vaunted tribalism in American politics has contributed to an odd anomaly, in that the core of one of our political parties is uniquely—in all of the world—still rejecting not just the science, but also the messages from Mother Nature that have pushed toward, and perhaps are pushing across, this political tipping point right now.
More and more people on the conservative side of the spectrum are really changing their positions now. This election, in 2020, is almost certainly going to be different from any previous presidential election in that a number of candidates will be placing climate at or near the top of their agenda. And I think that by the time the first primary and caucus votes are cast a year from now, you’re going to see a very different political dialogue in the U.S.
The climate-related extreme-weather events are causing millions of people who had successfully pushed this issue into the background and into the projected distant future to now be finding ways to talk about it and to express their deep concern.
Dovere: When you were in politics and talking about climate change, you were made fun of for it. Is that weird to think about now?
Gore: Forty years ago, it was not easy to get people’s sustained attention for this looming crisis. It’s much easier now.
Dovere: What do you make of the Democratic presidential contenders talking about climate change now?
Gore: Leaders who advocate solutions to the climate crisis should all run. There are several who have indicated they want to make this the No. 1 issue, who are in the midst of deciding whether to run or not. And I think it’s good for the country and good for the world to have this issue elevated into the top tier during this upcoming campaign.
Dovere: Every time there’s a new report on climate change, activists say, “We’ve got to get going before it’s too late.” And every time there’s a new report, climate-change deniers say, “Well, you said the world was ending the last time.” Do you think there’s actually a point when it will be too late?