Al Gore can no longer change anyone’s mind about climate change. He should let Republican Lindsey Graham lead the fight
Al Gore, the ghost of climate change past, showed up to haunt the New York Times’s opinion pages this past Sunday. Eloquent and impassioned as ever, the former vice-president reminded us that the current controversy over scientific malfeasance won’t change the fact that the polar ice caps are melting and the earth continues to heat up.
“I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion,” he wrote. “But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
Yet even though I admire Gore, on some level I couldn’t help but cringe. His 2006 film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, helped bring the issue to prominence for millions of people. I’m afraid, though, that he has not only spent his political capital, but is running a deficit. Mocked by the right every time he pops up, he is no longer in a position to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced – especially when he writes for our most liberal daily newspaper.
It started, of course, with the vicious lies told about Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign, the most notorious of which was that he claimed to have “invented the internet“. Bob Somerby, Eric Alterman and others have documented the smear campaign that almost certainly cost Gore the presidency – a campaign driven at least as much by the so-called liberal media as by Gore’s Republican opponents.
The hate stirred up by that effort has long since congealed into conventional wisdom. Now, whenever Gore speaks out on climate change, he is subjected to withering, fact-free scorn. It has its effect on those trying to figure out the truth. Go ahead. Feel the hate:
“Do you think of your breathing passages as spewing shit?” sneered Ann Althouse, referring to Gore’s use of an “open sewer” metaphor.
Another rightwing blogger, Van Helsing, wrote that Gore had emerged “to demand totalitarian restrictions on economic activity in the name of a crisis that clearly does not exist”.
And Andrew Breitbart’s notorious Big Journalism site ran a commentary by Kyle-Anne Shiver, who said of Gore, “His life as a jet-setting, Nobel Peace Prize-sharing, Oscar-brandishing celebrity is on the line. Without the people’s diehard faith in his religion of global warming, Al will be forced to trade his lifestyle of the mega-rich-and-famous for an ignominious and expensive defense of never-ending lawsuits brought by enraged sucker governments and private investors.”
But if Gore’s effectiveness as a climate-change activist has expired, there is nevertheless reason to hope. Because there, in the same edition of the Sunday Times, just a few inches away, was columnist Tom Friedman’s interview with the ghost of climate change present, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham – living proof that it is possible for a conservative Republican not only to be sane, but to work toward real solutions to actual problems.
Graham, despite an 82% ranking by the American Conservative Union and a 100% ranking by the Christian Coalition, is working with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to shut down Guantánamo. He also voted to confirm supreme court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, a moderate, pro-prosecution jurist who was portrayed by many of Graham’s fellow Republicans as a leftwing extremist more concerned with Latino identity politics than with the law.
On climate change, Graham is trying to work out compromise legislation with Massachusetts senator John Kerry, a Democrat, and Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, an independent. The price of Graham’s support is that the US government must embrace “clean coal”. Now, that may be an oxymoron. But in the Senate, where it now takes 60 votes to accomplish anything, giving clean coal a go may be a price worth paying.
“I have come to conclude that greenhouse gases and carbon pollution is not a good thing,” Graham said recently, according to South Carolina’s largest newspaper, the State. “All the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day-in and day-out, will never convince me that’s a good thing for your children and the future of the planet.”
And don’t kid yourself into thinking this is easy for Graham. His sensible conservatism places him well to the left of his fellow South Carolina senator, Jim DeMint, who recently posted to his Twitter feed, “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’.”
It also places Graham well to the left of many South Carolina Republicans. After the Charleston County Republican Party voted to censure Graham for being too liberal (one of several local groups to take such action), Will Moredock, political analyst for the Charleston City Paper, wrote that the party was travelling on the “road to extinction”. Trouble is, Graham might find himself extinct first.
I’m not here to fetishise bipartisanship or to characterise the current standoff over healthcare and other issues as anything other than what it is: a concerted effort by the Republican party to bring down the Obama presidency, the public good be damned.
But, fairly or not, Gore has become a symbol of the harsh partisanship that is ripping Washington apart. Graham, by contrast, harks back to a better time, when Democrats and Republicans could occasionally work together for the common good. Let’s hope there’s a little of that in our future as well.