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Al Gore Is Back and Greener Than Ever
By Haider Rizvi
The former U.S. vice-president has reinvented himself outside the arena of electoral politics. As a champion of the environment, he has plans to train 1,000 activists to help fight climate change.
NEW YORK, (Tierramérica).- Six years after he lost his bid for the White House, Al Gore, the former U.S. vice-president, has returned to the national stage, but this time as a champion of the environmental movement.
Gore, a longtime environmentalist and vice-president during the Bill Clinton administration (Democrat) from 1993 to 2001, is trying to build a mass movement across the United States to force the political establishment in Washington to rethink its policy on climate change.
Since the release last month of his documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth," which warns of the dangers posed by global warming, once again Gore has become a household name in the United States.
Encouraged by the successful release of the movie, which already has been seen by millions of people, Gore now plans to launch a nationwide campaign
to mobilize public opinion on global warming.
The campaign, scheduled to start by the end of the northern hemisphere summer, will involve at least 1,000 activists. Having been trained by Gore himself, they will spread out across the country to create awareness about climate change.
The former vice president seems to be convinced that official policy on climate change in Washington will remain a distant possibility unless constituents put more pressure on their senators and representatives in Congress.
Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 34 industrialized countries are obligated to reduce their "greenhouse gas" emissions 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are the leading cause of global warming, agree the vast majority in the global scientific community.
Although Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, the George W. Bush administration (Republican) not only refuses to endorse it -- arguing that it would damage the U.S. economy -- but also tries to cast doubt on the levels of global warming projected by world's scientific community.
Gore, who played an active role in global efforts to establish the treaty, rejects Bush's argument and insists that it is high time to curb greenhouse gas emissions, for which the United States is chiefly responsible.
"This moment cannot be allowed to pass," said Gore as he unveiled his campaign plans. "I have seen and heard times before when the awareness of the climate crisis has peaked and then a few months later, it's gone. I think this time is different."
In addition to training activists, Gore's campaign also includes efforts to establish what he calls the "Alliance for Climate Protection," an umbrella group that will include a wide range of prominent corporate executives, trade union representatives, and religious leaders, among others, and with the mission of raising tens of millions of dollars.
This effort has led some to suggest the possibility that Gore may make a presidential bid in the 2008 elections. But he has rejected such speculations as "totally, totally absurd."
"I feel very strongly that the climate crisis needs to be redefined as a moral -- not a political issue," he said in a recent interview with Grist magazine.
Though Gore's opponents, especially those in the Republican camp, may continue to raise doubts about his real intentions, critics on the political left hold radically different views.
"It's hard not to be supportive of his initiative," Ralph Nader, who ran against Gore and Bush on the Green Party ticket in 2000 elections and who some blame for Gore's defeat, told Tierramérica.
"I don't think he is running for president," said Nader, a longtime consumer advocate and one of the pioneers of environmental movement in the United States. "Those who run from one big funder to another for such a cause are not expected to run for president."
Nader may be right. Despite being the main spirit behind the Alliance, Gore has decided not to serve on its board of directors, which comprises members from both the Democratic and Republican parties. It seems that he intends to involve people of a range of political inclinations in the campaign against climate change.
But despite his bipartisan efforts to focus on changing the U.S. policy on climate change, attacks on Gore from think-tanks and media considered to be supportive of the energy industry are becoming increasingly visible.
Recently the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, DC-based group financed in part by the oil company Exxon Mobil, launched a series of TV ads about "the alleged global warning crisis."
For their part, Gore and his supporters are making efforts to involve philanthropist billionaires like George Soros, Ted Turner, Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple computer) and others who are seen as sympathetic to the campaign on global warming.
While funding for the media and education campaign may take several weeks to arrive, it seems that Gore has no lack of support from civil society groups already running environmental campaigns on a limited scale.
"Gore has reinvented himself in the best way possible: by pushing for common-sense solutions to one of the most pressing problems of our time," said Scott Paul of the Citizens for Global Solutions, an independent group based in Washington, DC, in an interview with Tierramérica.
"Gore's plan to train 1,000 people is one example of serious leadership," he added. "Americans have been waiting for it."
According to the group, more than three-quarters of those polled in the United States believe the federal government should limit greenhouse gas emissions, and an even greater majority believe that climate change poses a serious threat.
In Paul's view, Gore is seeking to build political will for the "ambitious political solutions" the United States will need to meet the challenge of climate change. "His effort to would be a great step forward," he said.
Despite his political differences with the former vice president, Nader offered a similar opinion: "I think Gore's going to make it an issue... It's going to be an issue in 2008."
* Haider Rizvi is an IPS correspondent