May 29, 2006
Wired Al Gore
Al Gore will never change, that much is clear. An Inconvenient Truth might be his vehicle for change, but the man himself, don't you worry he's as awkward as ever. A couple minutes into his sold out and Wired sponsored appearance at Town Hall in Manhattan and his hand was already deep in his pocket. It didn't leave for about half the speech. Several presidential campaigns, eight years as vice president and who knows how much overpriced public speaking tutorials and he's still making one of the most basic mistakes in the game. If he hasn't learned now well it's way too late isn't it?
Of course there were moments in his talk where he turned it on, the passion leaked through. He'll never stop coming off like an android, but at least at times he comes off like an android modeled after Bill Clinton, which puts him on par with a decent human public speaker. But Gore has always been able to turn it on every once in a while, it's the consistency that kills him, and it always will.
What was disappointing about the Wired event was that Gore got up and gave a short stump speech rather than the semi legendary slide show that served as the inspiration for An Inconvenient Truth. If Gore is serious about running for president in 2008, and as hard as he dodges the issue, one can't escape the feeling that he'd like to, then he's going to need to figure out a new way to campaign. A slide show is different pubic speaking artform than a straight speech and it's one where you just might be able to get away with sticking you hand in your pocket. Would have been interesting to see him getting busy with the real thing rather than sticking to his old failed forms.
The really radical campaign form though is the movie, which I haven't seen yet, but it's good to see the left finally embrace Hollywood the way Hollywood has always embraced the left. At the same time though, watching the trailer, seeing Gore and the producers talk, and reading the Wired cover story on Gore I can't help feeling like what they are trying to do is duplicate what Bush, Cheney and Rove have mastered, selling fear to the American people. Rather than selling mythical weapons of mass destruction, it's the hypothetical rising water mass of global warming that's the product being pitched. There is none Rove's masterful soft sell though, it's straight Chicken Little the sky is falling hyperbole. I haven't seen the full flick yet, but right now it's getting set up like it's this summer's disaster flick, with Al Gore playing Tom Hanks role. If nothing else it'll be an interesting lesson in propaganda.
After Gore gave his brief speech, the somewhat odd main event began, Gore, the scientist Jim Hansen, and in true Hollywood fashion, two of the movies producers took the stage for a panel discussion moderated by the excellent John Hockenberry. It filled me with fear alright, although I'm not sure it was the type the producers were after. Fright number one was how little these people were actually doing to help the environment beyond their media presence. Gore claims he's "carbon neutral" whatever that means, probably something to do with his android operating system. The rest? Apparently they've changed their lightbulbs and maybe installing solar panels, but not yet. I was sort of dreading one of them answering "I drive a Prius", and thankfully it didn't happen. Except now I'm wondering if they actually do, or if these people are cruising around Hollywood in gas guzzling limos par the course.
In the end though it was Hansen who really scared me. In response to an audience question about scientific disagreements on the threat of global warming, Hansen could only respond "all scientists agree". Now this may well be true or at least close to true, but I have no way of verifying that based on the information Hansen presented. In other words he offered up the most unscientific of all arguments, one that breaks down to "trust me, I'm an expert." And it is at exactly this point that scientists start functioning exactly like priests. Good science requires not just a discovery process, but a communications process. No matter how sound the research methods might be, if the results are dictated to public they can no longer be viewed as being scientific and instead become propaganda. That leaves us, the general public holding the bag as the Hollywood producers and oil company greenwashers wage a PR war over what we are doing to the planet.
Now let me make it explicitly clear that I have absolutely no affinity for the people out there denying the possibility of global warming on a corporate dime. But I do have a serious skepticism of anyone out there claiming they can predict the future the way Hansen and Gore make like they can. That the risk of global warming exists and is very real seems pretty clear. And if such a risk exists we very much need to be dealing with it. But that doesn't mean it's going to happen, or really happening the way some think it is. In the end one question stays persistent as I watch, listen are read about global warming, is the earth really so fragile that we as mere humans can have such a great impact? Could all the fear and paranoia over what we are doing to the planet really just some overblown hubris, an exaggerated sense of our powers to both create and destroy in a global level? Not an easy question to answer, but it isn't exactly hard to imagine why Gore, the man who arguably has come the closest in the world to holding incredible power without ever actually having any, might just have a distorted sense of what an individual can do.Posted by Abe at May 29, 2006 12:56 PM