The man with a movement

Forget politics and personality. People love / hate Al Gore because of the movement he represents.

by Holly Lahd

Suddenly, other Daily columnists are really taking to my environmental beat. Not just environmental issues, but more specifically writing about the most famous American environmentalist of our time: Al Gore.

Over the past weeks Daily readers have been witnesses to columns that use stylistic talking-points, analytical probing inquiries and shock-and-awe journalistic tactics about Al Gore. They’ve had their take on the former vice president and why people love him, hate him or think of him as another irrelevant ex-politician turned tree hugger turned alleged hypocrite. But here is why people really have strong opinions about Al Gore: He has provided a face and leadership to the sometimes dysfunctional environmental movement and in turn has given it some legs and credibility. And that scares some people to death.

Al Gore might have single-handedly done more for the environmental movement than 100 non-governmental organizations with obscure acronyms combined. Since he began giving his slide show presentation, he has reached millions of Americans through his film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and has met with leaders worldwide about global warming solutions.

It’s not as if Gore just jumped on the bandwagon recently. Congressman Gore held the first hearings on the issue of global warming. As vice president, he represented the United States during the Kyoto protocol negotiations in 1997.

The environmental movement needed a leader, and Al Gore rose to fill that role. He has used his stature in society to distill the complex science of global warming into tangible bites for the public at large. Due to his and others’ works, global warming has stopped being part of the epic liberal agenda and started becoming, to the majority of the public, a reality we must deal with.

In the past, big oil, power utilities, senators and representatives were OK with environmentalists being at the table as long as their potential influence was marginalized through stereotypes and the movement’s own disorganized chaos. That’s no longer the situation, thanks to the visibility Al Gore brought to the green movement. With the faces at the table changing, so too have the talking points of the critics.

So what do you do when the other side finally has an effective spokesperson? The only thing you can do besides giving in: throw rhetorical stones. And that’s what’s been happening for months. First, it was the out-of-the blue news that Al Gore’s electricity bill for his home in Tennessee is on the large side. All of a sudden, he was branded a hypocrite by members of Congress and cable pundits. And this month, news emerged that Gore might again begin receiving royalty payments from a zinc mining site in Tennessee near his home. Closer to home, we had a little brouhaha about the potential honorary doctorate for Gore. Although it first appeared on the pages of The Minnesota Daily, this story ballooned over the Web and bloggers worldwide had a field day.

And last week, Gore testified in front of committees in the House and the Senate urging speedy action by the legislative bodies. Senators like James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and Representatives like Joe Barton, R-Texas, jumped at the opportunity to launch political missiles seeping of global warming skepticism and charges of misrepresenting data and predictions. Perhaps Gore should have picked a less controversial movement to head if he wanted to avoid such an attack. I bet Jimmy Carter representing Habitat for Humanity wouldn’t get such treatment.

But the very fact that these stories are emerging shows the pull that Gore’s name and the global warming movement now have in the media.

It’s not as if Gore can represent all environmentalists at all times. I personally have problems with his language describing global warming as the climate crisis and framing it as a moral issue. His initial focus of devoting the vast majority of the film “An Inconvenient Truth” to the overwhelming problems of global warming while leaving the solutions to the credits might have left viewers with an overarching sense of doom, and not the energy to make incremental changes in their own lives. However, these minor issues are minimized by the exposure he brings to the issue.

Maybe people think that Gore should not take any credit, that he should be almost a Christ figure for the cause. That’s unrealistic and not needed. The last thing we need is another environmentalist who sacrifices all of life’s comforts for the cause. That only alienates the idea of green living from the mainstream who then do not incorporate even the occasional fluorescent light bulb.

If other Daily columnists feel compelled to write about Al Gore and the environmental beat, I have no hard feelings. Because by writing about global warming and Al Gore, they are acknowledging the issue’s presence and the immense stature the former vice president gives the movement. Whether columnists or others think global warming is just a bunch of overblown carbon or has real substance, writing about Gore cements his leadership position in the green movement.

Holly Lahd welcomes comments at [email protected].