Climate change and the environment were not major topics of the presidential campaign. And on Wednesday, President Obama said that while he believes more needs to be done to address what's happening, he won't "ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change."
But former Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work raising awareness on climate issues, tells NPR that he's convinced "more and more people in both political parties are taking a hard look at it and saying 'yes we really do need to do something about this.' "
After weather disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, a devastating drought across much of the U.S. this past year and other recent catastrophes, Gore said, more and more Americans are concluding that the issue can't be left for their children and grandchildren to solve. "People are getting the idea that we owe it to ourselves," Gore told Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "It's affecting us right here and now."
Polling, such as that done by Gallup, shows that while concern about global warming is down from the peak (72 percent) hit in 2000, the number of Americans who express that worry has been on the rise in the past year.
Obama's challenge, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee said, will be changing the minds of lawmakers who remain skeptical about whether the climate is changing and whether humans are a factor. "It's fair to say that the real solution to the climate crisis will require a legislative act by the Congress," he said. "So the president does have the challenge of persuading them to act."
But, Gore said, "it's not the first time that we've faced political difficulties in trying to resolve a really important challenge. ... That's one of the reasons we have a president in our Constitution — to lead the country."
This evening, at 7 p.m. ET, Gore wraps up 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report. It's part of the Climate Reality Project, which attempts to "mobilize social consensus around climate change." You can watch the show here. It's been a series of reports from all 24 time zones around the world.
And what is "dirty weather?"
"Dirty energy creates dirty weather," Gore said. It's a reason why "storms are stronger," floods are more destructive and weather catastrophes seem to be happening more often. "That's dirty weather."
Much more from the conversation is due on Saturday's edition of Weekend All Things Considered. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts the show.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
Looming over all of these world events is one big issue that was largely ignored on the campaign trail this year: climate change. And much of that has to do with the economic crisis of the past four years. This week, former Vice President Al Gore argued that now the election is over, President Obama should use his mandate to begin to take a hard look at the issue of climate change. I spoke with the former vice president this week and asked him what he proposes.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think it should be the top priority. I do understand fully that a solution for this near-term problem of the fiscal cliff is going to occupy their attention. I'm under no illusions about that. But that's going to be dealt with in fairly short order.
RAZ: Explain how if you were in the same position, and let's talk about this president for a moment. He faces essentially a Congress, as you know, in which a large number of the members either deny the reality of climate change or deny that it's man-made. So how would you sort of see the president trying to convince that part of the Congress to support potentially serious measures to tackle it?
GORE: Well, it's not the first time that we've faced political difficulty in trying to solve a really important challenge, and that's one of the reasons we have a president in our Constitution - to lead the country. And if I could gently challenge part of your premise, I believe that there has been some movement, both in public opinion and among some Republicans. I've heard them say it. Many of them say it privately, and fewer of them say it publicly.
But I think that in the aftermath of the historic drought that affected 65 percent of our country this year, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the superstorm it became, only one year after another so-called once in 100-year storm, also devastated the Northeast, after the horrific fires in the American West last year, after $10 billion-plus climate-related disasters that have wreaked havoc in so many states, it is now a reality that is very difficult to deny. And I think that more and more people in both political parties are taking a hard look at it and saying, yes, we really do need to do something.
RAZ: What if nothing is done over the next four years? What do you believe the consequences of that would be?
GORE: Well, the scientific community's in a better position than I am to answer that question. But you've probably heard them say, as I have, that the longer we wait, the heavier the consequences will be, the more risk we run and the more difficult it will be what we're eventually going to have to do anyway. We put 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day as if it's an open sewer. It traps as much energy every 24 hours as the equivalent energy from 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. It's a big planet, but that's a lot of energy.
And that's what's making the storm stronger. That's what's making the droughts deeper. That's what's making the floods more destructive. That's what's changing the weather patterns. So we can wish it away, we can pretend it doesn't exist, but none of that changes the reality. We have to deal with the reality.
RAZ: Your film "An Inconvenient Truth" had an enormous impact on public opinion in the United States. And then over the next few years after that, you saw how the belief in climate change once again became very controversial, that many people stopped believing that it was something that was real or that was manmade. Did that discourage you?
GORE: Well, the economic crisis certainly intervened, but at no point was there less than a majority saying that we've got to act on this. And it's back up now nearly to 70 percent. And again, regardless of what the polls say or the political analyses imply, it's reality. We've got to deal with it.
RAZ: That's former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Al Gore. Mr. Vice President, thank you.
GORE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.