Using just about every tool out there — from one-man lectures to a major film (of one-man lectures) to simultaneous star-studded rock concerts — Al Gore has successfully raised Americans’ awareness of climate change. Now he, along with a wide, nonpartisan coalition, is going for action — at once putting the spotlight on Congress and the next president and dispelling any lingering sniping that his real quest must be to once again run for that office.
He is, instead, going for policy changes. The We Campaign that he launched this week will use the web and television in an effort to mobilize 10 million volunteers. The goal: to create a grass-roots movement to bring about U.S. carbon-emissions controls and restore American leadership in international efforts to curb global warming. Gore told the Washington Post, “This climate crisis is so interwoven with habits and patterns that are so entrenched, the elected officials in both parties are going to be timid about enacting the bold changes that are needed until there is a change in the public’s sense of urgency in addressing this crisis. I’ve tried everything else I know to try. The way to solve this crisis is to change the way the public thinks about it.”
The campaign is a pretty striking example of a man putting his money — not to speak of energy, time and prestige — where his mouth is. According to the Post, “Private contributors have already donated or committed half the money needed to fund the entire campaign, [Gore] said. While Gore declined to quantify his contribution to the effort, he has devoted all his proceeds from the Oscar-winning documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ the best-selling companion book, his salary from the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and several international prizes, such as the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, which add up to more than a $2.7 million. Paramount Classics, the documentary’s distributor, has pledged 5 percent of the film’s profits to the group, and some of the money raised through the 2007 Live Earth concerts will help the campaign, along with Gore’s proceeds from an upcoming book on climate change.”
Climate change and the campaign
The presence of awareness but not urgency among the public is demonstrated by their questions during the presidential race, notes the Guardian Online: “Last January, the League of Conservative Voters analysed transcripts of television interviews and debates with all the Democratic and Republican contenders for the White House. By January 25, the candidates had been asked 2,975 questions on a range of issues.
“Only six of those mentioned the words ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming.’ That is not much greater than the level of media interest in the candidates’ positions on UFOs. They were asked three questions on UFOs in the same study.”
The We Campaign will spend $300 million over the next three years — using advertising, online initiatives and a variety of other means — to move people beyond the personal to the political.
“The simple algorithm is this: It’s important to change the light bulbs, but it’s much more important to change the laws,” Gore told the Post. “The options available to civilization worldwide to avert this terribly destructive pattern are beginning to slip away from us. The path for recovery runs right through Washington, D.C.”
Mainstream reactions have noted the ambitiousness of the campaign, though marketing experts noted traditionally high costs of changing not just awareness but behavior.
John P. Murry Jr., an associate professor of marketing at the University of Iowa who has studied public- service advertising, told The New York Times that Gore & company might actually be spending too little.
“I think the global-warming project media budget should be 10 times as high,” he said. “Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi spend over a billion dollars each year to promote brand preference for soft drinks. In this light, the $100 million per year to change our lifestyles seems pretty small.”
The campaign, which is a project of the Alliance for Climate Protection, has notably wide-ranging support (though it is already being countered by organizations funded by energy interests). In previewing some of his plans Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Gore noted that the campaign will feature ads pairing unlikely allies: current and former House Speakers Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich, for example. (Another will show Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton talking about the issue while sitting on a couch at the beach.)
All of which shows the campaign’s determination to establish a broad base for change. During the show, interviewer Leslie Stahl asked Gore: “It’s going to be so hard, so gigantically difficult to solve this problem. And expensive, no?”
To which Gore replied, “”It’s much more expensive not to solve it.”
Susan Albright, a MinnPost managing editor, writes about national and foreign developments. She can be reached at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.