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Al's World 

Al Gore's outlook on the global warming fight is surprisingly optimistic. And that's not the only surprise revealed in this interview with the crusading ex-veep

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I've been trying to tell this story for 30 years, and I've felt that I failed in it. But I think I'm making progress, and that's one reason I'm so happy that these moviemakers convinced me. They came to one of my slide shows and asked if they could make a movie out of it, and I was skeptical, but they convinced me, and I'm so glad now, because they've made a really entertaining movie that stays true to the science. I think when people connect all those dots, you will see a sense of urgency that goes up to the levels that match the awareness. And then the country will move past a tipping point and start taking action.

You said just now, and you say in the movie, that you've failed. That's not something we're used to hearing from politicians, even recovering ones. When did you come to feel that way, and how has it changed your approach?

Well, I've been at this a long time. When I started having hearings and making speeches, and especially after I started giving the slide show in the late '80s, I felt that it would only be a matter of time before the message was received, and taken in by enough people so that there would be a big response. And after so many years of trudgin' around the country and around the world, givin' this thing, and still there's no action to solve it, you would feel the same way, I guarantee you.

There have been times in the past when I thought we were close to a tipping point, and I turned out to be wrong. I don't think I'm wrong this time. I do believe that there are lots of shifts taking place. Eighty-five conservative evangelical ministers just broke with Bush and Cheney and announced they were going all-out to solve the climate crisis, and calling on their congregations to do so. Two hundred and eighteen cities have independently ratified Kyoto and are taking steps to comply with it. Big companies like General Electric that used to be on the other side of it are switching sides and fighting against global warming. At the grass-roots level, you see lots of people beginning to shift. I met with these kids from Alaska who signed up 10 percent of all the high school students in Alaska on a petition to urge their elected officials to change on this. Alaska's just melting, and all their elected officials are saying "What? What?" The grassroots is beginning to force the change. And so I'm optimistic.

It does seem like the American people are beginning to take the issue of global warming more seriously than they have in the past. How big a role do you think Katrina played?

I think it's played a big role. A big role. Just three weeks before Katrina hit, MIT put out a major new scientific study linking the strength and intensity of hurricanes to global warming. And then just three weeks later -- boom. To lose a major city, for however long a period, that's a big wake-up call. A lot of people did a gut check when they saw those images of corpses floating in the water five days later in a major American city. They thought, "Wait a minute. This isn't supposed to happen in the United States of America." And then they hear the scientists saying, "We warned you that these hurricanes are gonna get stronger."

Now, it's true that no individual hurricane can be attributed entirely to global warming. We've always had hurricanes. But it's also true that if the scientists say the average hurricane is gonna get a lot stronger because of global warming, and then we get hit by lots of much-stronger-than-normal hurricanes -- Hello! Those dots are not that hard to connect. And a lot of people who connected those dots started shifting on global warming. I've heard personally from a lot of people who said it was Katrina that got them to really shift off dead center and start thinking about it differently.

You've said many times recently that the government's attitude on climate change will change 15 minutes after Bush leaves office. But I don't get the sense that Congress is champing at the bit.

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