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Al Gore's New Climate Campaign

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Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 31, 2008; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Juliet Eilperin was online Monday, March 31 at Noon to discuss former vice president Al Gore's new climate change initiative. The three-year, $300 million campaign, set to launch Wednesday, is aimed at mobilizing Americans to push for aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a move that ranks as one of the most ambitious and costly public advocacy campaigns in U.S. history.

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The new effort comes at a time when the three remaining major party presidential candidates -- Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) -- have all endorsed federal limits on greenhouse gases, virtually ensuring that the next occupant of the White House will offer a sharp break from President Bush's climate policy.

A transcript follows.

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Ashland, Ore.: What specific global warming and green house gas-related reports would the vice president recommend for use in classrooms, both at high school and college levels?

Thanks.

Juliet Eilperin: I actually don't know what Gore would suggest for classroom reading, aside from his book, "An Inconvenient Truth." I would say that both The Washington Post and The New York Times write regularly on climate in a way that's easy to understand, so those news articles are great for high school and college classes. Two other general-interest books on climate are Tim Flannery's "The Weathermakers" and Elizabeth Kolbert's "Notes from a Catastrophe."

washingtonpost.com: Click here for Washington Post coverage of climate change.

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Washington, D.C.: I heard Hillary say "carbon sequestration" over the weekend to a group of bored looking Indianans, is there hope we can find a way to trap CO2? Also, can't we do what India is doing to shore up coastlines? Reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act that would allow states to look at the effects of global warming on their coastlines is in Senate Commerce.

Juliet Eilperin: There is a way to trap CO2--the Norwegians do this in their offshore drilling operations--but right now it is very expensive. It is likely that it will take nearly a decade to implement carbon sequestration for power plants on a widespread basis. And I'm unfamiliar with what India is doing in terms of its coastlines, though I know lawmakers are beginning to look at these adaptive measures in the face of rising sea levels.

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Munich, Germany: After Australia quickly ratified the Kyoto Accord after their elections, I remained surprised that climate change wasn't a big issue amongst U.S. presidential candidates (no debates, posters, etc.). This must mean that U.S. voters don't see it as a major election issue and hence I'm not surprised at Gore's Advocacy Campaign on Climate. I hope that he's successful.

Is there any indication that Gore could be given a job as U.S. envoy to Environment, or something similar, or does his Advocacy Campaign rule this out?

Juliet Eilperin: As my article notes, the remaining presidential candidates are beginning to talk about this more and more, so I think climate change will play a larger role in this election. Also, it's worth noting that the CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection, Cathy Zoi, helped found an Australian environmental group in 2005 that helped raise the profile of climate change in that country's recent elections. I do think Gore might serve as some sort of climate advisory official in the next administration, no matter what party controls the White House in 2009.

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Brandonville, Pa.: Has agriculture and its spraying of chemicals on a daily basis contributed to global warming?

Juliet Eilperin: That's a good question. Farm animals release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, so that contribrutes to global warming, and farming equipment emits CO2 in the same way cars do. So all of that contributes to climate change. The chemicals farmers use contribute to other environmental problems, such as nitrogen deposits in our waterways, but I don't believe those contribute to our greenhouse gas emissions.

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New York, N.Y.: Do you know of any peer-reviewed scientific articles (in reputable publications) concluding that the vast majority of global warming over the last 50+ years is due to something OTHER THAN greenhouse gases?

Juliet Eilperin: I believe there might have been a handful of articles along these lines, though none come to mind except one that a Cato fellow wrote a few years ago. Even climate skeptics such as MIT's Richard Lindzen say that human activities account for about a third of recent warming, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there's more than a 90 percent certainty that human activities account for the bulk of warming in the last 50 years.

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Arlington: Can you explain why Pat Robertson is doing raise-my-carbon-taxes ads with Sharpton now? After he endorsed Rudy Giuliani? Is conservatism so dead that Pat Robertson's now moving to the left of McCain?

Juliet Eilperin: I don't know why Robertson is doing this, since I didn't have a chance to interview him for my piece. I wouldn't say that Robertson's to the left of McCain, however, since McCain has supported mandatory limits on greenhouse gases for years now.

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Columbus, Ga.: The person from Ashland might go to theclimateproject.org where they can be put in touch with a presenter (trained by Mr. Gore himself) that will come into the classroom to give the "slide show" from An Inconvenient Truth.

Juliet Eilperin: Thanks, I'll post this so other folks can see this link.

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New York, N.Y.: We can't put our hopes into technology that is not quite ready such as carbon sequestration. Just like a diet, there is no special solution that is going to work like magic. We need to make changes in the way we do things. The United States is #1 in greenhouse gas emissions and produces 70% of the world's garbage. I'm from N.J. and 60% of the population in N.J. lives on a coastline. I love my country and we can do better!

Juliet Eilperin: This isn't really a question, but I'll post it as a comment.

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Centreville, Va.: Is it possible that Al Gore's huge number of $300 million spent might be a little larger than reality when it's all done? Will any reporter follow up if the budget ends up being a lot less "ambitious" than that?

And don't you think you could have done more to explain the extent of Gore's newfound personal wealth?

Juliet Eilperin: I will, of course, monitor the group's spending to see how it turns out. I think you might be confused about the source of funding for the Alliance's campaign. Some of it comes from Gore's personal wealth, but much of it comes from foundations and profits from the ventures he's been involved in. The fact that a former high-ranking politician has made a lot of money since leaving office is nothing new: Rudy Giuliani made a fortune after leaving office, as did Bill Clinton.

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Potomac, Md.: Time magazine in its cover story this week brought up the issue of biofuels from corn driving up the cost of food while also increasing the carbon levels. What is the best way to develop biofuels?

Juliet Eilperin: I've written about this a bit, and there's really no efficient way to produce biofuels if you're looking for a major reduction in greenhouse gases. David Pimentel of Cornell University has published extensively on this, and Tim Searchinger, a German Marshall Fund fellow and an adjunct professor at Princeton University, has also written on this. Long story short, you're better off allowing forests or grasslands store carbon as they normally do than clearing this land to plant corn, sugar cane, or other biofuel materials.

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Va.: There are more and more scientists who oppsoed climate change and they are not being heard. Why is Al Gore ignoring them?

Juliet Eilperin: I don't know if it's true that more and more scientists are opposing climate change. There is a cadre of researchers who question human-induced climate change--many of whom are actually not PhDs, actually, and they're vocal now as they have been in the past. As I've mentioned, the most credible climate skeptics do not deny human-generated greenhouse gas emissions change the climate. There are controversial issues about climate change, such as how much sea level rise will occur in the decades and centuries to come, and how intense storms will be during this period, but the idea that human emissions are linked to global warming is not one of them.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Historic Preservation advocates say that "historic preservation has an essential role to play in fighting what may be the greatest crisis of our times - climate change." It's hard to argue against revitalizing our cities as a sound fiscal, environmental and community policy. Who would you say are the biggest advocates against this policy position?

Juliet Eilperin: There are plenty of people who see cities as one of the best ways to combat climate change, because they are more efficient than sprawling suburbs. Andrew Light, a philosophy and public policy professor at University of Washington-Seattle, is an advocate of this view, and I'm sure there are many others. NPR, incidentially, had a segment on this very issue this morning, showing how a suburban family in Atlanta was contributing to climate change through its lifestyle choices.

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Takoma Park, Md.: I keep holding my breath hoping that someone will figure out a way to break through the perception that climate change is only a "liberal" or "left-wing" issue, rather than a problem that could be addressed in many different ways. Do you think this ad campaign could be the thing to do it?

Juliet Eilperin: Clearly, that's the goal of Gore and his allies. Whether they achieve that end remains unclear, though they are enlisting prominent Republicans in this effort in an attempt to broaden the political appeal of the issue.

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Washington, D.C.: How will this increased visibility affect McCain? I get the sense he would like to coast a bit on his bill from a few years ago (which was quite good at the time, but events have moved pretty from from then).

Juliet Eilperin: In many ways the heightened attention to this issue could help McCain, since he did buck his own party on the issue. On the other hand, whomever becomes the Democratic nominee will be sure to attack McCain for not being aggressive enough on the issue. So it's hard to predict if the issue will help or hurt him in the end--he's clearly better positioned to deal with it better than any of his GOP rivals.

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Warner Robins, Ga.: What facets of climate change will be the focus of the Alliance's projects in order to best relay the urgency of this crisis?

Juliet Eilperin: I'm not sure what they'll focus on, though I imagine they will highlight the costs of inaction and will try to point to as many specific, concrete outcomes--such as drought or more intense storms-of increased climate change.

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Washington, D.C.: How can people help? I think sometimes people don't realize that all their actions collectively add up to big change. For example, if every American household exchanged just one incandescent bulb for a compact fluorescent, it would save as much carbon from being emitted to the atmosphere as taking one million cars off the road.

Juliet Eilperin: Certainly that's one way to cut greenhouse gas emissions, along with using ceiling fans rather than traditional air conditioners, fully inflating ones' tires and walking or taking public transportation to work rathing than driving.

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Annapolis, Md.: How to your respond to those (whom I agree with, BTW) that say that any meaningful reduction in CO2 would cost so much that the money could be spent elsewhere (food production, disease eradication, etc) with much greater positive impact?

Juliet Eilperin: While I haven't fully investigated that issue, that argument (forwarded by people such as Bjorn Lomborg) is based on a short-term calculation rather than a long-term view. For example, you can spend money on boosting food production in Africa, but since global warming will cut food productivity there by 50 percent by the end of the century, if some calculations are correct, that's a shortsighted policy since all the immediate gains one might make will be wiped out within a matter of decades. The same thing applies to disease eradication--climate change poses a serious public health threat, both in the developing and industrialized world.

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Helena, Mont.: Maybe that questioner about Gore's personal wealth should have watched 60 Minutes, where it was stated that he increased his personal wealth by investing in Google.

Juliet Eilperin: There you go, here's one answer. Also, Gore is now affiliated with Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm that I imagine brings in a decent amount of money.

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St. Louis: The piece on 60 Minutes last night spoke to a group of people Gore has trained to give his slide show presentations. Are any of those people here and available in the U.S.? How do we access them, and is there any cost involved?

Juliet Eilperin: Gore has trained roughly 1,000 presenters in the U.S., and then nearly another 1,000 presenters overseas. I'm not exactly sure how you contact them, but I imagine you could reach them through the Alliance for Climate Protection's website.

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New York, N.Y.: I am one of Mr. Gore's Climate Messengers. I would suggest if you are in the Northeast to look at the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists at www.climatechoices.org/ne. There is quite a long report, so you would need to pull out essential points to teach your students.

For younger kids, I suggest info from NWF.org. They have some very family and young person friendly information.

Juliet Eilperin: Here are some suggestions on resources--it's information from someone Gore has trained in terms of giving his slideshow.

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Baltimore: Why doesn't anyone report on the fact that the earth hasn't warmed since 1999? And this year's winter was one of the coldest on record, negating almost all warming that had occured.

Juliet Eilperin: The second sentence in this question is wrong -- the fact that there was a cold winter in many parts of the world doesn't mean that it is "negating almost all of the warming that had occured." This is based on a misunderstanding about the difference between "weather" and "climate." Climate is about long term trends, such as the fact that something like nine of the 10 hottest years on record have taken place within the last dozen years. Weather is about day-to-day or month-to-month fluctuations in the temperature and weather in a given region.

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Helena, Mont.: I know that McCain "says" he supports efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, but his party most definitely does not. Doesn't this mean that if elected, McCain will not either?

Juliet Eilperin: I don't think that's accurate, having spent much of the last few months traveling with John McCain. He, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, has identified a mandatory federal cap on greenhouse gas emissions as one of his top priorities if elected. There's still a great deal of uncertainty about how any of these candidates would accomplish this, of course.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: It seems like a few years ago the position of the skeptics (pundits, politicians, etc) was that climate change wasn't even happening. The new argument seems to be "Yes there's climate change - but we don't know if human activity contributes to it." Have you observed this change? Any thoughts on it?

Juliet Eilperin: Yes, there has been a definite change. People I interviewed a few years ago, like Patrick J. Michaels, used to say humans had nothing to do with climate change, and now he says they do but we still don't need to do anything radical to address global warming. I believe he does drive a Prius now, by the way.

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Va: Opposed: just because they don't have Ph.D. doesn't mean that. many have work and practical experiences outside of academia, which is mostly left-wing and liberal.

Juliet Eilperin: That's certainly a stereotype associated with academia. I usually interview people who have doctorates in the science that's relevant to the issue I'm covering.

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Juliet Eilperin: I'm signing off now, thanks for all the good questions.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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