As Donald Trump continues to indicate that he might be willing to change his position on climate change, which he has long called a “hoax,” the president-elect met Monday with former vice president Al Gore, a prominent activist in the fight against global warming.
“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect. It was a sincere search for areas of common ground,” Gore told reporters after spending about 90 minutes at Trump Tower in Manhattan during the lunch hour Monday. “I had a meeting beforehand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the president-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I'm just going to leave it at that.”
Trump has repeatedly called climate change a “hoax” and said in a 2012 tweet that it was perpetrated by the Chinese government to take manufacturing jobs from the United States, although he later said that was a joke. During a meeting with the New York Times late last month, he said he would keep an “open mind” on the issue and acknowledged that human activity might be connected to changes in the climate.
According to an aide to Gore, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about private conversations, the former vice president “made clear in his statements following the election that he intended to do everything he could to work with the president-elect to ensure our nation remains a leader in the effort to address the climate crisis.”
While Gore was not personally close to Hillary Clinton — their relationship became strained in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and as they each vied for Democratic donors' support during their respective political bids in 2000 — the former vice president campaigned on her behalf late in this year’s presidential campaign.
Speaking to an audience at Miami Dade College in October, Gore warned that Trump, “based on the ideas that he has presented, would take us toward a climate catastrophe.” Appealing directly to millennials, he alluded to his own narrow loss to George W. Bush in 2000 in Florida and said young people could not afford to vote for anyone other than Clinton.
“The world is on the cusp of either building on the progress and solving the climate crisis, or stepping back, washing our hands of America’s traditional role as the leader of the world and letting the big polluters call the shots,” Gore said. “The choice is that clear. It’s that stark.”
But while environmental groups and many scientists have fired shots across the bow at Trump, suggesting that he needs to respect scientific integrity and refrain from appointing advisers who would gut existing environmental and public health safeguards, some prominent activists have been exploring ways to influence the incoming administration. The most obvious target has been Ivanka Trump and her husband, because they are seen as the least conservative members of the president-elect's family.
Ivanka Trump reached out directly to Gore with an invitation to meet with her and others, although he did not know that the president-elect would be included, according to a Gore associate who discussed the private conversations on the condition of anonymity. Gore was “impressed by her thoughtful comments and framing on the issue,” according to the associate, and agreed to stop by for a meeting.
“She clearly is an emissary, and was on this one,” the associate said.
Although Ivanka Trump has said she does not plan to take an active role in her father’s administration, she is one of the most influential people in his life and is a member of his transition team. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is one of Trump’s most trusted aides, and the couple are reportedly house-hunting in Washington.
“That, clearly, is the focal point,” said one national environmental leader, who asked not to be identified so as not to jeopardize any outreach efforts, referring to the couple.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio recently gave Ivanka a copy of his new National Geographic documentary on climate change, “Before the Flood.” DiCaprio aired the documentary in October on the White House’s South Lawn. Before that viewing, he appeared onstage with President Obama and atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe.
DiCaprio, who campaigned on Clinton’s behalf and aired the film on college campuses in Florida and elsewhere, did not mention Trump by name but alluded to him at the event.
“We must empower leaders who not only believe in climate change but are willing to do something about it,” he said. “The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over. If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or in science, or empirical truths, and, therefore, in my humble opinion, should not be allowed to hold public office.”
Some environmental activists expressed skepticism Monday about whether Trump would shift course, given that several of his energy and environmental advisers are allied with the fossil fuel industry.
“It’s absolutely necessary for someone to talk climate sense to Trump, but this problem needs more than talk,” Greenpeace USA’s Travis Nichols said. “Trump’s transition team and cabinet of millionaires remain among the worst climate-denying fossil fuel industry shills we’ve seen from the Republican Party, and Trump himself hasn’t laid out any concrete plans to deal with this massive global problem. From the start of Trump’s presidential run, we’ve seen his team use Ivanka to soften her father’s most egregious positions, and there’s no reason to think this isn’t part of the same plan.”
Elise Viebeck and Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.