NEAL CONAN, host: We're talking with Ken Rudin, the political junkie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And during this week's Republican debate - last week's Republican debate, an unusual reference.
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MITT ROMNEY: Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right to work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn't believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, well, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.
CONAN: And Mitt Romney there after his rhetorical appearance in that debate. Former Vice President Al Gore joins us now from our bureau in New York. And nice to have you with us. Welcome back to the program.
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AL GORE: That's quite an introduction. Thank you. Good to be back.
CONAN: Did you hear that? I wonder what your reaction was.
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GORE: Well, oh, it's an honor to come up so frequently in this Republican campaign.
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CONAN: You're hauled out, occasionally, on that number, but also in terms of your campaign on the climate. Do you feel like that's because you are the leading spokesman, or perhaps get under people's skin?
GORE: Well, I think there's a long tradition of people who don't like a particular message turning to attack the person delivering the message.
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GORE: So I view it as an honor, really, because the message is an important one, and I will continue doing my best to deliver it as best I can.
KEN RUDIN: Mr. Vice President, you could make headlines right now by saying something really positive about the guy who helped - worked on your campaign in 1988, Rick Perry. What do you think of Rick Perry?
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GORE: Well, as I told Stephen Colbert last night when he asked that question, it would probably hurt him in the Republican primary if I said good things...
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GORE: ...about him. I do remember him, and I appreciated his support back at the time, when he was a Democrat. I don't know what's happened to him since. He'll have to explain that. But I appreciated his support at the time.
CONAN: And interesting, President Obama wasn't shy about saying some nice things about his ambassador to China...
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CONAN: ...at the time, Jon Huntsman. But we'll leave you there on...
GORE: Well, but let me pile on, by saying words of respect about Jon Huntsman's willingness to take big risks in the Republican primary by saying that he believes that the climate scientists are telling the truth. You know, the deniers have accused them of all kinds of things. And it's interesting, you know, 97 to 98 percent of all the climate scientists in the world, who most actively publish in that field, are in agreement on this. Every national academy of science of every major country in the world is in agreement.
The national academies are calling on government leaders to urgently act. Every professional scientific society in every field related to the study of climate agrees with the consensus view. So do you believe them, or do you believe the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobil and Rush Limbaugh. It - that's an easy choice for me. For some, evidently, it's not. And eventually, reality has its day.
CONAN: Yet it's an applause line - a Republican debate, for a candidate to say these scientists are just taking money so they can keep their programs going.
GORE: Yeah. They accuse the scientists of lying...
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GORE: ...and it is - what they're doing is exactly the same thing that the tobacco industry did after the surgeon general's report came out establishing the scientific consensus linking cigarettes to lung cancer. They hired actors and dressed them up as doctors and gave them scripts to tell people on camera: I'm a doctor. You don't have to worry about smoking cigarettes. It's perfectly fine. It will make you feel better. And, you know, 100 million people died in the last century as a result of smoking cigarettes.
Some of the same people and organizations who took money from the tobacco companies to lie about the science of cigarette smoking, are now taking money from the large carbon polluters and the oil and coal industry to mislead people about the climate science.
CONAN: Al Gore is kicking off, today, a project called 24 Hours of Reality. More on that with the former vice president in just a moment. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: Now, let's continue our conversation with former Vice President Al Gore, who spent much of his time these past 10 years on environmental issues. He won an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth" and later the Nobel Prize. Today, he kicks off a project called 24 Hours of Reality, a 24-hour live online event that offers various perspectives on climate change from around the world. More on that in a minute. We'd like to hear from you on this question: How do you change the debate on climate change? 800-989-8255. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also join the conversation on our website and find a link to information on his climate reality project. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Former Vice President Gore still with us from our bureau in New York. And thanks for staying over with the break.
GORE: Oh, yes. Happy to be with you. Thank you.
CONAN: And I wanted to begin - we'll talk about the project in just a moment - but I wanted to begin by asking you about a piece you wrote in June for Rolling Stone. You took President Obama to task on his environmental record. President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. You wrote he's simply not made the case for action. He's not defended the science against the ongoing withering and dishonest attacks - this attack on President Obama as the presidential campaign begins to heat up.
GORE: Well, I - to put it in context, I also wrote that he has done a great many terrific things on the environment, and I enumerated them and said, as I will repeat, that I have a great deal of empathy for him. He faces a difficult situation. He inherited a difficult situation. I plan to support him for re-election. I like him. I do think he should do more on climate, and I actually think it would help our economy and create jobs and make us less dependent on a global oil market that's dominated by the most unstable region in the world, where we've had several wars in the last couple of decades. So I think there are many reasons why we should be doing more.
CONAN: Some say we need to get more oil from less volatile regions, like our neighbor to the north, in Canada, and President Obama is currently making a decision about whether to authorize the Keystone Excel pipeline. There have been, of course, demonstrations in front of the White House, I guess, about 1,200 people arrested there, protesting this, saying this could be the beginning of the end for the environment.
GORE: Well, I support those who had the courage to conduct that nonviolent civil disobedience. The tar sands pipeline would be a catastrophe. Just to give you a simple calculation, if you refine gasoline from the tar sands process and put it in a Toyota Prius, it gives the Prius the same climate impact as a Hummer running on oil - gasoline refined from crude oil. And locking ourselves into that extremely dirty and hazardous source would be a terrible mistake. But, you know, there is a shift underway, toward renewable sources of energy - electric transportation, solar, wind, conservation efficiency, smart grids.
We're seeing this accelerate. In 2010, the number of new photovoltaic installations doubled over the previous year. The cost went down 30 percent in one year, last year. This is the kind of curve - an exponential curve, if you will, that we learned about with Moore's law and the steady reduction in price of computer chips. It's not quite as dramatic a decline, but it is accelerating. In each of the last few years, the largest new source of electricity in the U.S. was wind power.
On a global basis, the extra power from renewables now matches that from all sources. We're seeing the beginnings of quite a significant shift, and we should embrace that shift rather than trying to go backwards to these dirty and dangerous polluting sources which are responsible for putting 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours. And they are connected to these extreme weather events that are unfolding all around the world.
Just today, 95 percent of the state of the Texas is suffering through extreme or exceptional drought. Out of 254 counties in Texas, 252 of them have been on fire this past summer. Look at the flooding in Vermont, look at the $10 billion plus climate-related weather catastrophes that we've had this year in the United States alone. And around the world, 20 million people displaced by record flooding: in Pakistan, destabilizing a nuclear-armed country, flooding in Australia that covered an area the size of France and Germany combined, the fires and drought in Russia killed more than 50,000 people and took all of their grain off world markets, contributing to the all-time record increase in food prices, the Mississippi River flooding, the record-flow rate in the Mississippi, the Souris River in North Dakota, the stronger storms.
These are the events that scientists have been warning us about. And now they're saying, if we keep putting all of this global warming pollution up there, these events will become both worse and more frequent. We owe this not only to our children and their children but to ourselves, because we're paying the price for it right now.
CONAN: How do you then approach that sizable element of the American public and much of it in the Republican Party, which says I don't believe you?
GORE: Yeah. Well, in various and one of the ways is this "24 Hours of Reality" event that will start this evening and continue live-streamed on the Internet over at Ustream, and you can access it at www.climaterealityproject.org. And it will continue for 24 hours from all 24 times zones, originating in, first of all, in Mexico City and then moving westward all the way around the world, back to New York City tomorrow at 7 p.m. Eastern Time. And that will also - that last hour will also be carried live on Current TV commercial free.
We have presenters and scientists and well-known personalities from all over the world who are presenting, not only the science and the reality of what's happening, but also the reality of the solutions. And eventually, reality will win this struggle. The truth has a way of winning out over time. But since this is a race against time, I feel a sense of urgency in trying to get this message across as effectively as possible.
CONAN: Here's an email from Sean(ph) in Auburn, Massachusetts: My question is, why is it no candidate is willing to stand up and say that even if you don't believe in climate science change, why do we have to wait until it's already too late to change the course of events for us to be willing to do something to change the course of events?
GORE: Yeah, I think that's a great point. If, you know, if - somebody made the point the other day, if 98 doctors told you you had a heart condition that required you to make some changes and two doctors said don't worry about it, what would your response be? Well, hopefully, you'd go with the 98 out of 100. And that's the condition we're in now.
I will say this, that there are a great many people and businesses who don't care to engage in a discussion or debate about climate science who are doing what Sean recommends and are going ahead right now to become more efficient, cut their emissions, cut their costs. And in the process, they're becoming more profitable, most of them. So some people are taking that advice. I agree with Sean that more should.
CONAN: Let's go next to Robert and Robert is on the line from Pleasanton in California.
ROBERT: Hello, Neal and Vice President Al Gore. A lot of climate deniers I think suffer from a pretty common phenomenon that we tend to neither listen nor accept information that conflicts with our belief system and worldview. And until we can figure out how to solve that issue, maybe we just need to concentrate on the youth and our next generation of people with factual information who are then going to be motivated to do something about it.
GORE: Well, thank you for your comment. And, of course, young people are more likely to be persuasive on this point and lots of them are talking to their parents and having an impact. I just ran into someone just an hour ago who became a part of this movement because of her son who presented his view and the facts and said, why aren't you doing something about it, and she changed as a result.
But on the point about deniers, I do think that there are ways to penetrate that resistance by trying to get them to ask themselves the question, are they being fooled? I saw this as a child growing up so much of the time in the American South during the civil rights revolution where individuals who were so resistant to eliminating the laws, justifying discrimination did actually change. When they really looked deeply into their own hearts and confronted the reality of the situation, they changed by the millions. It's often the case that the resistance to change will seem to be an impenetrable barrier, and then we're always surprised when it comes quickly.
Look at Tahrir Square, look at how the Berlin Wall came down in 24 hours when the mass of people reached that critical mass where they just wouldn't put up with it anymore, and we have that capacity. Change occurs not only in a slow linear fashion, but does sometimes cross tipping points in which a lot of change happens quickly.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Robert.
ROBERT: Thank you. Maybe we'll have a positive tipping point in the attitudes here instead of the one we fear.
GORE: That's what I'm hoping for, Robert. Thank you so much. And I hope you'll tune in to "24 Hours of Reality."
CONAN: Former Vice President Al Gore is with us. He's chairman of the Climate Reality Project. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And this email from Milner(ph) in Lynchburg, Virginia: In order to overcome climate change skepticism, we must be very careful with whom we select to push the agenda. Having politicians try to convince the other side of anything is nearly impossible in our current political climate. We need charismatic scientists to carefully explain what's happening. We do not need to exaggerate the effects of the global warming. On doing so, only empowers skepticism. This is where your guest Al Gore has made painful mistakes, according to Milner.
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GORE: Well, there are two points, and I heard them both clearly. I reject the idea that the effects have been exaggerated. Indeed, there have been those who have said I've underplayed them, and the actual results in the real world have actually been worse in the last few years than were predicted. But on the first point, I certainly agree, and this is - where my role is concerned, this is not a solo, it's a symphony, and I welcome all who want to participate in delivering this message. I have reached out to get as many people involved as possible and others are in their own efforts.
The so-called charismatic scientists, Carl - the late Carl Sagan was a great friend of mine and I thought he did such a wonderful job. I think voices now like "Bill Nye the Science Guy," there are some others, but by and large, scientists often do not feel comfortable playing that role. Their culture and their education, their discipline is usually different. Many of them are not comfortable in the political - the process of conducting a political dialogue. I'm glad that more of them are now getting involved, and I will certainly agree with your listener in Lynchburg that the more engaging and charismatic and personable scientists who can get involved in telling the world about what they are finding the better.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Mike and Mike is on the line from St. Louis.
MIKE: Hi. Yeah. Vice President, I wonder, have you met Ray Kurzweil before?
GORE: Yes, I know Ray
GORE: and I had a day-long session with him, and I had a very interesting extended dialogue with him about climate, by the way. I respect him.
MIKE: Well, how do you respond to his criticism of global warming? I, well, not fear mongers but there are people who somehow say that we can do something reversing the current situation where his - clearly, his - you know, you're family with his futurist model where we actually - to use a '60s term - get small by virtualizing ourselves and that's the ultimate solution.
CONAN: Or adapt to it, in a word, yeah.
GORE: Well, I think that what he's really getting at is the idea that we have capacity for invention and innovation that will solve this problem, and I hope he's right. I think that, in the long run, there's no doubt that technological advances will play a crucial role in helping us to solve this crisis.
I do not share the view that all we need to do is wait for a magic technological silver bullet, because we have 7 billion people on the planet now, and 85 percent of the energy we're using is from carbon-based fuels. This will results in 90 million tons of global warming pollution added to the atmosphere every 24 hours. We are in a race against time. 20 percent of what we put up there today will still be there 20,000 years from now. So waiting for a deus ex machina, a magical solution from the technological revolution is a dangerous strategy in my view, but I certainly agree that these advances are coming.
And I mentioned before, the photovoltaic revolution is following one of those exponential curves that we saw with computer chips. It's not quite as dramatic in its slope, but we are seeing - we saw last year the doubling of new installations of photovoltaic cells, a 30 percent reduction in price in one year. In many parts of the world, electricity from solar photovoltaic cells is now cheaper than the average price from the electricity grid, and the number of the areas where that's true is growing rapidly. So I hope Ray is right in his projections. I fear that it would be a mistake to put all of our eggs in that hope basket and not make the common sense changes now that I believe are desperately needed.
CONAN: And, Mike, thanks very much for the call. And Vice President Gore, good luck tonight and thanks very much for your time.
GORE: Well, thank you for having me on. It's my pleasure.
CONAN: Former Vice President Gore's "24 Hours of Reality" begins later today. You can watch through a link to the Climate Reality Project on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Tomorrow, Greece strains under a mountain of debt. Many analysts insist a default is just a matter of time. The question from Athens to Paris to Wall Street is who goes over the cliff with them? We'll talk about what happens if Greece defaults. Join us for that.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.