Al Gore's New Climate Campaign Faces Uphill Battle
For nearly 30 years, when asked by Gallup to prioritize, Americans put the environment ahead of the economy. The widest spread came in the early 1990s, when some 71 percent of respondents favored the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth, while 20 percent thought the economy should come first, even if it meant the environment would suffer.
That all changed, perhaps not surprisingly, with the steep economic downturn of 2008, when the majority of respondents, for the first time, began saying that the economy was more important. But the telling tidbit is this: In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill last year, the sentiment flipped again.
"Gallup found Americans returning, rather dramatically but only temporarily, to a pro-environment position last May, shortly after the spill occurred," the polling organization reported.
How quickly we forget.
Today, economic interests are back on top -- and by the widest margin recorded since Gallup began asking the question in 1984. "Over the past decade," the pollsters concluded, "Americans have dramatically re-evaluated their priorities when considering the trade-offs of economic growth and environmental protection."
Of course, advocates for clean energy development, or programs designed to upgrade and improve the efficiency of the nation's building stock, would argue that these need not be trade-offs at all. A study published by the Brookings Institution in July, for example, found that the clean economy, defined as the "low-carbon and environmental goods and services super-sector," already employs some 2.7 million workers -- more than the fossil fuel industry.
It also found that, while the clean economy grew more slowly overall than the national economy over the last 7 years, sub-segments like clean-tech "produced explosive job gains" and that the clean economy "outperformed the nation during the recession."
And yet, even with the arrival this week of the federal government's long-awaited, repeatedly delayed report on the causes of last year's disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- which lays much of the blame on BP's reckless shortcutting and relentless violation of federal regulations governing offshore drilling -- advocates for sensible climate policy, environmental stewardship and clean energy are struggling to be heard.
The louder voices these days belong to Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail, who appear to have found unanimity in identifying the Environmental Protection Agency as the source of the economy's woes. Many of them have also come to the conclusion, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that climate change is still a matter of widespread debate among the planet's preeminent scientists.
They are drowning out the voices of the more than 1,000 Americans -- and the thousands more who support them -- who offered themselves up for arrest in late August and early September in protest of an oil pipeline that would tap Canada's tarry bitumen deposits. The activist Bill McKibben has called these tar sands "the continent’s biggest carbon bomb."
And there is little question that a mushrooming scandal involving the Obama administration's apparent recklessness in providing half a billion dollars in taxpayer financing to a solar technology company that some of its own budget advisors worried was a bad bet will provide ammunition for clean-energy detractors and climate skeptics -- and help to further silence clean-energy advocates.
Such is the atmosphere into which former Vice President Al Gore launches his latest effort to win hearts and minds -- a 24-hour call to climate action.
Can it cut through the endless bickering and debate that now dominates -- and ultimately paralyzes -- America's political discourse on matters of energy, climate, the environment and jobs? Hard to say. Not everyone has been a fan of Gore's approach to these issues, suggesting that he has been too bookish or increasingly, too shrill.
But as Gore himself said in an interview with The Huffington Post ahead of his new campaign, fighting for a reasonable transition away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner technologies that won't contribute to global warming -- and the runaway destruction of whole ecosystems that comes with it -- ought not be a solo act, but a symphony.
"If I thought it would help to stand on my head and do it in rhyme, I would do my best to pull that off," Gore said, "and I'm certainly the first to acknowledge that I could be more effective in delivering a message. But the fact that people don't like a message often leads to them focusing on and criticizing the person delivering the message."
He also said he remained optimistic that while political forces continue to generate dissonance on Capitol Hill, ordinary citizens who take a longer, more sustainable view of both the economy and the environment will ultimately prevail.
"The greatest opportunity for change lies in the hearts of those who have rejected the science but who are right now asking themselves a question," Gore said. "Have they been fooled by the oil companies and the coal companies? Have they been taken for a ride by the large polluters who have been putting out misinformation?
"When enough people ask themselves that question and open their minds and hearts to a fair consideration of what the reality is," he added, "then the change will take place."
That remains to be seen.
WATCH: The full HuffPost Green interview with former Vice President Al Gore, founder of the Climate Reality Project: