This is a big day for Al Gore: this morning his global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was nominated for two Academy Awards -- and in the evening, he will learn how the guy who got the job Gore always wanted will address climate change in his State of the Union address. (And look who's sighing now, laughing boy...)
Last night finally convinced me that the former vice president really isn't running for anything in '08; he was funny in public again, for one thing, in a way that those truly in the hunt never are. Yet the public has never been more interested in what Gore has to say. Even here in solidly Republican Idaho, Gore not only packed the 10,000-seat Taco Bell Arena, but sold out the joint "faster than Elton John," in about five hours, said Garry Wenske, executive director of the Frank Church Institute, who helped organize the event. "We all know how he did as a political candidate, but this is something else."
Actually, I'm guessing we'll still be arguing about how he did as a political candidate when the last glacier melts into a sno-cone. But the second part of Wenske's statement is as irrefutable as the fact that the ski season is in trouble, along with the polar bears and the permafrost, though the jellyfish and the pine beetles never had it so good. And Gore's impact on public opinion on the threats posed by global warming definitely is something else.
So much so, in fact, that when I ask a student at Boise State for directions to the all-day global warming conference that is the lead-in for Gore's talk on how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the kid just laughs: "It's where all the people are." Oh, so it is.
It's a diverse crowd of all ages, including many children kept home from school for the occasion.
Ten-year-old Sienna White, whose mom teaches MBA students in the business school here, says she's seen Gore's movie over and over, and just had to come. Her fourth grade class is planning a bake sale to help stop global warming -- probably, the money will go to re-forestation efforts -- and half the kids her age at Washington Elementary got An Inconvenient Truth, for Christmas, she reports. Gosh, and that was a good thing? A global warming DVD was really up there on the wish list with -- what, an iPod, or a puppy? "Probably with a ticket to Al Gore's talk," Sienna answers, and her mother, Courtney White, sighs that that isn't going to happen: "Everyone I know is going, but we couldn't get tickets; they could have sold it out again."
Okay, I get it; every committed Democrat in the state has congregated on the campus for the day, that's all. Even the reddest of states has its dissenters. Here, for example, comes a nice young man out of the student union cafeteria, seemingly oblivious to what all these people are doing here. But when I explain, what Nick Gourley of Eagle, Idaho says is: "Oh, they showed his movie here and we all liked it and realized how big the problem really was. We're recycling in our room now in a grocery cart" appropriated for just that purpose.
"Once you see the movie, it's a no-brainer," says Nick, a freshman whose parents are Republicans. Same story with Karie Harlander, who is sitting in the student lounge tucking into her noontime fruit cup; she hadn't known anything about the conference, either -- but again, when I say "global warming," she responds -- well, warmly: "I watched him on Oprah and I loved how everything was digital." "Really, and this was Al Gore?'' says her friend, Annie Shull. "Wow." Oh yeah, Karie says, "That helped a lot to understand how much is changing every year," as the frostline moves.
Maybe, fresh off their win at the Fiesta Bowl, these Idahoans just aren't a very tough crowd? But nah, the folks at the conference are converts to a new way of living, these moms bringing their children here to hear the word.
As it turns out, the only guy I meet who still seems unconvinced by the science on global warming is one of the major sponsors of the event, Douglas Glaspey, a co-founder of U.S. Geothermal, a local company that's building a big geothermal power plant here, with "no CO2 emissions and
very clean technology."
Sitting by him at lunch, I am surprised when he says, "I'm not totally convinced man is the only problem" causing global warming. "Who can predict the weather next week, much less in a hundred years?" Formerly in the coal mining industry, he majored in geology in college, and "back then all my professors said we were moving into another ice age. We were stocking up on cold weather gear then."
Still, he, too, suggests that what's good for the environment is also good for the economy, and his own investors are sure loving clean technology: "Everybody wants cleaner air; that's why I got out of the mining business."
Outside the arena where Gore is speaking, a handful of protesters wave signs that make the same point the sponsor had: "Global Cooling in the 70s, Global Warming Now? (Big Hype or Bad Science?)" But inside, several people suggest it is concern over the economic impact of global warming that has really gotten their attention, and brought them here tonight: "Things are happening you want to ask questions about, that's all," says one man, who doesn't want to be identified in print as having attended any event starring Al Gore.
Though leavened with jokes, Gore's talk is not so much a feel-good presentation as a walk through the Book of Exodus, complete with storms, plagues and infestations, all happening in real time. Repeatedly, he uses religious references to describe the situation: "You can almost hear God saying, 'Hey, Pharaoh!'" And, "Noah was commanded to preserve biodiversity."
"Preach it!" a man in the crowd calls at one point.
Even after two hours, the audience can't seem to get enough: "I loved it," says Shannon Hartman, who has her flagging 4- and 7-year-old children in tow. "I've seen it before, on the movie and on Oprah. But I never get tired of it!"
Surely it has occurred to the president that he could use a little of that kind of enthusiasm about now; when you look at all that has happened in the last six years, it's hard to imagine history will record that Bush won and Gore lost, and I'm not even talking about 2000.
Mr. Bush has opposed capping CO2 emissions in favor of a voluntary approach that hasn't worked, but even some CEOs of major companies are now pressing him to get serious about the issue. And in tonight's address he is expected to call on Americans to cut gas consumption by twenty percent in the next ten years. On this issue, at least, maybe he is ready to listen.