On Monday, EW arrived at the Noga Hilton hotel in Cannes, France, to interview Al Gore on a roof deck overlooking the Mediterranean. This week the former vice president popped up at the Cannes Film Festival to screen and promote An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary (opening in New York and L.A. tomorrow; a companion paperback hits stores Friday) in which Gore himself presents chilling evidence that man-made greenhouse gases are rapidly cooking our planet — which makes for one scary movie. If, for one thing, the heavy piles of ice on Greenland and Antarctica keep melting into the sea, we’re in trouble: Sea levels will swamp the world’s coasts, and oceans will cool down enough to throw off weather patterns and such.
Gore, in the film, explains the danger a lot better than we can. And he’s also very hopeful that there’s still time to do something. Nursing a Diet Coke under a deck umbrella, Gore took a few questions as Mediterranean ocean breezes whipped his hair this way and that. He was wearing black cowboy boots with his dark suit.
What’s your message — and the film’s message — boiled down to its essence?
[Pause.] We face a planetary emergency. The relationship between the human species and the earth has been radically transformed without us fully appreciating that fact.
We’ve quadrupled the world population in less than 100 years, we’ve magnified the power of our technologies 1,000 times over. That combination, coupled with an attitude that discounts the pincher effects of our present behavior, has led to an astonishingly destructive collision between human civilization and the most vulnerable parts of the planet’s ecosystem. And the one that is most vulnerable is the thin shell of atmosphere which we’re now thickening with pollution in ways that actually change the relationship between the earth and the sun, and that traps so much more heat in the climate system that it’s radically transforming the balance of climate that has been favorable for the emergence of human civilization. Unless we stop, it will end human civilization.
And yet we can stop it; we are in command of our own destiny. We have all the tools we need. The only thing we need is a sufficient awareness of the truth of our situation to lead the majority of people to the world to demand that political and business leaders take the steps necessary to change.
What do you say to people who might dismiss the film because you’re a Democrat?
When people see it, they don’t have that attitude. It shouldn’t be a political issue. It’s a moral issue. We’re seeing the evidence grow ever more compelling. The picture is ever clearer. And yet the U.S. is still in Category 5 denial. But we’re getting closer to the tipping point, and I think there are enough clear signs of change now to justify real optimism that we’re gonna see a big change soon. It’s a single-minded focus: to try to change the minds of the American people, and of the world, about this climate crisis. You ever see the movie Chariots of Fire?
At one point, one of the characters says, ‘When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.’ I would say it differently, but when I am engaged in trying to deliver this message in as compelling a way as I am capable of doing, I feel like I’m doing something that’s fulfilling. And if you’re doing work that feels like it’s the right thing and you’re giving it your all, that’s a good thing.
Cannes is pretty ritzy. What’s it been like for you here? Do you ever think to yourself: What am I doing here?
[Laughs.] I used to have a framed New Yorker cover hanging on my office wall in the Senate. It was a cartoon by this cartoonist named Booth who was famous for drawing those funny looking dogs — you’ve probably seen those. And he had this dog riding a tricycle, with a funny little party hat on, on the stage of a grand opera house, and all the tiers were filled with bedecked and bejeweled fans clapping. And the little dog is thinking, I don’t know why they like this, but I’m gonna keep pedaling. And that’s me on the red carpet. [Laughs.]
(For more Gore, check out our full Cannes Film Festival coverage in the June 9, 2006, issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine.)