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Al Gore calls Trump’s deregulation proposals ‘literally insane’

Former vice president and climate change activist Al Gore warns that climate change could be an “existential threat” and calls President Trump’s response an “outlier reaction.” In a wide-ranging interview, Judy Woodruff speaks with Gore about Hurricane Michael, President Trump, the UN Climate Change report out this week, and why he thinks Democrats will fare well in the midterm elections.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to an exclusive interview with a man who has been at the center of the debate over climate change for decades.

    Former Vice President Al Gore has long warned about the potential dire consequences of a warming world. Recent extreme storms, like Hurricane Michael, have again brought the issue to the surface.

    I spoke with Al Gore this afternoon and began by asking if he sees a connection.

  • Al Gore:

    Well, absolutely. And, more importantly, the scientific community has long been convinced and has been warning policy-makers for some time.

    The earmarks of this latest storm, Judy, are worth paying attention to. Starting with Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston, Texas, a year ago and dumped five feet of rain, we have been seeing a new pattern. And Hurricane Michael intensified as it reached the coast. And that's something relatively new.

    And the reason for it is, the ocean waters are much warmer than normal, so it's not getting cold waters churned up to weaken the storm. It just keeps on getting stronger.

    The scientists not only predicted these consequences. They're telling us they're going to get a lot worse still, until we stop using the Earth's atmosphere as an open sewer for 110 million tons of man-made global warming pollution every single day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's talk about the science. You mentioned that.

    There was this major report from the U.N. Scientific Panel, the group that you shared a Nobel Peace Prize with, what, about 10 years ago. They are painting a much more alarming picture of what we face than we had previously known.

    What is significant to you? What is — what is most significant in this report to you?

  • Al Gore:

    The language the IPCC used in presenting it is torqued up a little bit, appropriately. How do they get the attention of policy-makers around the world?

    The man-made global warming pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, and it stays there a pretty long time. And it now traps as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding every day.

    It's a big planet, but that's an enormous amount of energy. And more than 90 percent of that extra heat energy is going into the oceans. And that's distorting and disrupting the water cycle by evaporating much more moisture into these storms. And even without hurricanes, we get these so-called rain bombs that just devastate the places where it falls.

    North Carolina with Hurricane Florence is another example. And as the scientists have pointed out — this wasn't true of Hurricane Michael this week, but Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Harvey just stayed in place for days and days and days. That's something new too.

    And it's because we're beginning to see the disruption of wind currents, along with ocean currents. And so the Northern Hemisphere jet stream that normally moves these storms out to the east is getting loopier and wavier and sometimes disorganized.

    So this is really serious stuff. We have a global emergency. And you use a phrase like that, and some people immediately say, OK, calm down, that it can't be that bad. But it is.

    And what the scientists have warned us in this recent report is that if we do not take action quickly to switch away from dirty fossil fuels, and shift to electric vehicles, and make agriculture and forestry much more sustainable, and deal with the waste loops in manufacturing, all things that we can do — we know how to do them. And we ought to be doing these things for other reasons anyway.

    But if we do not begin taking action very quickly — and creating jobs in the process, by the way — then the scientists warn us that the consequences down the road would be far, far worse than what we're experiencing now, and could actually extend to an existential threat to human civilization on this planet as we know it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me — I do want to ask you about the political response.

    As you know, a number of conservatives, other scientists are saying they these dire future predictions are just not borne out by evidence. But the other thing is, the political…

  • Al Gore:

    Well, hold on. Hold on. Let me stop you there.

    When you say other scientists, not really. There are a few — there are a few outliers, but 99-plus percent of the scientific community is aligned on these objectives. You still have some people who say the Earth is flat and not round, but you don't give them equal time and saying some people say round, some people say flat.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, you're right.

  • Al Gore:

    I'm sorry to interrupt.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, they are a minority, but they are cited by — by political conservatives.

    But the question I want to ask is, one of the recommendations, for example, from this U.N. group is, you need to raise taxes, raise prices on those groups that emit carbon.

    Is that, though, politically realistic, in the world we live in here in the United States right now?

  •  Al Gore:

    It is tough politically, of course. That's what China's beginning to do. That's what the European Union is now doing.

    And whether it's direct, as a carbon fee or tax, or indirect in the form of a trading system, which some people don't like, but actually it can be made to work, one way or another, we should put a price on the pollution that is the posing such a deadly threat to the future of our civilization, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, when it comes to political reaction, the president, President Trump, people in his administration don't seem to be taking this new U.N. report very seriously.

    The president said something like, I can give you reports that are fabulous, I can give you some that aren't so good.

    He and the people around him are saying, we're mostly focused on the economy, and what we're doing is rolling back those regulations, environmental regulations that have hurt our economy and slow down business in this country.

  • Al Gore:

    Well, his proposal is literally insane. And his reaction to the scientific community's warnings is an outlier reaction.

    It's making the U.S. come off like a rogue nation and being different from any other nation in the entire world. And, of course, everybody knows it's because the large carbon polluters are his buddies, and he wants to use them as a way of signaling to ultra-conservatives that he doesn't care about what the truth of the matter is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump is out right now on the campaign trail almost every day trying to stir up his base voters. He's saying the Democrats are like an angry mob coming off of the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court.

    He's clearly trying to stir up his base. But my question to you is, is that an effective tactic on his part?

  • Al Gore:

    Well, we will find out this November.

    I don't know, Judy. I'm not a great political analyst. But my personal impression is that there are tens of millions of Americans, some of whom wanted to take a chance on Trump last time around, changing things up, trying something new.

    But I think there are tens of millions who gave him a chance and are now a little bit heartsick that he has been acting out every day, telling falsehoods almost as easily as he breathes. And I know some people will hear me say that and think, oh, that's just a Democratic reaction.

    I get that. We have more tribalism, to use the buzzword that's common these days, than is healthy for our nation. But common sense and a respect for reasoned discourse has always played a balancing role in American politics. I have a feeling that it's going to play a role in this election.

    I think that, if ever there was a time for the reinstitution of the checks and balances that our founders put into our Constitution, now is that time. And I think a lot of Republicans and independents, as well as Democrats, are kind of quietly itching for the opportunity to go to the polls and send a message to President Trump to, calm down, don't be so crazy, don't be so harmful to our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What should the Democratic Party's message be this year, and then going into 2020, with a president who has made his own personality such a big issue?

  • Al Gore:

    Well, he's — a talented entertainer and a reality TV star.

    But his term as president is not really going well, in my opinion. The economic recovery, which began under the last administration, has continued unabated, even with the stock market roller coaster this week. I expect that — hope it will continue.

    But the damage he's doing to the good name of the United States of America is just incalculable. And I think people do not want this kind of anger and repeated falsehoods in our political discourse.

    And you asked me what the Democrats should do. Well, I guess the right strategy would just be to say, look, give us a chance to kind of rein him in a little bit and prevent so many of these excesses, so that he doesn't have free rein to put the polluters in charge of environmental policy, to take away protections the American people need in all these other areas of our lives.

    And I kind of think the American people are going to want to do that in November.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Vice President Al Gore, joining us from Los Angeles, thank you very much.

  • Al Gore:

    Thank you.

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