Al Gore at the UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.
Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty images
· Huge drive for Congress action on global warming
· $300m TV campaign will focus on job opportunities
Al Gore yesterday launched a drive to mobilise 10 million volunteers to force politicians to act on climate change – twice as many as the number who marched against the Vietnam war or in support of civil rights during the heyday of US activism in the 1960s.
During the next three years, his Alliance for Climate Protection plans to spend $300m (about £150m) on television advertising and online organising to make global warming among the most urgent issues for elected American leaders.
The wecansolveit.org initiative aims to build up pressure on the next US president to support stringent mandatory emissions controls when they come before Congress, and take a leadership role at the renegotiation of the Kyoto treaty.
Environmental activists yesterday described the plan as the most ambitious public campaign launched in the US.
“The resources are completely unprecedented in American politics,” said Philip Clapp, of the Pew Environment Group. It is equally ambitious in targets. The Alliance has already reached out to organisations as diverse as the Girl Scouts and the steelworkers union to try to broaden its appeal.
Gore told the Washington Post that he launched the initiative because of his concerns that US politicians had balked at supporting strong legislation on climate change.
“This climate crisis is so interwoven with habits and patterns that are so entrenched, the elected officials in both parties are going to be timid about enacting the bold changes that are needed until there is a change in the public’s sense of urgency in addressing this crisis,” Gore said. “I’ve tried everything else I know to try. The way to solve this crisis is to change the way the public thinks about it.”
Environmental activists said it was crucial that the campaign focus attention on green jobs and other positive consequences of going green – rather than the potential costs.
“What I am particularly hopeful about is that their advertising campaign will emphasise the economic opportunities,” said Reid Detchon, executive director for energy and climate change at the United Nations Fund. “That is where the political leverage is, particularly at a time when the economy is faltering. The opportunities for business and job creation are very large in this transition.”
The initiative was widely seen as the logical extension of campaigns such as moveon.org, which supports liberal causes and Democratic candidates and has more than 3 million supporters, and stopglobalwarming.org, which has more than a million supporters.
Chris Miller, director of US Greenpeace’s global warming campaign, said: “The movie An Inconvenient Truth and Gore’s work were incredibly strong in raising awareness. The step that it didn’t take is telling people how to solve the problem. This [campaign] is going to reinforce that there are steps we can take in our personal lives, but that ultimately it will take political leaders to solve the problem.”
But channelling growing public awareness and concern into a political force has proved difficult. Gore wants a 90% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 – a more ambitious target than those of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, who favour an 80% cut, or John McCain, who supports only a 60% reduction.
Last January, the League of Conservative Voters analysed transcripts of television interviews and debates with all the Democratic and Republican contenders for the White House. By January 25, the candidates had been asked 2,975 questions on a range of issues.
Only six of those mentioned the words “climate change” or “global warming”. That is not much greater than the level of media interest in the candidates’ positions on UFOs. They were asked three questions on UFOs in the same study.
But as Gore told CBS on Sunday night: “I’m not finished yet.”
The campaign is getting a hefty kick-start from Gore. The former vice-president has donated earnings from his Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, his Nobel peace prize, and his job at a venture capital firm. In the first ad, a voiceover by the actor William H Macy says: “We didn’t wait for someone else to storm the beaches of Normandy. We didn’t wait for someone else to guarantee civil rights.” Future ads will feature political adversaries such as Newt Gingrich, a conservative Republican, in an attempt to elevate the cause above political divisions.
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Tuesday April 1 2008