Right-wing critics say the former vice president’s wealth is hypocritical. By making his fortune a talking point, he could beef up his climate gospel.
By Alexander C. Kaufman
MICHAEL TRAN VIA GETTY IMAGES
Al Gore has long been a knight of the movement to combat climate change. But when he returned to the national spotlight last month with his latest documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel,” he did so in gilded armor.
The former vice president ― who boasted a relatively modest net worth of $1.7 million, held mostly in family farm assets, when he ran for president in 2000 ― has become a media mogul and financial titan over the past decade, with a personal fortune valued at upward of $200 million. His big comeback comes months after a populist wave swept President Donald Trump to a surprise election victory, setting the stage for the most aggressive rollback of environmental and climate policies in history.
If Trump’s billionaire status bolstered his appeal to voters, Gore’s business acumen might amplify his warnings at this moment.
“The world faces an extremely serious financial risk due to the $22 trillion in subprime carbon assets that are going to lose value at some point precipitously, just as the subprime mortgages did,” Gore told HuffPost in a 14-minute phone interview from London last week. “Of course, that’s what triggered the credit crisis and the Great Recession.”
But for some people, the best person to imbue climate change with the urgency it needs may not be a rich, banker-friendly liberal who rode shotgun in a White House that brought about trade deals so vilified that Trump won over traditionally Democratic Rust Belt workers by vowing to renegotiate them.
“He is a flawed character,” Stephen Lacey, editor-in-chief of the magazine GreenTechMedia, said on his podcast “The Energy Gang” last month. “We’re in an era of backlash against elites, so Gore, a guy who bought a 6,500-square-foot seafront home in California for $8.8 million, and who hangs around with other celebrities who talk big on climate but who live lavish lifestyles, is the perfect target at this point in time.”
The critique hits at a pressure point in mainstream climate change messaging. The causes of climate change are clear: burning fossil fuels, industrialized farms and destruction of the forests that capture carbon and store carbon. But the solutions, and who should be responsible for them, are far less clear.
With other environmental causes, such as recycling or animal welfare, it’s easy to call on individuals to change their behavior ― carry a reusable water bottle, or buy cage-free eggs and free-range beef. As a result, there’s a tendency to apply the same formula to climate change, as though the crisis can be averted by enough ordinary people putting solar panels on their homes, buying electric cars or forgoing distant travel to save the jet fuel. In that framing, the wealthy, jet-setting class ― with their warm, palatial homes and intercontinental trips ― bear the most responsibility for adopting a climate-conscious lifestyle.