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“He's isolated himself”: Al Gore on Donald Trump

Gore discusses climate change, the power of the presidency and his new film An Inconvenient Sequel.

There are two groups of people who should see former US vice-president Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Sequel. First up are the producers on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Earlier this week, the radio show asked Lord Lawson, a renowned UK climate sceptic, for a response to Gore’s latest message on climate change. The online environmental community then took a collective gasp as the show’s presenter failed to challenge Lawson’s series of inaccurate claims.

Perhaps most maddening of all was the idea that the global temperature has “slightly declined” in the last ten years. Those who have seen Gore’s new film would know that this is barmy. And for those who have not, this graph from Carbon Brief is essential viewing:

The fact the BBC is still struggling to get on top of this issue is perhaps justification enough for the film’s release.

But the second group of people who should see An Inconvenient Sequel are those who are probably already up to date on the latest science and politics. That’s because one of the movie’s most striking insights is into how high-level operatives hang on when the going gets tough.

Having lost the presidential election to George Bush in 2000 (despite having won the popular vote), Al Gore knows what a disappointment feels like better than most. “I have seen a lot of setbacks over the years and I see this as another one,” he says of Donald Trump’s election. This allows him to put Trump’s climate-sceptic presidency in context. It’s “not the worst” upset for action on climate change, he says, pointing to the resolve of many across the business community and local government to meet the country’s commitments on emissions regardless.

He even has room for optimism: “The damage [Trump] is doing is turning out to be less than what I feared he would do. I think he’s isolated himself. I think that, even today in the US, members of his own political party in the house and senate are beginning to separate themselves from him, and why wouldn’t they?” Before stopping himself and adding: “I need to calm down here!”

The former US vice-president is sharing the above thoughts with a small group of journalists gathered inside London's Claridge's hotel. He sits at the head of the circular table, lion-like in his corporate American poise and expensive suit. He’s a little late, but that’s OK – he’s charming and impressively tall.

I tell you these details because much of the new film shows exactly this: Al Gore on stage at the many climate change talks he has given over the years, Al Gore backstage, Al Gore speaking to journalists, Al Gore on TV, Al Gore on the phone and Al Gore on stage again.

And while this risks feeling like the climate change movement has been turned into the Al Gore show, the film’s sobering take-away is that powerful political individuals do make a big difference.

Thankfully, in many cases, that difference is for the good. The film’s second half is a roll-call of the many brilliant figures who made the 2016 Paris Conference a success, such as the “incredible” executive secretary of the UNFCC, Christina Figueres. There’s even a cameo handshake from a dashing Justin Trudeau.

Gore’s story also provides an important lens on the reach of American power. As the film builds towards the triumphant climax of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we learn how he helped secure the all-important support of the Indian government – pulling strings and putting in calls to banks and business leaders. “Let’s call up Elon,” he says at one point, referring with impressively casual panache to Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Solar City.

Yet there are also points at which this all-American saviour story feels outdated; a “sequel”, if you will, to a historical zeitgeist that peaked a decade ago – and in which politicians of Gore’s generation sometimes feel a little stuck. I’m sure, for instance, that the development-focused Indian government would have a different account of the movement. As might the new generation of climate activists.

But Gore’s worldview is still poignantly insightful in one particular regard – and that’s the power wielded by the White House and how its weight still falls so heavily on one pair of shoulders alone. “I do not know of a position in the world with [the ability to bring about] positive change that is like the position of the US president," Gore says in response to a question about whether he has any personal regrets – a rare moment where you can feel his statesmanlike persona stretching at the seams.

Ultimately his film’s message is not a new story – Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Before The Flood covers similar science, and the optimistic end delivered by the Republican Mayor of Georgetown is almost identical to the one the same man gives in From the Ashes. But at least in Gore it has one of the best climate storytellers the old world has to offer.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is in UK cinemas from Friday 18 August.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.