Two weeks before the Paris climate conference was set to begin in November, 2015, Al Gore climbed onto a stage in front of the Eiffel Tower, and filmed a sombre message to the people of a city traumatized by terror attacks.
"Out of solidarity with the French people and the city of Paris," the former vice-president of the United States said, "we have decided to suspend our broadcast of 24 Hours of Reality and Live Earth. Our thoughts are with … the entire nation of France. We send our condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured."
In all, 130 people died.
Gore was pale and in shock. "You can see minute by minute, second by second, what that night was like for me – for all of us," says Gore, 69, in Toronto recently as part of a whirlwind tour for his new film, An Inconvenient Sequel, in theatres Aug. 4. "That's one of the many scenes in the movie that I had no awareness was being filmed," he adds. "I was so absorbed in the events of the moment."
As a career politician and inveterate global climate crusader, Gore has seen and (mostly) weathered it all. In 2000, he lost the presidential election to George W. Bush in one of the most controversial elections in American history. Then, after An Inconvenient Truth became a sleeper hit, he was skewered by right-wing commentators such as Glenn Beck (now quasi-reformed) who compared him to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, among other things.
The Paris attacks knocked the wind out of him. But Gore and leaders from 196 participating countries at the conference rallied, and two weeks later agreed to reduce carbon output to keep global warming to "well below 2 degrees C."
Then along came Donald Trump, elected 45th President of the United States. Seven months into his term, he yanked the United States out of the landmark agreement.
"I spent a lot of time talking with President Trump during the transition and continuing after he reached the White House, and I actually thought there was a chance that he would come to his senses and stay in the Paris agreement," Gore says. "But I was wrong.
"When he did make his announcement, I was quite concerned that other countries around the world would use it as an excuse to pull out themselves, but, almost immediately, the entire rest of the world doubled down on their commitments to the Paris agreement – almost as if they were saying, in a united voice, 'We'll show you, Donald Trump.' So many of our governors, mayors and business leaders have filled the gap, and pledged to meet the U.S. commitment in Paris, regardless of what Donald Trump says or tweets."
It's been 11 years since An Inconvenient Truth brought the climate crisis into the heart of popular culture (and won an Oscar, and helped Gore win a Nobel Prize). The first movie was essentially a slick, scientific slide show that showed the masses how the fossil-fuel industry and man-made greenhouse gas emissions were scorching our planet.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is more cinematic than its predecessor, but it's also less impactful, primarily because the world is now far better educated about the damage we've done, and the steps that need to be taken to rectify it. The first Inconvenient was the wake-up call. This one is a plea from the broad-shouldered farm boy from Tennessee to keep the ball rolling.
"Having had so many setbacks during the last 40 years in this struggle, I tend to put [the pullout of the Paris Agreement] in perspective, and in the background," Gore says. "We have been seeing a truly dramatic technological revolution in the world. A decade ago, when the first film came out, the solutions were visible on the horizon, but they were still only predicted, still in process. Now, they're here."
Gore sees great strides being made in renewables such as solar, wind, batteries, electric vehicles and "thousands of dramatic efficiency improvements that don't get the attention but add up to another powerful set of solutions. Global emissions have now stabilized for three years. We're seeing them come down in the U.S. and in China, and soon they'll be coming down worldwide."
In one scene in the film, Gore is welcomed by Republican Mayor Dale Ross to Georgetown, Tex., one of the reddest cities in a very red state. Ross proudly shows Gore his town, one of the first in Texas to use 100-per-cent renewable energy. "Doesn't it just make sense, from a common sense perspective that the less stuff you put in the air, the better it is?" Ross tells the camera.
Gore smiles benignly. But he adds in our interview, "things still aren't happening fast enough. We still have an enormous amount of work to do. A great economist [German Rudi Dornbusch] once said: 'The crisis takes a much longer time than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.'
"The truth about the climate process is it's still inconvenient for the large carbon polluters. The stakes for their profits are so high that many of them are sparing no expense to intentionally confuse people. People are seeing through it now, but they have succeeded in my country in surrounding Donald Trump with a rogue's gallery of deniers, and they're trying to dismantle important laws and regulations. The courts have blocked some of what they're trying to do. And the Congress – even this Congress – is refusing to go along with some of their other schemes."
Last year, Gore points out, was the hottest on record, the third year in a row that gained that distinction. Almost all the world's major glaciers continue to melt and Arctic sea ice is shrinking faster. Two weeks ago, one of the biggest icebergs on record (one trillion tonnes, and roughly the size of Prince Edward Island) broke away from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica. We are at a tipping point. But Gore remains optimistic.
"The earliest the U.S. could legally withdraw from the Paris agreement is the day after the next election under the terms of the treaty," he says.
His faith in God and humanity keeps him hopping continents and spreading his climate change mantra. "There are many lines in the scripture that are relevant, but the one that springs to mind is hope comes in the morning even after the darkest night."
And tragic as the Paris attacks were, Gore says they may have inadvertently spurred the success of the climate-change conference. "Certainly, they were more amenable to doing the right thing. It was like a reminder.
"You want to see what chaos and darkness looks like? Here, take a look. You want to get bogged down in these petty disputes? No. We have more important things to do."
An Inconvenient Sequel opens Aug. 4.