Declaring that "American democracy has been hacked," former U.S. vice-president Al Gore told a Toronto audience that his countrymen needed to wake up to the special interests that have a grip on the levers of power in the U.S. Congress and are able to block legislation on a range of policy issues including his signature cause, global climate change.
Mr. Gore added that he felt action on climate change was possible, indeed inevitable, once it was viewed by enough people as a matter of personal values. "When these kind of issues settle into a choice between right and wrong, then the moral clarity that eventually develops makes it possible to move quickly."
In a public interview with The Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief, John Stackhouse, Mr. Gore also spoke of his wish that U.S. president Barack Obama would cancel the Keystone XL pipeline intended to transport heavy crude from the Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries. In part because oil-sands crude requires more energy to extract than conventional sources, and so produces more greenhouse gases per barrel, he suggested that the full social and environmental cost of developing the oil sands made it a more expensive proposition than a faster move by the U.S. to renewable sources.
When Mr. Stackhouse asked whether Alberta oil was more ethical because it came from a democratic nation with a commitment to human rights, Mr. Gore rejected the term.
"There's no such thing as ethical oil," he said. "There's only dirty oil and dirtier oil." The remark triggered applause from a nearly full house at the Globe-sponsored event at a Ryerson University auditorium.
Mr. Gore added that he fully understood the economic drivers behind the Keystone pipeline and conceded he did not know how Mr. Obama would ultimately decide. When pressed, he coyly avoided saying he was disappointed in the Obama administration's failure to produce better results on climate change, adding that Mr. Obama deserved more credit for raising vehicle-emissions standards and using the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from newly built power plants, with hopes that existing plants would also eventually be addressed.
Noting the fierce opposition Mr. Obama has faced on climate as on other issues, Mr. Gore said, "I still hold out hope that he will be as positively surprising in his policy initiatives this year as he was in his speeches."
During a wide-ranging conversation that included his time in the Clinton administration, his views on China and governance of the Internet, Mr. Gore returned to the climate theme and to Canada's role in that debate. While noting that the U.S. needed to change to remove the demand for Canadian oil, Mr. Gore also said: "I had hoped that Canada would point the way toward a better path, but as yet it has not."
Editor's Note: The event at which Al Gore and John Stackhouse spoke Tuesday was exclusively for Globe subscribers.