NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Vice President Al Gore kicked off a series of climate presentations on Wednesday evening that will continue around the globe over 24 hours, a lively talk espousing political and U.S. policy changes.
The event, called “24 Hours of Reality” is an endeavor of The Climate Reality Project, founded by Gore to educate the public and inspire action on climate change. Gore said he has trained more than 20,000 climate activists, some of whom will be fellow presenters for the talks, which will continue through Thursday at more than 1,700 locations as far flung as Antarctica and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The opening presentation took place at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where an audience of more than 1,000 people gave him a standing ovation. One of the moments of loudest applause came when he suggested President Donald Trump could be voted out of office next election.
Speaking of the Paris Climate Agreement, Gore said that although Trump wants to back out of it, the U.S. cannot legally pull out until the day after next year’s presidential election.
“If there’s a new president, pardon me for a minute,” he said to laughs as he stretched out his arms and looked up. “Now don’t you dare interpret that as a partisan gesture. I have freedom of speech and freedom of prayer.”
Gore said he tries to avoid partisan politics at his climate presentations, and he made a point of praising Vanderbilt’s College Republicans for calling on the Republican National Committee to change its stance on climate.
He did not shy away from politics.
At one point, Gore took aim at Trump’s characterization of the Central American refugees coming to the U.S., calling them “climate refugees” and saying many are fleeing drought.
“The reason they’re leaving is because they’re hungry,” Gore said to applause. “They’re not rapists and terrorists. They’re hungry and they’re trying to feed their families.”
He also took a shot at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of giving “the green light to burn down more of the Amazon.”
Gore made clear that he thinks many current U.S. politicians should go.
“We need to really clean house. Change is not happening fast enough unless we change policy,” he said. Later he added, “To change our policies, we’re going to have to change our policy makers.”
Gore said one aspect of the problem in the U.S. is what he called “our democracy crisis” caused by the influence of special interests on politicians.
“They put a coal lobbyist in charge of the EPA, for God’s sake. The fact that there is not widespread outrage about that is a symptom of our weakened democracy,” he said.
Gore called climate change “the life and death struggle of people alive today,” comparing it to 9/11, Pearl Harbor and such World War II battles as Dunkirk and Midway.
And Gore expressed his support for the so-called Green New Deal, a sweeping Democratic proposal to combat climate change, which he called “an aspirational set of goals.”
The Green New Deal seeks to shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable energy sources. It calls for virtual elimination of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming by 2030.
“I think it’s a very effective and brilliant branding because it conveys the idea that the solutions to the climate crisis have to be on the scale of the New Deal,” he said.
Prior to Gore’s presentation, actor and singer Jaden Smith took the stage briefly to talk about the impact that Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” had on him.
“For me, for my generation, for all the generations that are going to have to go forth, dealing with the climate crisis, I am so glad we have an icon here to look up to,” Smith said.