Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Al Gore Can Never Win

Which is not to say Al Gore isn't right on issues relating to climate change and sustainability. I mean that he'll never win the trust or respect of the media—and society—enough to be the "game changer" he is sometimes portrayed as, at least by his few friends in the fourth estate.

Gore can write books and give lectures on climate change till he's blue in the face, but look at what happened when it was "discovered" that Gore is investing in and making money from green and clean tech firms he's familiar with. Shock, horror! It's an absurd criticism. Warren Buffet writes books and gives advice about investing, and invests in those very firms he's writing about. Of course he does. Telling the hoi-polloi to invest in firms that you wouldn't touch with a barge pole is tantamount to a crime for a professional investment advisor.

The problem here lies not just in the "meme" (the cultural icon) that Al Gore has become, with all its attending baggage—the notion that he's a congenital liar, a blowhard, a Cassandra, self-aggrandizing: labels used against him in a nasty political campaign he's unable to escape—the problem is in the very idea that every battle needs a "game changer."

This phrase has been cropping up in newspapers and blogs a lot lately, particularly in respect to sustainability and environmentalism. While societal movements need "leaders," a "game changer" is more like a celebrity or spokesperson--less Martin Luther King and more Charlton Heston. A leader like King obviously drew media attention and scrutiny, but he was not a figurehead: he organized and marched and administered, and he collaborated with myriad other groups and individuals. Heston was mostly a publicity stunt for the NRA—albeit very good one.

The trouble with Al Gore being the unofficial leader of the sustainability movement is that he's treated as a celebrity and has become caricatured out of proportion. As good as he is at persuasion, he'll never, ever unite the nation toward sustainable goals the way it must be. So when Gore is found to be investing in green and clean tech, the media snarks—and cannot seem to make the story "Who are these green tech firms and how can you get in on the ground floor by investing in them?" even though the capitalist solution to the climate change crisis is exactly the sort of rallying point the country needs.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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