But not everyone on the left is celebrating Gore’s reemergence—and for reasons that sometimes contradict each other. Some worry he’s too polarizing a figure, and therefore could paralyze progress on climate change. “It’s time to start building bridges instead of further entrenching into tribes,” said Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and contributing writer at Grist. But author Wen Stephenson sees the opposite problem: “If Gore himself is trying to appeal to bipartisanship, I’d tell him to stay home.” Still others are concerned that Gore’s image is at odds with an increasingly inclusive and intersectional movement. “We need to break away from this idea that the Leonardo DiCaprios and the Gores are the ones who will solve this,” said Anthony-Rogers Wright, an organizer at The Leap.
This skepticism about Gore reveals a lot about the climate movement, which has fractured significantly since An Inconvenient Truth. Whereas a decade ago there was a relatively united focus on spreading awareness about climate change, today there is no clear consensus on how to fight it. Should the left work with centrists and even conservatives on policy goals? Should the fossil-fuel industry be courted or coerced? Should climate deniers be educated or mocked? Activists are debating these questions while the movement bleeds, having suffered one blow after another from a hostile administration intent on undoing years of progress under Barack Obama.
Now, amid this identity crisis, the heroic climate crusader returns. But can Al Gore really save the day, or will he only open more wounds in the movement?
As Gore tells it, he had to be talked into this sequel. “I have to tell you that when the idea for the first movie was presented to me, over a decade ago, I was skeptical. I was consistent this time around and skeptical once more,” he told Fast Company. “I guess I was just worried because the first one was so well received. But I’m glad that wiser heads prevailed.” An Inconvenient Truth was more than “well received.” The documentary, a glorified slideshow that cost just $1 million to make, earned $50 million at the worldwide box office and $31 million in video sales. It also transformed Gore from a politician into a cultural celebrity. He was no longer the wooden, failed presidential candidate, but an amiable, captivating climate prophet. Some Democrats even urged him to run for president again. (Some still do.)
Riding high on the film’s success, Gore threw himself into environmental advocacy. But he receded from view after two massive failures for the climate fight: the collapse of international climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, and the death of bipartisan federal legislation to fight global warming in 2010. “Everybody had to take stock,” said Brad Johnson, a longtime climate activist and executive director of Climate Hawks Vote Civic Action. “Like other people, Gore kind of retreated and regrouped.”