Art & Commerce: The Perfect Storm

Al Gore (former two-term vice president, former multi-term senator and congressman, former nominee for president who won the popular vote and lost the electoral vote, former candidate for the Democratic nomination who was first to use William Horton against Michael Dukakis, former green-shirted Naomi Wolf client, former debater who showed up as three distinct personalities in three presidential tussles with George W. Bush, former spousal supporter of a campaign to regulate pop-song lyrics, former hater and grower of tobacco, former crushing winner of debate with Jack Kemp and close loser of debate with Dan Quayle, former Vietnam soldier whose senator father was attacked for being dovish on the war, former persistent purveyor of the lockbox, former contender sans DNA testing for Father of the Internet, current Oscar winner for Best Documentary, current nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize, current presidential contender-in-waiting) receives from the media what no breathing, upwardly mobile politician ever ever ever got before:

Reverence. Fearful reverence.

Maybe he deserves it.

He treats the media like he’s got nothing to lose. In The New Republic, Ryan Lizza writes of fearfully watching Gore turn the tables in interviews, exhorting Charlie Rose to clarify his questions and gently ridiculing Diane Sawyer for inquiring about the 2008 campaign or his weight instead of his new book, The Assault on Reason. “Gore believes he has written a serious book, and he is in no mood to suffer fools,” Lizza writes. “The night before our meeting, I had a nightmare about the interview.”

No such nightmares had afflicted the advertising trade press ahead of Gore’s appearance on Friday at the Palais in Cannes, under the auspices of Young & Rubicam, to speak about global warming and “the central role he believes the advertising industry can play in bringing about change.” They had been warned weeks ahead: No interviews.

Perfect: the one attribute media people admire more than arrogance—aloofness.

Lots of non-media people have come to admire Gore for his devotion to an issue. Me, for example. I found his book An Inconvenient Truth even more compelling than the movie. (What? No Pulitzer to go with the Oscar and the Nobel?) His just-released book, The Assault on Reason, was a persuasive argument for rational argument. In fact, I feared that the whole global-warming discussion itself had been closed for further discussion, that there was no other side, just the Gore/Y&R side. Could this augur a return to faith-based science, devoid of free inquiry into climate change and what can and should be done about it?

Back in the day, some contrarian agency might have sponsored an appearance by Bjørn Lomborg, Ph.D., immediately after the Gore presentation. In that way, reason would have its place, even if it were competing with the screening of the shortlist and early-evening cocktails at the Carlton Terrace.

Lomborg is a former Greenpeace devotee from Denmark who remains an environmentalist, but one who fears that some of the cures prescribed for climate change may be as useful as bloodletting or lobotomies.

He is an economist whose specialty is statistics, so he wouldn’t do a whack job on reason by engaging in the sort of snarly ad hominem arguments favored by partisan polemicists who would ask Al Gore if he flew a Gulfstream to Cannes or took a hot-air balloon. Or worse, ask how many plasma TVs the Gore clan has in its new hyper-kilowatt manse. Or whether he thinks paper ballots are worse for the Florida fauna and flora than, let’s say, electronic ballots devoid of chads.

Lomborg would, though, question what he calls the Litany as expressed notably in Young Oxford Books: “The balance of nature is delicate but essential for life. Humans have upset that balance, stripping the land of its green cover, choking the air, and poisoning the seas.”

Most important, Lomborg holds that “things are getting better.” This is not a good position to defend these days. Or, apparently, any days. In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg cites Sal Baron’s history of the Jews, in which he noted, “Prophets who made optimistic predictions were automatically considered false prophets.”

Lomborg thinks Gore “joins the long list of cultural pessimists who have experienced the modern world but have also seen the seeds of its destruction.” In Gore’s earlier book, Earth in the Balance, he does seem to liken the struggle against our current civilization to earlier struggles against Nazism and Communism. He would probably amend that analogy today for fear of further assaulting reason.

About 60 years ago, Whittaker Chambers wrote that the final battle would be between the Communists and the former Communists. He was wrong, as we know. Could be, though, that the final battle in this century will be between the Greens led by Al Gore and the former Greens led by Bjørn Lomborg.

If there is a final battle.

Why does there need to be a final battle, anyway? This isn’t The Sopranos or Deadwood. It’s just trying to do something about the weather.