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Al Gore raising hopes as leaders prepare for climate change summit

After decades of raising alarms about global warming, former Vice President Al Gore is now raising hopes.

As a top-level international climate summit starts later this month in Paris, Gore – who helped negotiate the 1997 climate treaty that didn’t control the problem — is sure this time will be different.

“I’m optimistic,” Gore said in a sit-down interview this week with The Associated Press. “We’re going to win this. We need to win it faster because a lot of damage is being done day by day. We continue to put 110 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours as if it’s an open sewer.”

In 35 minutes, Gore — portrayed by critics as a preacher of doom and gloom — uses versions of the words “optimistic” or “hopeful” or “positive” at least 16 times.

Even when he ticks off the alarming impacts of global warming, he finishes with a note of confidence.

“The number of extremely hot days has multiplied dramatically,” Gore said. “The large downpours, floods, mudslides, the deeper and longer droughts, rising sea levels from the melting ice, forest fires, there’s a long list of events that people can see and feel viscerally now. Every night on the television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. “

But he added: “Increasingly people are connecting those dots. And even if they don’t use the phrase climate crisis or global warming, more and more people are feeling that this is going to have to be addressed.”

On Friday, Gore will take his mixed message of alarm and hope to Paris, a bit ahead of world leaders. He will host a 24-hour-telethon of sorts from the Eiffel Tower to raise awareness about global warming, featuring Elton John, French President Francois Hollande, actor Jared Leto, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, actor Ryan Reynolds and California Gov. Jerry Brown.

But he said it’s no longer just about convincing people to act – it now makes sense economically, too. He says solar and wind energy is dirt cheap – even free in Texas at certain hours. Businesses and developing countries are taking climate change seriously, he said.

“There really is a wave in corporate America moving rapidly toward a low carbon economy,” Gore said.

Unlike the Kyoto treaty in 1997, which mandated emission cuts for rich nations but not poor, what’s likely out of Paris won’t require ratification by the U.S. Senate and is based on countries setting their own goals. And that, Gore insisted, is “more productive.”

But is Gore, himself?

Dana Fisher, director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, said Gore’s “role is limited at this point. There was a moment in time when he was pushing a wave of attention.” But now, she says, she didn’t even know that Gore was organizing his Paris telethon.

“I never thought of him as central person in the climate movement,” Fisher said.

Gore insists that he is. He said he’s trained “many thousands” of activists and still consults with leaders in the U.S. and other governments at all levels. He plans to be at the Paris climate talks “until the last dog dies.”

Some experts suggest Gore’s stint as the public face of climate change activism — especially with his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth — may have turned off some people because the messenger was so associated with Democratic politics.

“Climate change science is demonized because of Al Gore,” said Erik Conway, a NASA historian who co-wrote the book “Merchants of Doubt.” Conway doesn’t fault Gore, but said, “If John McCain had become the titular leader of the climate change movement instead of Al Gore, we might have a different world.”

But Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard historian who is a co-author of the book with Conway, disagrees. “He’s become demonized because he is effective,” she said.

For his part, Gore said, “Whoever becomes highly visible as a spokesman for change gets the slings and arrows and all of the anger directed at the messenger to try to get at the message.”

In addition to his Climate Reality Project, his main advocacy group (which is co-producing the telethon), Gore is chairman of Generation Investment Management, a boutique investment managing firm. He is on Apple’s board of directors and is a senior partner at a Kleiner Parkins Caufield & Byers, a major Silicon Valley venture capital fund.

Fifteen years later, the 67-year-old Gore claims he doesn’t dwell on 2000 election, when he won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College: “I started moving forward the day after the Supreme Court decision and I’m excited about the future.”

So was losing the presidency was all for the best?

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Gore said, laughing. “I don’t think there’s any position with as much potential to create positive change as much as president of the U.S., but that was not to be. I feel very fortunate other ways to make a positive difference.”

Then he returned to the subject of his telethon. Hozier will be among the performers; Gore whips out his iPhone to play the singer’s 2014 hit, “Take Me to Church.”

He closed his eyes and listened. The song’s final verse: “In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene, only then I am human, only then I am clean.”

On the Web…

Al Gore’s Live Earth: 24 Hours of Reality: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/24hoursofreality

Pharrell Williams teams with Al Gore for ‘Live Earth’ concert

Pharrell Williams says he’ll have all of humanity singing together at a worldwide concert June 18 to fight global warming.

The pop superstar is teaming with Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore to produce a “Live Earth” concert on seven continents to build support for a United Nations climate pact in Paris among more than 190 nations in December.

On a stage on Jan. 21 at the World Economic Forum in Davos with producer Kevin Wall, Williams said “we literally are going to have humanity harmonize all at once” in support of a binding international accord to limit heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the purpose is “to have a billion voices with one message — to demand climate action now” from governments rather than to continue the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Multiple choice: Third party candidates complete ballot

Casey McDonough is a Goldilocks in the voting booth.

She’s not fickle, but she likes a candidate to be just right. Often that means she votes Democratic. Rarely has it meant that the progressive Wisconsinite has voted for a Republican. But occasionally, she finds an independent or a third-party candidate who fits.

“I’m not beholden to anyone or any party,” she said.

National polls show a growing interest among American voters in third parties. Last fall, amid the partial shutdown of the federal government, 60 percent of Americans said a third major party is needed. The percentage was the highest in the 10-year history of Gallup asking that question and consistent with polls showing favorability plummeting for the Democratic and Republican parties. Among independents, 71 percent said America needs a major third party to emerge as an alternative to the two that have dominated politics for 150 years.

“I’m loyal to my beliefs and to people,” said independent Wisconsin voter Paul Williams. “If you want to vote for the third-party candidate, do it. The only wasted vote is the one not cast.”

Without saying how they will vote on Election Day or in early voting, Williams and McDonough pointed out that their general election ballots contain independents, as well as candidates with the Libertarian, Green, Peoples and Pirate parties.

The Libertarian Party is running candidates for all the statewide offices. Haven’t heard of Robert Burke, the Libertarian running for governor? He is not raising money, which is a primary reason he’s been excluded from the TV debate process. The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association invites candidates who have raised at least $250,000 and who are polling at least 10 percent.

The new Peoples Party also fielded a candidate for governor — founder Dennis Fehr, who is calling for higher tech in government, a simplified tax code, judicial reform, a lower drinking age and legalized marijuana, which also is on Robert Burke’s platform.

“We believe people have lost faith in our polarized two-party system and think an alternative is needed for the people and families of Wisconsin,” Fehr said when he announced. 

Going down the ballot, there are third party or independent candidates for many offices, including:

• Joseph Thomas Klein, a candidate for Assembly District 19 from the Wisconsin Pirate Party. Klein, in a statement, said his political party is “dedicated to the transparency and accountability of government, the upholding of civil rights for all citizens and the personal privacy of citizens in all their effects. … This upholding of civil rights means equal rights without regard for sexual identity and for keeping the government out of your bedroom and whom you choose to love.”

• Angela Walker, an independent socialist candidate for sheriff in Milwaukee County in a race against incumbent Democrat David Clarke. She said, “I believe that it’s time to rethink criminal justice. It’s time we look at the impact poverty and harsh punitive measures have on crime rates and advocate for policy changes that will increase opportunity for everyone in our community.”

• Ron Hardy, on the ballot as a Wisconsin Green Party candidate for state treasurer. Hardy is polling at 10 percent or better and has said, “With support from progressives, fiscal conservatives, independents and anyone who’s fed up with politics as usual, I can win this race.”

The Green platform begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that we must treat each other with love, respect and fairness, and that we must protect the earth for future generations. The crises of our times demand a fundamental shift in human values and culture, and in our social, economic and political institutions.”

This appeals to voter J’acki Hayes, but she has a common concern. “I don’t want to split the vote or spoil an election,” said Hayes, a pragmatic person who remembers the 2000 presidential race in which Democrat Al Gore “lost” Florida by 537 votes to George W. Bush. Environmentalist and reformer Ralph Nader ran as a Green Party candidate and won 97,421 votes in the Sunshine State.

The dispute continues over whether Nader served as spoiler, but third party advocates emphasize the myriad problems with the balloting in that election and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that halted a recount.

“Ralph Nader didn’t wreck the election,” said McDonough. “We can’t be intimidated by polls or bullied by parties. I was inspired by Nader’s candidacy in 2000.”

Walker exemplifies

third-party runs

That year, Walker, who is a native of Milwaukee, was living in the South and she participated in the Florida recount. Like McDonough, she’s found inspiration in independent and third party candidates, among them socialist Kshama Sawant, who was elected to the Seattle City Council last fall and proved instrumental this year in enacting the nation’s highest minimum wage.

Walker has worked as a bus driver and the legislative director for her transit workers union and she has a history of activism, including engagement in the movement against the war in Iraq and the Occupy protests. “I was taught from an early age to fight for what you believe,” she said.

Walker shares Sawant’s holistic approach to politics and, as she campaigns for sheriff, she focuses on social justice. “Criminal justice,” said Walker, is an oxymoron.

Walker, with no background in law enforcement, decided to campaign for sheriff after a friend suggested she could talk about the roots of violence and crime in Milwaukee. “I’m not affiliated with any particular party and that frees me up to say anything. … I can be as blunt as I need to be and I think that works in my favor.” 

Poverty, she said, is violence that can lead to more violence. Her platform includes advocating for:

• A broader living wage ordinance.

• Full funding of public schools.

• Expanded alternatives to incarceration.

• Decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.

• Restoration of voting rights for people who have been incarcerated.

• A healthy transit system.

• Invoking the 2012 Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detainer Ordinance that allows the sheriff to refrain from ICE sweeps.

Walker talked with WiG about her candidacy one recent afternoon after addressing a rally in Milwaukee organized by Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group. At the rally, Walker talked about solidarity and the power of the people.

“I want to remind voters that you are more powerful than you think you are,” said Walker.

She added, “The right to vote was paid for in blood. So vote. Please.”

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Hope for the future: Climate change is no longer a problem to be solved in some distant future

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about the dire consequences of climate change and the impending doom it will bring on the planet and all of mankind. Heat trapping gases created by our reliance on and addiction to fossil-fuel energy sources are raising the temperatures in our oceans and our atmosphere, melting ice caps throughout the polar regions and causing extreme weather patterns all over the globe.

Climate change is no longer a problem to be solved in some distant future. The negative results of carbon-based energy are here today, everywhere, and scientists are predicting even more devastation over the coming decades because of the lag effect. That means even more superstorms, severe drought, heat waves, oppressive smog, air poisoned by the release of methane gas from melting ice caps, and the potential extinction of up to half of all living species on the planet.

It’s quite depressing when you think about it, but does that mean we should throw our hands up in despair and accept defeat, accept that the very survival of the human race is doomed?

Not at all, says Al Gore. Remember him, the first presidential candidate to bring the issue of climate change to the national stage? He warned us all 14 years ago that global warming is a real problem _ not some paranoid theory fabricated by fringe scientists _ and that drastic policy and regulatory changes are needed to head off the problem before it’s too late. And then he was politically flogged for even suggesting ideas that the fossil fuel industry told us not only wouldn’t work but would ruin our economy.

The effects of climate change are more prevalent now than they were back in 2000, and the predictions for the future even more dire, but Gore says the situation is not hopeless.

“In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place,” he wrote in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. “The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail.”

That shift is taking place on several fronts, Gore explains. First and foremost is the technological advancements in renewable energy that have made solar and wind power much cheaper and more efficient far more rapidly than anyone had predicted. The cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries. Gore predicts that by 2020 — as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline — more than 80 percent of the world’s people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.

In fact, he wrote, in poorer countries, where most of the world’s people live and most of the growth in energy use is occurring, photovoltaic electricity is not so much displacing carbon-based energy as leapfrogging it altogether. In other words, regions of developing nations that have never had access to electricity have skipped over traditional power grids and gone straight to solar. Bangladesh, for example, is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every hour.

Here in America, more states are adopting net metering laws that allow homeowners who install solar PV systems to sell electricity back into the grid when they generate more than they need. As more consumers install solar panels — or buy into community solar projects like here in Windham County — utilities will have to raise prices on their remaining customers to recover the lost revenue. Gore says those higher rates will, in turn, drive more consumers to leave the utility system and so on, leading to the so-called utility death spiral.

All of this is creating a noticeable shift in the energy business. The rapid technological advancements in renewable energy are stranding carbon investments; grassroots movements are building opposition to the holding of such assets; and new legal restrictions on collateral flows of pollution are further reducing the value of coal, tar sands, and oil and gas assets. As a result, more and more investors are diversifying their portfolios to include significant investments in renewables, Gore explains.

The final significant shift Gore discusses in his article is political. The forces fighting against renewable energy are formidable, well financed and carry considerable political power built up over the past century _ Gore specifically mentions brothers Charles and David Koch, who run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned corporation in the U.S. Gore says they have secretly donated at least $70 million to a number of opaque political organizations tasked with spreading disinformation about the climate crisis.

“But here is more good news: The Koch brothers are losing rather badly,” Gore wrote.

In Kansas, their home state, a poll by North Star Opinion Research reported that 91 percent of registered voters support solar and wind. Three-quarters supported stronger policy encouragement of renewable energy, even if such policies raised their electricity bills. Gore says it’s important for voters to keep the political momentum going.

“Now is the time to support candidates who accept the reality of the climate crisis and are genuinely working hard to solve it _ and to bluntly tell candidates who are not on board how much this issue matters to you,” Gore wrote. “If you are willing to summon the resolve to communicate that blunt message forcefully — with dignity and absolute sincerity — you will be amazed at the political power an individual can still wield in America’s diminished democracy.”

The bottom line, Gore says, is that there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future: “Each of the trends described above — technology, business, economics and politics — represents a break from the past. Taken together, they add up to genuine and realistic hope that we are finally putting ourselves on a path to solve the climate crisis.”

Editor’s note: Provided through membership in the Associated Press.

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More Clinton White House records to be released

The National Archives said it plans to release 2,000 pages of documents from former President Bill Clinton’s administration on June 6, covering a wide range of topics including Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, gays in the military and the Supreme Court nominations of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

The papers have been closely watched this spring as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton considers a second presidential campaign. The former first lady’s new book on her State Department years, “Hard Choices,” will be released next week.

More than 15,000 pages of records from the Clinton White House have been distributed since February, offering details into the administration’s unsuccessful attempt to overhaul the health care system, how it responded to GOP victories in the 1994 elections and how the former first lady’s aides sought to shape her public image.

The records to be released on June 6 could offer more insight into Clinton’s decisions during the 1990s.

Gore’s presidential campaign dominated the final year of the administration — including a lengthy recount saga in Florida —and he ultimately lost to George W. Bush despite winning the popular vote. Clinton’s administration created the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy that addressed gays serving in the armed services, and it dealt with two Supreme Court vacancies during his first term.

Another topic will involve records related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which established an assassination records review board during Clinton’s tenure to carry out release of records.

Other topics will include the administration’s handling of international crises in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; its response to terrorism; the Oklahoma City bombing and efforts to spread democratic reform in Cuba.

The memos, drafts of speeches and other papers are being disseminated through the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Climate talk shifts from curbing CO2 to adapting

Efforts to curb global warming have quietly shifted as greenhouse gases inexorably rise.

The conversation is no longer solely about how to save the planet by cutting carbon emissions. It’s becoming more about how to save ourselves from the warming planet’s wild weather.

It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement last week of an ambitious plan to stave off New York City’s rising seas with flood gates, levees and more that brought this transition into full focus.

After years of losing the fight against rising global emissions of heat-trapping gases, governments around the world are emphasizing what a U.N. Foundation scientific report calls “managing the unavoidable.”

It’s called adaptation and it’s about as sexy but as necessary as insurance, experts say.

It’s also a message that once was taboo among climate activists such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. In his 1992 book “Earth in the Balance,” Gore compared talk of adapting to climate change to laziness that would distract from necessary efforts.

But in his 2013 book “The Future,” Gore writes bluntly: “I was wrong.” He talks about how coping with rising seas and temperatures is just as important as trying to prevent global warming by cutting emissions.

Like Gore, government officials across the globe aren’t saying everyone should just give up on efforts to reduce pollution. They’re saying that as they work on curbing carbon emissions, they also have to deal with a reality that’s already here.

In March, President Barack Obama’s science advisers sent him a list of recommendations on climate change. No. 1 on the list: “Focus on national preparedness for climate change.”

“Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point,” Bloomberg said in announcing his $20 billion adaptation plans. “The bottom line is: We can’t run the risk.”

On Monday, more than three dozen other municipal officials from across the U.S. will go public with a nationwide effort to make their cities more resilient to natural disasters and the effects of man-made global warming.

“It’s an insurance policy, which is investing in the future,” Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Calif., who is chairing the mayors’ efforts, said in an interview Friday. “This is public safety. It’s the long-term hazards that could impact a community.”

Discussions about global warming are happening more often in mayors’ offices than in Congress. The Obama administration and local governments are coming up with thousands of eye-glazing pages of climate change adaptation plans and talking about zoning, elevation, water system infrastructure, and most of all, risk.

“They can sit up there and not make any policies or changes, but we know we have to,” Broward County, Florida, Mayor Kristin Jacobs said. “We know that we’re going to be that first line of defense.”

University of Michigan professor Rosina Bierbaum is a presidential science adviser who headed the adaptation section of the administration’s new National Climate Assessment. “It’s quite striking how much is going on at the municipal level,” Bierbaum said. “Communities have to operate in real time. Everybody is struggling with a climate that is no longer the climate of the past.”

Still, Bierbaum said, “Many of the other developed countries have gone way ahead of us in preparing for climate change. In many ways, the U.S. may be playing catch-up.”

Hurricanes, smaller storms and floods have been a harsh teacher for South Florida, Jacobs said.

“Each time you get walloped, you stop and scratch your head … and learn from it and make change,” she said. “It helps if you’ve been walloped once or twice. I think it’s easier to take action when everybody sees” the effect of climate change and are willing to talk about being prepared.

What Bloomberg announced for New York is reasonable for a wealthy city with lots of people and lots of expensive property and infrastructure to protect, said S. Jeffress Williams, a University of Hawaii geophysicist who used to be the expert on sea level rise for the U.S. Geological Survey. But for other coastal cities in the United States and especially elsewhere in the poorer world, he said, “it’s not so easy to adapt.”

Rich nations have pledged, but not yet provided, $100 billion a year to help poor nations adapt to global warming and cut their emissions. But the $20 billion cost for New York City’s efforts shows the money won’t go far in helping poorer cities adapt, said Brandon Wu of the nonprofit ActionAid.

At U.N. climate talks in Germany this past week, Ronald Jumeau, a delegate from the Seychelles, said developing countries have noted the more than $50 billion in relief that U.S. states in the Northeast got for Superstorm Sandy.

That’s a large amount “for one storm in three states. At the same time, the Philippines was hit by its 15th storm in the same year,” Jumeau said. “It puts things in context.”

For poorer cities in the U.S., what makes sense is to buy out property owners, relocate homes and businesses and convert vulnerable sea shores to parks so that when storms hit “it’s not a big deal,” Williams said. “I think we’ll see more and more communities make that decision largely because of the cost involved in trying to adapt to what’s coming.”

Jacobs, the mayor from South Florida, says that either people will move “or they will rehab their homes so that they can have a higher elevation. Already, in the Keys, you see houses that are up on stilts. So is that where we’re going? At some point, we’re going to have to start looking at real changes.”

It’s not just rising seas.

Sacramento has to deal with devastating droughts as well as the threat of flooding. It has a levee system so delicate that only New Orleans has it worse, said Johnson, the California capital’s mayor.

The temperature in Sacramento was 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) this past week. After previous heat waves, cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have come up with cooling centers and green roofs that reduce the urban heat island affect.

Jacobs said cities from Miami to Virginia Beach, Virginia, are coping with mundane efforts: changes in zoning and building codes, raising the elevation of roads and airport runways, moving and hardening infrastructure. None of it grabs headlines, but “the sexiness is … in the results,” she said.

For decades, scientists referenced average temperatures when they talked about global warming. Only recently have they focused intensely on extreme and costly weather, encouraged by the insurance industry which has suffered high losses, Bierbaum said.

In 2012, weather disasters – not necessarily all tied to climate change – caused $110 billion in damage to the United States, which was the second highest total since 1980, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week.

Now officials are merging efforts by emergency managers to prepare for natural disasters with those of officials focused on climate change. That greatly lessens the political debate about human-caused global warming, said University of Colorado science and disaster policy professor Roger Pielke Jr.

It also makes the issue more local than national or international.

“If you keep the discussion focused on impacts … I think it’s pretty easy to get people from all political persuasions,” said Pielke, who often has clashed with environmentalists over global warming. “It’s insurance. The good news is that we know insurance is going to pay off again.”

Describing these measures as resiliency and changing the way people talk about it make it more palatable than calling it climate change, said Hadi Dowlatabadi, a University of British Columbia climate scientist.

“It’s called a no-regrets strategy,” Dowlatabadi said. “It’s all branding.”

All that, experts say, is essentially taking some of the heat out of the global warming debate.

Associated Press writers Karl A. Ritter in Bonn, Germany, Jennifer Peltz in New York, and Tony Winton in Miami contributed to this report.