Every time I hear the song “Take Me to the River” waves of nostalgia crash over me.
I am carried back to the summer of 2000 — to the deck of a riverboat ferrying then-Vice President Al Gore and his campaign for the White House down the midsection of the mighty Mississippi.
It was a campaign trip like no other with the candidate traveling from town to town along the riverbanks. And every day as that boat bearing Gore, his aides and those of us in the traveling press corps would pull up to meet a new crowd, we would hear this music and these lyrics signaling our arrival:
“Take me to the river
Drop me in the water
Take me to the river
Dip me in the water, washing me down”
Eighteen years… one controversial lost presidential bid… one found mission… and one Nobel Prize later, Al Gore is still fixated on the water, the air and the sky.
His life work has become combating climate change and ringing the alarm bells as loud as he possibly can. It is a crusade made even more difficult by the current occupant of the White House.
Gore actually met with Donald Trump in New York shortly after the 2016 election. At the time, he hoped to alert the president-elect to the real dangers of global warming. Trump responded by pulling back on environmental regulations and announcing he would withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Since then, the president has signaled from time to time that he might reverse course on the Paris accord if he could get a better deal.
But Al Gore doesn’t think that is going to happen.
At a recent event hosted by the Axios news site, Gore admitted he stopped talking to Trump almost a year ago. “I never give up on anybody,” he told Axios’ Mike Allen, adding “I’ve come closest as I ever have with President Trump.”
And yet, as I listened to Al Gore in the spring of 2018 — at a time when big business and not the health of our planet seems to be driving policy – I get this sense he remains optimistic about the likelihood that we can still block the most disastrous results of global warming.
He firmly believes the drive to combat climate change is becoming a big social movement —much like the fight for civil rights — and that people are waking up to the huge stakes involved. “When the underbrush is removed… what’s right and wrong becomes clear,” he says.
Gore points to the anti-gun movement being led by young people around the nation as a sign that a new activist generation is emerging:
“Every great morally based movement that has advanced the prospects for humanity has been led in significant measure by young people. I see this climate movement in the context of these previous movements.”
Another sign for hope is that while Washington is doing little to protect the environment, local and state governments are stepping in to do what they can. And Gore insists the very fact the Paris agreement exists is a reminder that the global community wants to take action with or without Washington.
And then there is this. What Trump did last year is announce his INTENTION to pull-out of the Paris agreement. But the first day the U.S. can actually, legally withdraw from the deal happens happens to be the day AFTER the next presidential election. According to Gore, who happens to be an expert on the accord, “If there is a new president, a new president could simply give 30 days notice and the U.S. is right back in the agreement.”
Does he think Donald Trump will be a one-term president or perhaps serve even less? Ask him and Gore will liken the Trump presidency to a science experiment gone horribly wrong: “In science, some experiments are terminated early for ethical reasons.”
I heard those words just one day after the President of France gave his own diplomatic assessment of the Trump administration’s environmental record in a speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.
One day after he was feted as a great friend at the White House, Emmanuel Macron warned against the path of “isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism.” His speech was a point-by-point rebuttal of Trump’s insular “America First” creed, especially concerning climate change.
“We must find a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy. Because what is the meaning of our life, really, if we work and live destroying the planet… What is the meaning of our life if our decision, our conscious decision, is to reduce the opportunities for our children,” Macron said.
The French leader spoke at length about the challenge posed by climate change, and he urged the United States not to walk away from the Paris Climate accord because “by polluting our oceans, not mitigating CO2 emissions, and destroying our biodiversity, we are killing our planet. Let’s face it. There is no planet B.”
But the best line came next. Macron took a cue from a famous Trump campaign slogan and to the delight of Democrats in the legislative chamber said: “Let us work together in order to make our planet great again.”
Al Gore would agree.