I’d heard so much about Al Gore’s powerpoint presentation that when he didn’t do it in Hay, I was a bit gutted. Instead he simply spoke, wandering across the huge stage in the main tent without visual aids. Behind him a vast screen relayed his every expression and gesture from a TV camera with a fractional delay. It made me feel slightly seasick.
He started well, although I’d heard the gags already:
“I’m Al Gore and I used to be the next President of the United States.”
“You win some, you lose some, and then there’s a little known third category.”
But the stories he told didn’t quite work. They were about him becoming normal after the craziness of being ultra important. Although self deprecating, the humour was safe and didn’t reveal too much about the man. It was hard to empathise with him refueling his Gulfstream in the Azores at midnight and finding out that the speech he had just given in Africa had been misquoted in Washington.
And then he got onto the real reason he was there — to talk about climate change. It was all good stuff and I learned a few new things. He tried to make us realise that this is an urgent problem. He called climate change a ‘planetary emergency’. He talked about the stark evidence that we are changing our environment in ways that have never happened before. But maybe because I already believe that climate change is a problem and we need to do something about it, he didn’t really rock my world.
I suppose (perhaps naively) I wanted him to give solutions. But as soon as he got onto the practical stuff, he became fuzzier and sounded like a politician again. He was slippery when Peter Florence interviewed him afterwards although to be honest the questions weren’t very good. Florence fell into the trap of trying to interview an American politician by asking questions as if he were a British one. Americans have little respect for media interrogators and will just go on to say whatever they like anyway.
The reports on the BBC and in the Guardian said Gore got a standing ovation, but it didn’t feel that electric to me. More like the grudging ‘oh God I suppose we’d better give him a standing ovation’ of Labour Party Conference than the instant spontaneous outpouring of emotion I’ve felt in concerts and, yes, the occasional political speech — Robin Cook’s resignation over Iraq springs to mind.
All power to Al Gore. I hope he succeeds in spreading the message about climate change and I’ll help him do that. But when you’ve managed to create so much hype about yourself you need to deliver, otherwise goodwill evaporates quicker than you can say ‘I invented the internet you know’.
I don’t think Al Gore will be the next president of the United States.