Al Gore and me

Elizabeth May
I do not know Al Gore well. I idolized his father Senator Albert Gore, one of the first Senators to oppose the war in Vietnam. Coming from Tennessee that was really something. When I was eleven, I was taken for lunch in the US Senate Dining Room by Senator Eugene McCarthy. It was a long time ago (obviously!). Spring 1965. I had received a form letter in the mail from something called the Committee for a More Effective Congress. The letter was signed by Eugene McCarthy, a virtually unknown senator from Minnesota who a few years later would defeat an incumbent US President, Lyndon Johnson and force him out in the Primaries. But that came later. Gene McCarthy noticed the note form my mum, along with the cheque I sent, explaining that I had sent my whole bank account and savings and allowance from forever and sent it to the Committee for a More Effective Congress. I had been convinced by his letter that supporting this group would improve democracy before I could vote. So Senator McCarthy invited me to come to Washington. We (my mum and younger brother) drove down from Connecticut on our Easter school break and had a day I that I can recall in every detail (Senator McCarthy’s hair flying back as we rode the underground open car subway between Senate Office Buildings, the feel of the menus in the Senate dining room, the conversation as Senator McCarthy shared with my mother why he thought Lyndon Johnson, and Texans in general, were dangerous.) Senator McCarthy introduced me to all my heroes -- Wayne Morse, Bill Fulbright, and Al Gore, Senior. I got their autographs on the menu. It is one of my only regrets in life that I cannot find that menu. So I have every reason to like the son of my hero. He wrote Earth in the Balance before becoming Vice-President. In the 1992 presidential race, George Bush (the elder) ridiculed him as “Ozone Man.” It didn’t work. He became Vice President with the once “Boy Governor” of Arkansas, Bill Clinton. They tried a BTU tax, exactly once. When it was defeated, climate went to the back burner. When he was V-P, I demonstrated in New York, outside the United Nations with climate campaigners chanting “Read your book! Read your book!” But I still liked him. Bill Clinton is my friend, whom I love like family. Al Gore is only an acquaintance whom I admire. So last night in London, Ontario was a real treat. A chance to see Al Gore for the first time since I became leader of the Green Party of Canada. He was kind enough to acknowledge my presence in the room. And he held an audience of nearly 500 people (all donating $500 each to help the local hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation) in the palm of his hand for an hour and a half of solid science and climate lecture. He tried very hard to avoid any charges of “meddling” in Canadian domestic affairs, but his horror in the Harper government’s approach to climate was apparent. And he urged Canadians to make the point clearly that we cannot afford to evade our Kyoto and climate responsibilities. For obvious reasons, I enjoyed his oratory as he set out the parallels between the current crisis and the resolve required. He invoked (yes, again) the comparison to the moral imperative and the failure of Neville Chamberlain in his time to confront the threat of fascism. He would have no idea how strangely the reasonable analogy had been twisted to attack me incessantly for a few days last month. Such nonsense does blow over. His speech was met with several standing ovations. The message that we are running out of time was crystal clear. Too bad I was the only leader of a federal political party in the audience. He was smooth as silk. His humour was self-deprecating and charming (“for eight years I rode Air Force 2. Now I have to take off my shoes to get on an airplane.”) He pulled no punches about the threat to our future. And he left us again with the key question: will we in our time in this generation have the moral courage to redress the wrongs and allow our children a livable world?