Published on August 1st, 2017 | by Steve Hanley0
“Our Democracy Has Been Hacked” — Al Gore On Climate Change
August 1st, 2017 by Steve Hanley
Ten years ago, Al Gore brought his dark and foreboding message about climate change to a world audience in a movie entitled An Inconvenient Truth. It was a wakeup call for humanity, a warning that we were polluting ourselves to death. It smacked us over the head with “hockey stick” graphs showing in exquisite detail just how dire the state of emergency facing us really was.
An Inconvenient Sequel
A decade later, Al Gore is back with his follow-up film — An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. As a cinematic exercise, pre-release versions have been widely panned by critics. But in person, Gore speaks passionately about the forces that have arrayed themselves against the threat of climate change — those who have bought and paid for the climate deniers and science distrusters who now occupy positions of power within the administration of #FakePresident Trump.
“Our democracy has been hacked,” he tells The Guardian in an exclusive interview. “In order to fix the climate crisis, we need to first fix the government crisis,” he says. “Big money has so much influence now.” Calling it “an assault on reason,” he adds, “Those with access to large amounts of money and raw power have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective decision making.”
Merchants Of Doubt
Going on, The Guardian brings up one of the most infamous duos in the world, as well as the largest US oil company. “The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn’t. It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial groups. It’s clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to this existential threat.”
And what does all that money and power buy? Within days of Trump’s ascendancy to the White House, all mention of climate change disappeared from federal websites. In the UK, it took just 24 hours for Theresa May to close the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Gore has a rather rural phrase to capture the state of climate awareness. “In Tennessee we have an expression: ‘If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be pretty sure it didn’t get there by itself.’ And if you see these levels of climate denial, you can be pretty sure it didn’t just spread itself. The large carbon polluters have spent between $1bn and $2bn spreading false doubt.
“Do you know the book, Merchants of Doubt? It documents how the tobacco industry discredited the consensus on cigarette smoking and cancer by creating doubt, and shows how it’s linked to the climate denial movement. They hired many of the same PR firms and some of the same think tanks. And, in fact, some of those who work on climate change denial actually still dispute the links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.”
In the original ending of the film, Gore is cautiously optimistic that Trump would not pull the United States out of the Paris climate accords. “Based on what he told me, I definitely thought there was a better than even chance he might choose to stay in. But I was wrong.
“I was fearful that other countries for whom it was a close call would follow his lead, but I’m thrilled the reaction has been exactly the opposite. The other 19 members of the G20 have reiterated that Paris is irreversible. And governors and mayors all over the country have been saying we are all still in and, in fact, it’s just going to make us redouble our commitments.”
Hacking The Message
The ending of the film has now been recut prior to its release in August. Asked what changed Trump’s mind, Gore replied, “I think Steve Bannon and his crowd put a big push on Trump and convinced him that he needed to give this to his base supporters. He had blood in his eyes.”
Bannon, the former chief of Breitbart News, is the lunatic who sits at the right hand of Trump. He may be the face of climate denial, but it is billionaire Robert Mercer who funded Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company that says boldly on its website that it “uses data to change audience behavior.” It is also suspected of playing a significant role in the Brexit vote in the UK.
Gore says he is well aware of the problem presented by data manipulation, but adds, “There is a law of physics that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. And I do think there is a reaction to the Trump/Brexit/Alt-Right populist authoritarianism around the world. People who took liberal democracy more or less for granted are now awakening to a sense that it can only be defended by the people themselves.”
Still, it is an uphill battle. “The information system is in such a chaotic transition and people are deluged with so much noise that it gives an opening for Trump and his forces to wage war against facts and reason.”
Money & Sex
There is a popular belief that the two main motivators of human behavior are money and sex. That popular belief is wrong. The supreme impulse that drives people to do the things they do is power. Henry Kissinger confirmed this when he said “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” It must be true. If power can make that wrinkled old prune a star in the bedroom, well, I rest my case.
One of the oldest expressions is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see that corruption everywhere around us. While The Trump is the Jester, he is just a sideshow. Behind the scenes, the wealthy and the powerful are busy stuffing their pockets with taxpayer money and plotting how to get even more power than they already have.
Digital Literacy Is Critical
The digital revolution has made it easier than ever to accrete power. If we have learned nothing else from the last election in the US, it is how easily swayed people are. The ability to critically analyze information and make rational judgments is largely a myth, one that those in search of power exploit mercilessly.
Marshall McLuhan once said, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” The great promise of digital communications — that they would allow humans to merge their considerable brainpower to make a new world filled with enlightenment and justice for all — has been turned on its head. In fact, Aldous Huxley was right. We have invited tyranny into our lives and welcomed it with open arms.
Walt Kelly, the cartoonist who drew the Pogo comic strip, created this famous line, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Developing digital literacy — the ability to see behind the images and information that wash over us daily and question their authenticity — is perhaps the most important skill of all if we hope to combat climate change successfully.
Based on the observable evidence, however, that skill is lacking from our genetic toolkit — a lack that is skillfully exploited by those for whom power is not everything, it’s the only thing. If we allow the world to descend into yet another mass extinction, it will be our uncritical acceptance of digital communications that will create its death warrant.