Al Gore to Fossil Fuel Industry: ‘Get Out of the Way’

At an event coinciding with the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Gore said he used to believe the sector sincerely wanted to be part of the solution to the climate crisis, but now he thinks it's clear they are not.

By Olivia Rosane | 22 September 2023
Common Dreams

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. (Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a long-time climate activist, had harsh words for the fossil fuel industry on Thursday.

“Many of the largest companies have engaged in massive fraud,” he said at The New York Times’ Climate Forward event, as the Independent reported. “For some decades now, they’ve followed the playbook of the tobacco industry, using these very sophisticated, lavishly financed strategies for deceiving people.”

Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, criticized the industry for using their influence to lobby against effective climate action.

“The fossil fuel companies, given their record today, are far more effective at capturing politicians than they are at capturing emissions,” he said.

Now, he warned, the sector had set its sights on the United Nations COP28 climate change conference in the United Arab Emirates with the appointment of the UAE’s state oil company CEO Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber to lead the talks.

“That’s just, like, taking the disguise off,” Gore said, as The New York Times reported. “They’ve been trying to capture this process for a long time.”

Gore’s remarks reflect a recent shift in the tone of his climate advocacy. In a TED Talk filmed in July and released in August, Gore made many of the same arguments about fossil fuel lobbying and Al Jaber’s appointment.

“The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis,” he said. “The solutions are going to come from a discussion and collaboration about phasing out fossil fuels.”

After listening to the talk, journalist Emily Atkin wrote in her newsletter Heated:

With this new talk, it’s become clear that the man who made An Inconvenient Truth famous is no longer primarily focused on convincing people that the climate crisis is real or dangerous. He’s turned a corner, and is now focused on convincing people that if they truly care about solving the climate crisis, they must turn their ire toward the fossil fuel industry—and boot them from the negotiating table before it’s too late.

Gore acknowledged the shift in his thinking himself on Thursday.

“I was one of many who felt for a long time that the fossil fuel companies, or at least many of them, were sincere in saying that they wanted to be a meaningful part of bringing solutions to this crisis,” Gore said, as The Independent reported. “But I think that it’s now clear they are not. Fossil fuel industry speaks with forked tongue.”

While he acknowledged that it was not fair to expect the industry to solve a crisis its business model encouraged it to perpetuate, “it’s more than fair to ask them to get out of the way, and stop blocking the efforts of everybody else to solve this crisis,” he said. “I think it’s time to call them out.”

Gore’s remarks came as world leaders and climate activists and experts gathered in New York for the U.N. General Assembly and Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Ambition Summit, held the day before.

He is also not the only prominent mainstream climate voice to have turned on the fossil fuel sector.

Former Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres, who helped negotiate the Paris agreement, said that she did not think the industry should be invited to COP28.

“If they are going to be there only to be obstructors, and only to put spanners into the system, they should not be there,” she said at a conference Thursday organized by Covering Climate Now, as The Guardian reported.

Her remarks echoed an opinion piece she wrote for Al Jazeera in July, in which she said she was wrong to believe that the sector could be part of the solution.

“My patience ran out, and I say this with sadness,” she said Thursday.

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