Two years ago this week, I was invited to a lavish estate in the upscale Nashville suburb of Belle Meade and given the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview of Al Gore about his about-to-be-published book, The Tipper Point: How a Little Change Can Make a Big Difference. Today, for your reading pleasure on the eve of Earth Day 2009, I dust off highlights from that interview of the former vice president-turned author, movie star and global warming activist:
Bob McCarty Writes: What is The Tipper Point about?
Al Gore: It’s a book about climate change. In particular, it’s a book that presents a new way of understanding why climate change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does.
For example, why do temperatures drop so dramatically in Colorado in January? How does a novel about a highly complex scientific topic written by a man with no science background end up as national bestseller? Why do factories belch out smoke in greater and greater quantities, when every single person in the country knows that smoking kills? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes DVD movies so good at indoctrinating people – especially kids — into believing global warming is caused by humans?
I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It’s that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipper Point is an examination of the epidemic called climate change that surrounds us.
Bob McCarty Writes: What does it mean to think about climate change as a problem? Why does thinking in terms of climate change affect the way we view the world?
Al Gore: Climate change thinking is the result of very unusual and counterintuitive thinking. Think, for a moment, about my circumstances. At my home in Tennessee, our utility bills are 20 times higher than the typical American family. But, because we don’t want to change our lifestyle and level of creature comforts, we simply buy carbon credits to offset our excess. Sure, we caught some flak about it from the rightwing media, but, thanks to our liberal friends in the media, the whole issue died out really quickly – just went away!
As human beings, we always expect everyday change to happen slowly and steadily, and for there to be some relationship between cause and effect. And when there isn’t – such as when record snowfalls blanket the country in February, or when a slipshod documentary like an inconvenient truth ends up making hundreds of millions of dollars and wins an Academy Award – we need not be surprised. I’m saying, don’t be surprised. This is the way climate change works.
Bob McCarty Writes: Where did you get the idea for the book?
Al Gore: Years before I went to work in the House, the Senate and, eventually, The White House, I was a reporter for The Tennessean newspaper, and I had to drive myself to work in a car with an internal combustion engine. And one of the things that struck me as I learned more and more about automobiles was how quickly the demeanor of a person behind the wheel of an automobile could change when impacted by outside forces…like my front left side of my car. A cardiologist – that’s a person who reconstructs automobile accidents – once told me that a single driver like me could cause a sudden and unexpected climate change at, for instance, an the intersection where I wasn’t paying attention, didn’t see the stop sign and, of course, didn’t stop.
Bob McCarty Writes: Where did you get the name for the book, The Tipper Point?
Al Gore: A lot of people, including some publishing house’s attorneys, think I borrowed it from Malcolm Gladwell. In reality, honestly, it’s the name given to that moment in time when my wife, Tipper, grew tired of me hanging around the house after we won, then lost, the 2000 election.
Every day for months, I would sit on the front porch, sipping on sweet tea for hours at a time, waiting for the letter carrier to deliver my government retirement check. After it came each day, I would help Tipper with household chores. One day, Tipper’s patience with me ran out. That was my “Tipper Point”. It prompted me to think, “Gosh! What if everything has a Tipper Point? Wouldn’t it be cool to try and look for Tipper Points everywhere and try to inject my beliefs about climate change into every aspect of people’s lives?”
Bob McCarty Writes: How would you classify The Tipper Point? Is it a science book?
Al Gore: I like to think of it as an action-adventure story. It draws from fantasy and science fiction, and uses examples of how climate change is caused by “actions” in the worlds of business and education and fashion and media. The”adventure” part comes in traveling the world and showing my DVD before large audiences of like-minded people.
If I had to draw an analogy to another book, I’d say it was like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, in the sense that it takes a lot of mystical concepts and tales from the worlds of fantasy and witchcraft – which is growing in popularity now – and adapts them into “literary sound bytes” that really catch a reader’s attention in unexpected ways.
Bob McCarty Writes: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Al Gore: One of the things I’d like to do is to show people how to create positive climate change where they live and work. The virtue of climate change, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and, with the help of my friends in the media, it can spread very, very quickly, regardless of whether everything it contains is proven true or not.
That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to indoctrinate students, to businesses trying to comply with more-stringent environmental regulations, and, for that matter, to anyone who’s trying to create climate change with limited resources.
Beyond that, I think The Tipper Point is a way of making sense of the world, because I’m not sure that the world always makes as much sense to us as we would hope. Climate change that happens really suddenly, on the strength of the most minor of input, can be deeply confusing. People who understand The Tipper Point, I think, have a way of decoding the world around them.
[Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, The Tipper Point: How a Little Change Can Make a Big Difference never made it to bookstore shelves as a result of Gore losing a hotly-contested, little-publicized plagiarism suit filed by the publisher of the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.]