Al Gore, Cameron Diaz and me

This past week I spent the better part of three days in the company of Al Gore Jr. and his associates as part of The Climate Project, an effort to create a small army of climate change slide-show presenters across North America and beyond. If you've seen Laurie David's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, you've already seen a good portion of the show. But Al wants as many people as possible to see as much of possible of his entire presentation, and after almost 20 years of writing about climate change, I decided to help him do just that. Is this really a good idea?

It's a bit of a risk for someone who still considers himself a journalist rather than an advocate, but I suppose I don't really believe that neutrality on the subject serves much of a purpose. It's also a risky venture for Gore, a man who may yet decide to take another run at the top job in D.C. But it's a really big risk for another guy, and ultimately it was Mike McCracken's decision to work alongside Gore as his primary and highly visible scientific adviser that convinced me this was worth doing.

If McCracken, former head of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, thinks that giving 1,000 dilettantes 400 pretty pictures in the form of a PowerPoint or Keynote file and sending them out across the continent to explain a sometimes nuanced and always controversial scientific issue is a good idea, then who am I to argue? There's also the positive review that the guys at Real Climate give the documentary.

I now have at my fingertips several hundred of what Gore says is an 800-item slide genome. And I am authorized to show them whenever and wherever possible. I've already got a few venues tentatively set up, but I'm going take the next few weeks to practice by inflicting the show on my family and friends, who will soon tire of hearing about ice core data, thermohaline circulation and soil moisture content. But that's what family's for, right?

For those wondering about the kind of people that Gore's people have entrusted with his precious slides (he has given it at least 1,200 times already and there isn't a smoother and more polished slide show in existence when he gives it), I'll tell you this much: it's an awfully eclectic group.

About 200 were at my training session, held at the Nashville Hilton. And no, Gore did not pay for our hotel rooms -- just the food and a night at BB King's club down the street. Among them were genuine climate scientists, studying under the likes of NASA's Jim Hansen, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Ruth Curry (both of whom figure in the slide show), at least one astronomer specializing in the exoplanet search, a dolphin show host, numerous high school teachers, yoga instructors, stay-at-home moms, retired engineers and so on. The common theme was a demonstrated commitment to environmental issues either professionally or as an activist. Long-term experience was valued, but there were also a couple of teenagers, including one 14-year-old from Colorado.

Oh, and Cameron Diaz.

Some of the more climate-science-literate trainees, like myself, probably benefited more from the ancilliary training on how to give a presentation than from listening to Al Gore explain his slides for a day and a half, but it sure was fun watching him digress into Anecdote Land every few minutes. He just loves to tell stories. Plus, the presenter instruction came from one Andy Goodman, formerly a writer for The Nanny, of all things. And let me tell you, if, like PZ, you hate the thought of sitting through scientific PowerPoint presentations, you're not alone. The things some scientists think will engage people's attention are incredible. But there is a good way to assemble a show, and Goodman is THE guy to tell you how to do it.

For others attendees, such as those with theatrical training, it will be interesting to watch them navigate the sometimes tricky scientific details. For example, the historical record of carbon dioxide levels and temperatures sometimes has the CO2 levels following the temperatures, rather than the other way around. Although that can be explained without undermining the argument against fossil-fuel causation, it's not straightforward and gives rise to all sorts of competing speculations. And I already know some presenters are going to omit the deep ocean current slide completely, for fear of tripping over the explanation of the thermohaline pump in the North Atlantic -- at least for the first few shows they give.

I'm going to try to leave in as much as possible, given the time constraints of the particular venues. If anyone has any thoughts on what sort of issues can trip up someone giving such a presentation, I'd love to hear them.

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The environmentalism of some celebrities is rather hypocritical. Isn't it astounding how many rock stars we've heard over the years clamor over environmentalism, while throwing huge concerts that leave the place a hundred times more littered and devastated than when the band arrived?

At least this otherwise asinine ranter gets it right.

Every time she opens her gaping mouth, she spews more self-righteous bullshit all over the place. One of my favorite lines is when she says "it's kind of gotten out of hand how much of a convenience we think we need." Diaz, who makes around $20 million per picture and drives a Lexus, was able to say this with a straight face. What the hell is that supposed to mean, "convenience we think we need"? We don't need it asshole, we want it. I like being able to get hot water, hot food, and hot porn whenever I want. Just as soon as you give up your mansion and live in a shit hut with your multi-millionaire boyfriend, we might give a shit about your criticism of the modern conveniences.


Of course, having a show in which the hosts prattle on and on about conservation and environmental causes, it makes you wonder how they're able to do it without sounding like giant hypocrites as they fly around on helicopters and jets, all while using enough electricity to power a small city. Simply put: they can't, but that doesn't stop them from trying.

The way they try to avoid this nagging ideological contradiction is by stating: "Trippin' has offset all the pollution created from energy use in making the show, to ensure that it would not contribute to global warming." They supposedly do this by buying "clean air credits." Great idea assholes, so instead of owning up to your shitty ideals and not polluting, you pay someone else not to pollute. Maybe we should all try to pay someone off every time we want to do something that might inconvenience us. I was going to go on a diet, but it's too hard, so I'm going to pay someone else to diet for me. I was going to do a show about community service, but doing the actual work was too inconvenient, so I'm going to pay someone to do it for me. Eat shit you elitist morons.

^^ A Maddox classic.

And I agree, it's one of the reasons I cringe whenever I hear about celebrities advocating social movements, even if I agree with them. The stupidity they spew is one of the few things that can give me an internal feeling of guilt by association.

So I suppose Cameron Diaz got selected just because she was Cameron Diaz. I thought this was a "grassroots" effort? A shame too, because others not of celebrity status who got rejected for this program who really walk the walk could have sat in her place.

James Hrynyshyn, congradulations for being chosen to be a presenter! It really must be an honor, and I admire you for it.

Do you know if Gore plans on ever making an online version of the presentation? Like a flash movie or something? That is free and easy for anyone to watch? I can't imagine that that isn't one of his goals.

I congratulate you for going out there James and doing what many people can't do. Get up and talk about it! You are an inspiration just like Al Gore.

Practise your presentation over and over and you'll be fine. The only thing that can stop you is not knowing what your talking about but if you do it over and over you'll get better.

Rock it!

Awesome to hear that people have chosen to talk about Cameron Diaz after all you had to say?

I think that is she can garner attention from the people who obviously dislike her, then imagine what she can do for this global issue for the people who admire her, which seem to be in the millions.

Yes, western culture is HUGE on fame, celebrities and famous icons, so for her to step up to the plate with such a big name and draw cartd and spurt out to thousands of people the effect we hav eon the environment and what we can do will be a positive and reaching. She can reach the hard to reach high school girls and guys and have a positive impact.I think it's awesome that she was there to promote a Great cause.

She is a normal person like everyyone else, it seems that just because you are famous you forget about the little things. So what if she followed her dream and has phat cash. She does and this is what she choses to do with it. Would you give up all you millions and live in a hut! She is doing what she see's best and hopefully she can garner more attention for other celebrities for the cause. They have more impact than scientists with the younger gen Y.