Climate Communication: Cut through Confusion with Appeals to Protection and Responsibility

Climate science denial is actually pretty rare, so why do we keep talking about it? asks Leo Barasi, author of the new book, The Climate Majority. Instead, he argues, let’s focus on a much more widespread problem: climate apathy.

We should stop talking so much about climate denial. That might seem a surprising message from the author of a book on public opinion about climate change, but I’m convinced it’s the right answer for those of us who want more action to cut emissions.

Look at the news and climate denial seems to be everywhere. It’s common in the media, as Newsweek readers and UK radio listeners have recently been reminded, while its grip on the White House seems stronger than ever.

But among the public, denial is quite rare. As I show in my book, The Climate Majority, in comparison with the proportion that think climate change won’t be a threat, Americans are more likely to think 9/11 was a US government plot, more Brits think Princess Diana was assassinated, not killed accidentally, and Canadians are more likely to say Bigfoot is real. Those are fringe conspiracy theories, and it’s right they’re treated as such.

Climate Apathy

And yet we still get distracted by climate denial, when our real target should be climate apathy. Many people, perhaps half the population, understand that climate change is real and a threat but just don’t think about it very much and don’t understand why they would need to change their lives to deal with it. If that apathy isn’t tackled, the world will face dangerous warming.

As the world looks at the emissions it needs to cut, some parts of the job are easier than others. Most progress so far has come from closing and cancelling coal power plants. Doing that hasn’t really had to draw on public support. It’s distant from most people’s lives and is the kind of thing that governments – or markets – can do without paying all that much attention to what the public think.

Explaining Apathy

Human psychology is part of the explanation. Several factors make climate change poorly suited to capturing most people’s attention – like the physical distance and time lag between activity, emissions and effect, and the slowness and complexity of the process.

That might make climate apathy seem inevitable, but I don’t believe it is. The ways that climate change is often talked about reinforce apathy, ignoring the lessons from studies of psychology and political campaigning. This includes the failure to show most people – particularly those in rich and high-emitting countries – what extreme climate change would mean for their own lives, and the reliance on abstract small numbers that are not well understood (for example, on average, the UK public think the threshold for dangerous warming is 8°C/14°F rather than 1.5°C-2°C).

On top of this there’s the political polarisation of climate change. It’s widely seen as an issue that concerns liberals more than moderates and conservatives, particularly in the US. This puts off those who don’t identify with the left and so they don’t see climate change as something that people like themselves are interested in.

There are no magic words that will make everyone care about climate change but, as I outline in the book, there are ways of dealing with these causes of apathy. We can get much better at showing how the consequences of extreme warming would affect the people we’re talking to, and we can address the perception that it’s solely an issue of the left. 

Bring on the Controversies

But what of the deniers? While they’re not the focus of the book we can’t just ignore them, nor should we deny the success they’ve had in delaying action. Their goal is to cast doubt on the reality of climate change to slow action and, while they’re now losing, they haven’t given up.

Part of the answer is to keep pulling off the veil to show what’s really going on – exposing the money trails, hypocrisy and vested interests, so fossil fuel-funded lobbyists can’t keep influencing decisions from the shadows. 

But another part of the answer is to show that the climate deniers are far less interesting than they seem. They get media coverage because they provide controversy for stories about climate change, but they’ve only got one argument to make. There are many other interesting and contentious issues about how we deal with climate change, about which the deniers have nothing to say – for example, on questions about how the burden of cutting emissions should be shared.

If we want to win over the apathetic, we should bring on these controversies, not shy away from them. Resolving the emission-cutting challenges to come can only be done in plain sight – it’s time we started embracing that.

The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism by Leo Barasi is published by New Internationalist on 21 September 2017.

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This report outlines a number of traps communicators should avoid and makes recommendations about what they should do instead to cue more productive thinking.

FrameWorks finds, for example, that experts and advocates should avoid “crisis” framing—talking about environmental problems in catastrophic terms. This frame, to be sure, does attract attention. But not all attention is good attention. Research shows that this frame causes people to conclude that environmental problems are too dire to do anything about, which makes them less likely to support programs and policies designed to address climate and ocean change and other environmental problems. Instead, advocates should use reasonable, explanatory tones and emphasize people’s ability to solve difficult problems with innovation and ingenuity.

Another common trap is what FrameWorks calls “Incidents and Accidents.” In this practice, advocates seize on natural or environmental disasters (like Hurricane Sandy) to communicate about climate change or other problems. These “episodic” events may generate headlines, but they quickly become “yesterday’s news” and reinforce “little-picture” thinking about the environment. Advocates shouldn’t ignore these events, but they should use them to talk about the broad, fundamental principles of climate and ocean change rather than their temporary effects.

Advocates should also watch out for the “Do One Thing” Trap. In this common practice, communicators highlight environmentally friendly changes people can make in their daily lives. But this practice—while seemingly productive—actually takes attention away from the community and regional strategies that experts say are needed to address the root causes of climate change. Instead of talking about recycling materials, driving less, and turning out the lights, advocates should talk about how a bike-sharing program is reducing carbon dioxide emissions, for example, and show how the community came together to enact the program.

Learn more about these and other common communications traps in How to Talk about Climate Change and the Ocean, a MessageMemo produced by the FrameWorks Institute. And click here for more resources about effective environmental communications frames.

http://climateinterpreter.org/features/cut-through-confusion-appeals-protection-and-responsibility

This is the third in a series about framing ocean and climate change.

Advocates and experts are familiar with common—but often untrue—tropes about our environment. How can we cut through them and communicate in a way that deepens understanding about the complex science behind environmental change and builds support for the kind of systemic changes that are needed to protect our planet from further damage?

How can we communicate that the state of our climate and oceans affects all of us? That rising carbon dioxide levels in our air and water are the greatest threat to the environment, and that the solutions we need to protect our planet and ourselves must go beyond individual actions and take place at the societal level? And also that the effects of climate change go far beyond ice melt and sea rise and affect systems related to agriculture, disease, and more?

The FrameWorks Institute, a communications think tank in Washington, D.C., has conducted extensive research into these and other questions. It found that we can make a stronger case about ocean and climate change by appealing to a set of key values—ideals that are deeply held and widely shared in American culture.

Values are effective ways to open communications about complex issues because they prime readers and viewers to think about problems and solutions in productive ways. As such, FrameWorks advises nonprofit communicators to “lead with a value”—or, in other words, to open their communications materials or start conversations or speeches with values messages.

FrameWorks makes the same recommendation to those who communicate about climate and ocean change. In research conducted in partnership with the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) and with support from the National Science Foundation, FrameWorks found that two values—Protection and Responsible Management—were especially effective in priming productive thinking about climate and ocean change. FrameWorks advises advocates to appeal to these values in their communications materials and to focus exclusively on them in short messages.

Of the two, the value of Protection (the idea that we must protect people and places from environmental harm) performed the best, especially when followed by an explanation about how climate change undermines human health. This combination of frame elements boosted support for measures to reduce carbon dioxide more than any other combination and also performed well on support for policies relating to marine protection.

The value of Responsible Management (the idea that we should take a practical, step-by-step approach to take care of our surroundings) also performed well. Moreover, it is a useful tool to counter messages that deny the reality of climate change. When articulating this value, FrameWorks cautions against rebutting these claims directly; research shows that doing so only reinforces them. Instead, use the value to make a more productive, affirmative case about our collective duty to care for our environment. In addition to countering climate denial frames, this value also suppresses the notion that concern for the environment is a radical or fringe position.

These aren’t the only effective values to use when communicating about the environment. Earlier research found that the values of Interconnection (the idea that ocean, land, and human activity affect and can harm one another) and Innovation (the idea that we have the ability to solve difficult problems with innovation and ingenuity) are also productive.

FrameWorks advises communicators to use these values in longer pieces and with other frame elements. The idea behind Interconnection (that the fate of the planet and of ourselves is interconnected) is “felt deeply but understood shallowly,” according to FrameWorks. In other words, people agree with this assertion but can’t support it with examples.

Pairing it with a detailed explanation about how climate change is disrupting nature’s “delicate balance” helps people understand this value more deeply. As Julie Sweetland, FrameWorks’ vice president for strategy and innovation, notes, this value can be used to communicate “the connection between human practices and their impacts on marine life and habitats” and to call on people to do “a better job of leaving the oceans in good shape for the next generation.”

Research also shows that appealing to Innovation, meanwhile, can overcome fatalistic attitudes about challenging problems because it triggers a sense of hope and faith in collective action. It also taps into cherished beliefs about Americans as problem solvers. This value is most effective when followed by a discussion of solutions that can work to mitigate environmental problems, FrameWorks found. One note of caution, though: Don’t suggest that “science will save us” when using this value because it might cause “ordinary” people to disengage. Also, highlight innovative approaches that align with the systemic solutions that are needed to mitigate climate change.

As Dr. Sweetland notes in her article, appealing to Innovation can communicate our “history of being resourceful, clever, and thoughtful to solve problems and generate new ideas.” Use it to urge the audience to “phase out old technologies and practices that contribute to climate change and start supporting energy innovations that benefit both our ecosystems and our economy.”

For more information about how and why these values advance and enhance environmental communications, read How to Talk about Climate Change and the Ocean, a MessageMemo produced by the FrameWorks Institute. Click here for more resources about effective environmental communications frames. And read the first and second posts in this series.

Our ability to communicate the science of climate change to the public is as important as ever. The outcome of the recent presidential and congressional elections and the state of public discourse around the environment reflect and reinforce misunderstanding and skepticism of climate change. Polls show that Americans are unsure of its causes and consequences, and many don’t trust scientific information about it. Our work, in short, is cut out for us.

The good news: Research shows that “explanatory metaphors”—linguistic devices that simplify complex concepts and facilitate understanding of social issues—can help.

The FrameWorks Institute, a communications think tank in Washington, DC, teamed up with the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) to develop an evidence-based strategy to communicate—or frame—climate and ocean change. This meta-narrative has the power to help the public understand climate change, correct misinformation about it, and boost support for the systemic solutions needed to address it.

To conduct the research, FrameWorks interviewed experts and members of the public about climate and ocean change and compared the differences in understanding between them. The findings—and their implications for advocates and experts—were summarized in the first and second posts in this series. FrameWorks also designed and tested frames and frame elements that enhance public understanding and motivate people to take action to support systemic solutions. These findings were summarized in the third and fourth posts in this series.

This post explores findings related to a set of explanatory metaphors—Heat-Trapping Blanket and Regular & Rampant Carbon Dioxide—that FrameWorks developed to explain the causes of climate change and to guide thinking to support for the systemic changes needed to address it. Advocates and experts can use these metaphors to navigate a number of cultural models—widely shared beliefs and understandings about how things work—that are at odds with the science of climate change.

Americans, for example:

·         Are unlikely to name fossil fuel use as the underlying cause of climate change;

·         Confuse the cause of climate change with “the hole in the ozone layer” and confuse carbon dioxide with carbon monoxide; and

·         Assume that because carbon dioxide is “natural,” it can’t be harmful to the environment.

These models have significant implications for those advocating for solutions to climate change.  For example, people haven’t heard of ocean acidification, but once they do, they assume it is caused by “unnatural pollutants” rather than rising levels of carbon dioxide, the main cause of the problem. This undermines support for solutions that have the potential to make real and lasting change. As another example, people tend to lump climate change with other environmental challenges, and therefore support solutions like recycling and turning out the lights but not necessarily the systematic or policy solutions that “match” the size, scale, and scope of the problem. These models also contribute to fatalistic attitudes about climate change—that the problem is too big to fix.

FrameWorks has found that Heat-Trapping Blanket and Regular & Rampant CO2can overcome these models. They engage the public and encourage productive thinking about how climate change works and the large-scale solutions needed to address it.

Comparing global warming to a blanket focuses people’s attention on the underlying causes and mechanisms of climate change. It is also “stickier”—or more memorable—than comparing it to a “greenhouse” gas, the dominant metaphor in the field. FrameWorks found that people were more likely to repeat and reason about climate change using language from the blanket domain than with language related to greenhouses. An example of the metaphor follows:

When we burn fossil fuels for energy, such as coal, oil, or natural gas, we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a gas that traps heat. As CO2 builds up, it acts like a blanket, trapping in heat that would otherwise escape. This “blanket effect” is warming the planet’s atmosphere, disrupting the balance that keeps the climate stable. 

Despite the metaphor’s strong frame effects, subsequent research showed that advocates needed an additional tool to reframe public understanding of carbon dioxide. People were having difficulty reconciling its essential role in human, plant, and animal life with its disruptive role in the climate. Moreover, the blanket metaphor did not help people understand the problem of ocean acidification. To address these problems, FrameWorks developed a taxonomy that compares normal levels of carbon dioxide with anthropogenic carbon dioxide:

Some carbon dioxide, or CO2, is needed for life processes. We can call this “regular CO2.” But CO2 is not just something that we breathe out and plants take in. It’s also something that gets put into the air when we use any kind of fossil fuel—when we burn coal to create electricity, or use oil to fuel transportation or manufacturing. These things are putting a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere and oceans. We can call this Rampant CObecause there’s too much of it and it’s getting out of control. Rampant CO2 accumulates in places like the ocean, and causes a number of problems in the climate and ecosystems. There will always be regular levels of carbon dioxide, but we need to start reducing rampant levels of carbon dioxide. 

This comparison helped people understand the difference between normal and harmful levels of carbon dioxide. People were able to grasp an important nuance between the role of CO2 in respiration and photosynthesis and its role in trapping heat in the planet’s atmosphere. The metaphor also improved understanding and attitudes related to the climate system and ocean acidification. One important note: FrameWorks advises communicators to fully explain the taxonomy of carbon dioxide rather than to simply use the word rampant as an adjective.

This pair of tools offers communicators thoroughly tested ways to establish a sound causal understanding and head off dominant misconceptions about climate change. The sixth and final post in this series will address a last frame element: solutions-oriented discussions.

For more information about how and why these metaphors advance and enhance environmental communications, read How to Talk about Climate Change and the Ocean; download these “reframe cards” for a summary of tested frame elements; and watch a short video of reframes in action. Click here for more resources about effective environmental communications frames.

By John Gibbons in The Guardian 22 Sept 2017: Climate deniers want to protect the status quo that made them rich

Sceptics prefer to reject regulations to combat global warming and remain indifferent to the havoc it will wreak on future generations

Sceptics prefer to reject regulations to combat global warming and remain indifferent to the havoc it will wreak on future generations

From my vantage point outside the glass doors, the sea of grey hair and balding pates had the appearance of a golf society event or an active retirement group. Instead, it was the inaugural meeting of Ireland’s first climate denial group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF) in Dublin in May. All media were barred from attending.

Its guest speaker was the retired physicist and noted US climate contrarian, Richard Lindzen. His jeremiad against the “narrative of hysteria” on climate change was lapped up by an audience largely composed of male engineers and meteorologists – mostly retired. This demographic profile of attendees at climate denier meetings has been replicated in London, Washington and elsewhere.

How many people in the room had children or indeed grandchildren, I wondered. Could an audience of experienced, intelligent people really be this blithely indifferent to the devastating impacts that unmitigated climate change will wreak on the world their progeny must inhabit? These same ageing contrarians doubtless insure their homes, put on their seatbelts, check smoke alarms and fret about cholesterol levels.

Why then, when it comes to assessing the greatest threat the world has ever faced and when presented with the most overwhelming scientific consensus on any issue in the modern era, does this caution desert them? Are they prepared quite literally to bet their children’s lives on the faux optimism being peddled by contrarians?

“We have been repeatedly asked: ‘Don’t you want to leave a better Earth for your grandchildren,’” quipped the comedian and talk show host John Oliver. “And we’ve all collectively responded: ‘Ah, fuck ’em!’” This would be a lot funnier were it not so close to the bone.

Short-termism and self-interest is part of the answer. A 2012 study in Nature Climate Change presented evidence of “how remarkably well-equipped ordinary individuals are to discern which stances towards scientific information secure their personal interests”.

This is surely only half the explanation. A 2007 study by Kahan et al on risk perception identified “atypically high levels of technological and environmental risk acceptance among white males”. An earlier paper teased out a similar point: “Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control and benefit from so much of it.” Others, who have not enjoyed such an armchair ride in life, report far higher levels of risk aversion.

paper earlier this year from Vanderbilt University pinpointed what motivates many who choose to reject climate change: not science denial, but “regulation phobia”. Most deniers accept science in general, and even pride themselves on their science literacy, however, combatting climate change means more regulations and, the paper says, “demands a transformation of internalised attitudes”. This, the authors conclude, “has produced what can fairly be described as a phobic reaction among many people”.

Facing up to climate change also means confronting the uncomfortable reality that the growth-based economic and political models on which we depend may be built on sand. In some, especially the “winners” in the current economic system, this realisation can trigger an angry backlash.

This at last began to make sense of these elderly engineers crowding into hotel rooms to engage in the pleasant and no doubt emotionally rewarding group delusion of imagining climate change to be some vast liberal hoax.

In truth, the arguments hawked around by elderly white male climate deniers like Fred Singer, William Happer and Nigel Lawson among others are intellectually threadbare, pockmarked with contradictions and offer little more than a cherry-picked parody of how science actually operates. Yet this is catnip for those who choose to be deceived.

It is, however, deeply unfair to tar all elderly white men as reckless and egotistical; notable exceptions include the celebrated naturalist David Attenborough and the former NASA chief Jim Hansen. But their voices are often lost in the fog of denial.

A century after elderly military leaders cheerfully sent millions of young men from the trenches to their slaughter in the first world war, the defiant mood of today’s climate deniers is best captured by the stirring words of Blackadder’s General Melchett: “If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through!”

Excerpt from The Guardian: The Rich Have Subverted All Reason

“In order to fix the climate crisis, we need to first fix the government crisis,” Al Gore is saying. “Big money has so much influence now.” And he says a phrase that is as dramatic as it is multilayered: “Our democracy has been hacked.” It’s something I hear him repeat – to the audience in the ballroom, in a room backstage, a few weeks later in London, and finally on the phone earlier this month.

Popular backlash: protesters demonstrate against the Koch brothers, funders of climate change denial.

Popular backlash: protesters demonstrate against the Koch brothers, funders of climate change denial. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images 

What do you mean by it exactly? “I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power,” says Gore, “have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective decision making. 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.”

One of Trump’s first acts after his inauguration was to remove all mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is that one of Theresa May’s first actions on becoming prime minister – within 24 hours of taking office – was to close the Department for Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it’s this network of power that Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.

“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.”

End of the road: the Gave de Pau river overflows after unseasonal storms in France.
End of the road: the Gave de Pau river overflows after unseasonal storms in France. Photograph: Laurent Dard/AFP/Getty Images

The big change between our first conversation in Denver and our last, on the phone this month, is the news that Gore had been desperately hoping wouldn’t happen: Trump’s announcement on 1 June that he was pulling America out of the Paris Agreement. The negotiations in Paris are right at the heart of the new film, its emotional centre, and when I watch it in March, the ending still sees Gore expressing guarded optimism.

So, what happened? “I was wrong,” he says on the phone from Australia, where he’s been promoting the film. “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.”

The film had to be recut, the ending changed, the gloves are now off. What changed Trump’s mind? “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.” It’s instructive because Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, is also the ideologue behind Trump’s assault on the media. And Bannon’s understanding of the news and information space, and efforts to manipulate it via Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, both funded by another key climate change denier, Robert Mercer, are at the heart of the Trump agenda.

And what becomes clear if you Google “climate change” is how effective the right has been in owning the subject. YouTube’s results are dominated by nothing but climate change denial videos. This isn’t news for Gore. He has multiple high-level links to Silicon Valley. He’s on the board of Apple and used to be an adviser for Google. “We are fully aware of the problem,” he says with what sounds like resigned understatement. Gore has had more than a decade fighting climate change denial, and in some respects, the problem has simply worsened and deepened.

“On the other hand, two-thirds of the American people are convinced that it’s an extremely serious crisis and we have to take it on,” he says. “And 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.”

Man on a mission: Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth.
Man on a mission: Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth. Photograph: Paramount Pictures

And it’s in this, his belief in social progress against all odds, that he takes his lead from the civil rights movement. The cut of the film I see compares the climate change movement to the other great social movements that eventually won out: the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights. Something profound and disturbing is happening right now, though, he admits. “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.”

Is it, as some people describe, an information war? “Absolutely,” he says. “There’s no question about it.”

What there isn’t much of, in the film, is Al Gore, the man. In 2010, he split from Tipper, his wife of 40 years and the mother of his two grown-up daughters, and what becomes clear is just how much of his life the fight takes up. When I catch up with him next, he’s in London for a board meeting of his green-focused investment firm, Generation Investment Management, and I ask him to tell me about his recent travels.

“Two weeks ago, I had three red-eyes in five days. I’ve been in Sweden, the Netherlands, Sharjah, then let’s see, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles. Where else?” he asks his assistant.

“Vegas,” she says. “We did CinemaCon.”

“Vegas, we did that. And then, let’s see, Nashville, on my farm.”

Focus on facts: Al Gore in An Inconvenient Sequel.
Focus on facts: Al Gore in An Inconvenient Sequel. Photograph: Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

I assume this amount of travel is connected to the release of the film, but no. “I’ve been at this level for the past 10 years and longer.” He hesitates to use the word “mission”, he says, and then uses it. “When you feel a sense of purpose that seems to justify pouring everything you can into it, it makes it easier to get up in the morning.”

He does tell me a bit about his parents though. He describes his father, Al Gore Sr, who grew up poor then became a lawyer and a politician, as “a hero to me”. And it was at the family farm in Carthage, Tennessee, that he held the first Climate Reality training, an informal get-together of 50 people that has morphed into the event I witnessed in Denver. There’s no “type” or demographic, I shared a table with a disparate group – including a consultant for the aerospace industry, a French lawyer and an American chef. And they seemed to have almost nothing in common aside from their passion to do something about climate change. “I’m a gardener so I’m seeing what’s happening with my own eyes,” the chef, Susan Kutner, told me. “You can’t ignore it.”

In light of Trump’s fixation with fake news, it’s fascinating to see. Gore has been fighting disinformation for more than a decade. And, he’s developed his training programme counter to the prevailing ideology. The answer is not online. Social media will not save us. We will not click climate change away. The answer he’s come up with is low-tech, old-fashioned, human. He takes the time to talk to people directly, one to one, in the hope they will speak to other people – who will speak to other people.

The course is run by Gore. He is on stage almost the entire time over three intensive days. And the heart of it is still the slideshow. One of his aides tells me how he was up until 2am the night before. “He’s obsessed with his slides, he has 30,000 of them and he switches them around all the time.”

Tinder dry: changing climate has seen an upturn in forest fires around the world.
Tinder dry: changing climate has seen an upturn in forest fires around the world. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

In the film, you see him perpetually hustling, calling world leaders, rounding up solar energy entrepreneurs, training activists. Hearing information from “people you know” is at the heart of his strategy. “You need people who will look you in the eye and say: ‘Look, this is what I’ve learned, this is what you need to know.’ It works. I’ve seen it work. It is working. And it’s just getting started. We’ve got 12,000 trained leaders now.”

How many people do you think it’s impacted?

“Millions. Honestly, millions. And a non- trivial percentage of them have gone on to become ministers in their countries’ governments or take leadership roles in international organisations. They’ve had an outsized impact. Christiana Figueres[the UN climate chief], who ran the Paris meeting, she was in the second training session I did in Tennessee. And, right now, people are getting really fired up.”

Al Gore shared the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his efforts in combating climate change, but in some ways it feels like he’s just getting started. The rest of the world is only now cottoning on to the enlightenment struggle that’s at the heart of it – a battle royal to defend facts and reason against people and forces for whom it’s a truth too inconvenient to allow. For Gore, the US oil companies are the ultimate culprits, but it’s only just becoming apparent that Russia has also played a role, amplifying messages around climate change as it did around the other issues at the heart of Trump’s agenda, and we segue into his visits to Russia in the early 90s, during one of which he met Putin for the first time.

What did you make of him? “I would not have thought of him as the future president of Russia. I once did a televised town hall event to the whole of Russia and Putin was the one who was in charge of making sure all the cables were connected and whatnot.”

What does he make of the investigations into Russian interference? “I think the investigation of the Trump campaign’s collusions with the Russians and the existence of financial levers of Putin over Trump is proceeding with its own rhythm beneath the news cycle, and may well strike pay dirt.” It’s also worth pointing out that when someone passed his campaign stolen information about George W Bush’s debate research, he handed it to the FBI.

And then he amazes me by pulling out a reference to an interview I conducted with Arron Banks, the Bristol businessman who funded Nigel Farage’s Leave campaign. He’s been reading up about the links between Brexit and Trump, and Banks’s and Farage’s support of Putin and Russia. “He told you: ‘Russia needs a strong man,’ didn’t he? And you hear that in the US, and I don’t think it’s fair to the Russians. I am a true believer in the superiority of representative democracy where there is a healthy ecosystem characterised by free speech and an informed citizenry. I really resist the slur against any nation that they’re incapable of governing themselves.”

Brexit, Trump, climate change, oil producers, dark money, Russian influence, a full- frontal assault on facts, evidence, journalism, science, it’s all connected. Ask Al Gore. You may want to watch Wonder Woman this summer, but to understand the new reality we’re living in, you really should watch An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. Because, terrifying as they are, in some ways the typhoons and exploding glaciers are just the start of it.