Gore is the most polarizing figure in climate politics—disputed on the left, and widely loathed on the right. According to research by environmental scholar Andrew Hoffman published in 2011, nearly 40 percent of all articles casting doubt on climate change mentioned Gore. “He had become extremely provocative for many people, and that limited his voice,” Hoffman told me. “Now that he’s stepping back into it, we’ll see what happens.”
Gore’s return has provoked a predictable reaction from the right. Senator Jim Inhofe mocking him on the Senate floor. The Daily Caller dubbed the new film “climate narcissism.” This reception from conservatives corners raises red flags for inclusionists. “I think reaching new audiences is key,” said Holthaus. By “new audiences,” he means people who aren’t already alarmed about climate change—which is the majority of Americans, according to research from the Yale Climate Communications Project.
Hoffman and Holthaus agree that it’s useless to try to convince firm climate deniers to change their minds. But for the “undecided middle,” they believe the messenger can be more important than the message. “When Al Gore or the Environmental Defense Fund or the EPA say climate change is going to effect our lives, people might tune out,” Hoffman said. “When the CEO of Carlson is saying it, though, that has tremendous impact.” Make no mistake: Gore is great at motivating people who are already worried about climate change. But when it comes to winning over others, he may be doing more harm than good. “He will appeal to those who already believe climate change is real,” Hoffman said. “He will become a lightning rod for those who don’t.”
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