NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - Former Vice President Al Gore said that even though President Donald Trump wants to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. cannot legally pull out until the day after next year's presidential election.
“If there's a new president -- pardon me for a minute,” Gore said to laughs and then loud applause, as he stretched out his arms and looked up. “Now don't you dare interpret that as a partisan gesture. I have freedom of speech and freedom of prayer,” he joked.
Gore's spirited speech Wednesday night kicked off a series of climate presentations that continued around the globe on Thursday. Called “24 Hours of Reality,” it's an endeavor of The Climate Reality Project, founded by Gore to educate the public and inspire action on climate change.
Gore said some of the more than 20,000 climate activists he's trained will present their own takes on climate change as the event continues through Thursday at more than 1,700 locations, as far flung as Antarctica and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
More than 1,000 people gave Gore a standing ovation at the opening presentation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Gore said he tries to avoid partisan politics at his climate presentations. He made a point of praising Vanderbilt's College Republicans for calling on the Republican National Committee to change its stance on climate.
But he said many current U.S. politicians need to be unseated.
“We need to really clean house. Change is not happening fast enough unless we change policy,” he said. Later he added, “To change our policies, we're going to have to change our policy makers.”
Gore took aim at Trump's characterization of the Central American migrants coming to the U.S. Gore called them “climate refugees” and said many are fleeing drought.
“The reason they're leaving is because they're hungry,” Gore said to applause. “They're not rapists and terrorists. They're hungry and they're trying to feed their families.”
He also took a shot at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of giving “the green light to burn down more of the Amazon.”
Gore said the U.S. is suffering from a “democracy crisis” caused by the influence of special interests on politicians.
“They put a coal lobbyist in charge of the EPA, for God's sake. The fact that there is not widespread outrage about that is a symptom of our weakened democracy,” he said.
Gore called climate change “the life and death struggle of people alive today,” comparing it to 9/11, Pearl Harbor and such World War II battles as Dunkirk and Midway. Such an existential crisis demands an “aspirational set of goals,” he said, expressing support for the Democrats' sweeping Green New Deal proposal to combat climate change.
The Green New Deal calls for the virtual elimination of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming by 2030, by shifting U.S. from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“I think it's a very effective and brilliant branding because it conveys the idea that the solutions to the climate crisis have to be on the scale of the New Deal,” he said.
Prior to Gore's presentation, actor and singer Jaden Smith took the stage briefly to talk about the impact that Gore's documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” had on him.
“For me, for my generation, for all the generations that are going to have to go forth, dealing with the climate crisis, I am so glad we have an icon here to look up to,” Smith said.