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Former Vice President Al Gore has spent a quarter-century grappling with the environmental and political issues surrounding global warming. This summer, filmgoers will have a chance to share in much of the knowledge — and the sense of urgency — that Gore has acquired over the years, as the film "An Inconvenient Truth" rolls out across the country. We recently spoke with the 2000 presidential candidate about what scares him most about global warming, the dangers of denial and the vital role that young people can play in turning around decades of environmental destruction.

MTV: What is global warming?

Al Gore: Global warming is the steady buildup of heat from the sun in the Earth's atmosphere. It happens because the energy of the sun comes in and is trapped. It's a good thing [and] it happens naturally, but when we burn coal, oil and other [fuels that emit] carbon dioxide, it thickens the blanket of atmosphere and it traps more heat inside.

MTV: What would you consider to be that scariest consequence of global warming?

Gore: In a warmer world [the established wind and water patterns that redistribute energy around the planet will get] scrambled up and they will break out of [their normal routes and cause] new [airborne] diseases and tropical threats in areas that they had never known before.

MTV: What do you hope "An Inconvenient Truth" will accomplish?

Gore: I've been trying for a long time to tell a story about global warming and how serious it is. It's real and we're causing it. I hope that this movie is going to make that message and those facts a lot easier for people to gain access to.

I've been going around for 25 years talking to people in small groups and showing a slide show to a few hundred people at a time, but a movie can reach many more people.

The good news is that we can solve [the problem] and I hope to get that message out there too. This movie will tell you everything that you've ever wondered about [global warming] and tell you how you can help solve the crisis.

Hollywood's Been Armageddon It Wrong For Years
Past eco disaster movies, from 'Waterworld' to 'The Day After Tomorrow,' have been heavy on fiction, light on fact. But the new documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" uses facts and science to explain the dangers of global warming.

MTV: In your film you talk about going from denial to despair. What does that mean?

Gore: Even if a problem is huge and ongoing, some people, all of us I guess, have a tendency to block it out.

[When people do face up to hard problems, they tend to] go straight from denial to "We can't do anything about it." That's the worst mistake of all because we can choose our own future, especially when all of the solutions are readily available. With global warming, we just need to make up our minds to do the right thing.

MTV: How does addiction to everyday things play a role in global warming?

Gore: The activities that cause a lot of the problems are ones that most people [do in everyday life] without really thinking much about them. For example, we take 3,000 pounds of metal with us everywhere we go. Years from now I'm sure a lot of us will look back on that and say, "Whoa, that was kind of a crazy deal. We're sitting in traffic jams for two hours per day, missing time with friends and family, burning oil from the Middle East, paying so much money for it and [all the while] polluting the atmosphere and creating global warming." That's a destructive pattern that has become, in a very real sense, addictive.

You've heard some of our political leaders say we're addicted to foreign oil, and that's right, but to break the addiction we need to look very clearly at all aspects of [the addiction].

MTV: Do you think this generation is capable of reversing global warming?

Gore: Your generation is definitely going to be the one that solves the global-warming climate crisis. I already see it happening. A lot of the older ways of doing things — like the way our whole society feels like it's natural to take these big ol' metal vehicles with us everywhere that we go — [are being questioned].

Your generation is questioning a lot of those patterns first because they are environmentally harmful but also because they are a part of some old practices that aren't good for other reasons anyway. Why do we put up with all these traffic jams that drive a lot of people crazy?

And if you're conscious of the products that you buy and the services you buy and the choices you make in you life, what emerges [as a byproduct] is a shared common purpose to sharply reduce global warming. In the process you come up with better ways of doing a lot of things that were not really healthy patterns to begin with.

This challenge can lift the whole generation and allow you to have a shared common purpose in the same way that some earlier generations in history had been called upon to step up on a big challenge.

Look at the generation that won World War II. After they successfully met the [challenge of the war,] they saw the need for the Marshall Plan. They helped unify Europe and laid the foundation for the United Nations and all the steps that were taken that made for 50 years of real progress with peace.

Meeting the challenge of global warming is the destiny of your generation. And as you rise to meet that challenge, you are going to find a clear vision and a shared common moral purpose that's rare in history and that makes it possible to do things together that other generations don't have the opportunity to even dream of.

I think that rising to meet the challenge of global warming is likely to give your generation the ability to see HIV/ AIDS, famine in Africa and grinding poverty in the Third World as not just political challenges but moral issues that can be solved.

— Owen Leimbach, with reporting by Brett Levner

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Watch Al Gore's call to action at the 2006 VMAs
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