Al Gore’s “rock star” status is new, but the former vice president has already mastered some aspects of the gig.
Gore arrives at Arizona State University on Monday to give his presentation on climate change to a capacity crowd at Gammage Auditorium. He brings with him buzz from his Academy Award win for “An Inconvenient Truth” and his speculative bid for U.S. president next year, though he’s repeatedly denied that he intends to run.
Tickets for ASU students and employees, sold only in person at the box office, ran out in just seven hours, said James Quinn, premier events coordinator for ASU’s student government. The general public’s share of the tickets was gone in eight minutes.
Some tickets for the slide show initially sold for $5. Today, they cannot be bought for less than $100, and only through online auction houses or scalpers.
The film — a documentary about a slide show — has caused Gore to rocket up pop culture’s hierarchy.
And it has given the campaign against global warming its first public face, a development that provides environmentalists cause for celebration, as well as concern.
“The maybe not-so-good news is that (climate change) has become aligned politically with the Gore camp or the Democrats versus the Republicans,” said Diane Brossart, president of Valley Forward, a local environmental advocacy group.
Gore won’t be joining any classes to chat with students, unlike some high-profile speakers who visit the university.
His contract specifically forbids any interaction with reporters.
“All he’ll do is the events that we have planned for him, which revolve around meeting with major donors who finance the event or the actual presentation itself,” Quinn said.
Those donors are helping to cover Gore’s $100,000 speaking fee.
By not interacting with students, John Briggs, an ASU ecology professor, said the former vice president is missing an opportunity to learn what questions young people have about the climate.
However, Briggs said he’s been thrilled with the impact “An Inconvenient Truth” has had on his students. Briggs — whose research is focused on how climate change is altering the nation’s Great Plains — teaches a general biology class.
“Now, more and more, I’m talking about global warming and students are asking about it,” he said. Even members of Briggs’ family who are typically uninterested in his field have come to him with questions.
“Now, at least it’s a political issue, which I think is a good thing,” Briggs said.
Brossart, however, isn’t so sure.
Valley Forward, an almost 40-year-old organization made up of many Valley governments and businesses, raised a share of the private money to pay Gore. The organization is nonpartisan, but Brossart said she encountered an unusual resistance when it came to Gore.
The private contribution is made in the name of Valley Forward, she said, but it comes from individual members, not from the group’s coffers.
“There were some organizations that didn’t want to participate because of the political implications,” Brossart said. Even with the baggage, Gore’s visit to ASU is important because local awareness of the problem is lacking.
A recent Valley Forward survey found that only 6 percent of Valley residents believe that global warming is a local concern, she said.
T.J. Shope, president of ASU College Republicans, said neither he nor any member of his student group would dispute that Earth’s temperatures are rising. But the issue has become so politicized, with Republicans taking one position and Democrats the other, he said it is impossible to discuss the science behind the phenomenon.
And because the students can’t talk to Gore, Shope said his fellow Republicans plan to enjoy themselves outside Gammage. The group plans to set up lawn chairs and kiddie pools on Monday to take advantage of the warm weather.
“There’s a reason we’re doing something that’s laughable,” he said.