‘Fossil fuel industry speaks with forked tongue’: Al Gore tells Big Oil ‘get out of the way’ in climate battle

Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, speaks onstage at The New York Times Climate Forward Summit 2023 at The Times Center on September 21, 2023 in New York City (Getty Images)
Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, speaks onstage at The New York Times Climate Forward Summit 2023 at The Times Center on September 21, 2023 in New York City (Getty Images)

Al Gore unleashed on the fossil fuel industry for engaging in “massive fraud” for decades and called on the powerful multinationals to “get out of the way” of those fighting the climate crisis.

The former vice president is the latest prominent political figure to break a long-held taboo, and directly name the fossil fuel industry as core perpetrator of creating - and continuing - the global crisis.

“I was one of many who felt for a long time that the fossil fuel companies, or at least many of them, were sincere in saying that they wanted to be a meaningful part of bringing solutions to this crisis,” Mr Gore told the New York Times at its Climate Forward event in Manhattan on Thursday, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

“But I think that it’s now clear they are not. Fossil fuel industry speaks with forked tongue.”

Mr Gore noted how the industry has been able to infiltrate the political process at every level including the United Nations annual climate summit.

He said that this year, the UN had gone “too far” in naming Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as president of Cop28 in the United Arab Emirates this December.

“That’s just like taking the disguise off,” Mr Gore said.

“The fossil fuel companies, given their record today, are far more effective at capturing politicians than they are at capturing emissions.”

He pointed to how the fossil fuel industry spent just 1 per cent of overall profits on the clean energy transition last year.

“It is a ruse,” he said. “And many of the largest companies have engaged in massive fraud. For some decades now, they’ve followed the playbook of the tobacco industry, using these very sophisticated, lavishly-financed strategies for deceiving people.

He added: “I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to solve this when they’re incentivised to do otherwise. But I think it’s more than fair to ask them to get out of the way, and stop blocking the efforts of everybody else to solve this crisis. I think it’s time to call them out.”

Despite the challenges, and the worsening climate impacts, the former VP said there were encouraging signs like the speed of transition to clean energy in the power sector, and the growing number of electric vehicles.

“There used to be an old cliche, denial is just a river in Egypt, and you could add that despair is just a tire in the trunk,” he said.

“Despair is just another form of denial, and we have to resist it. We don’t have time to wallow in despair, we’ve got work to do. We can do this.”

Mr Gore’s fiery denouncement of the fossil fuel industry was part of a shift among some leaders in public statements about the climate crisis.

It was similarly evident on the floor of the UN headquarters on Wednesday at the so-called “no-nonsense” Climate Ambition Summit – an event championing the “movers and doers” taking accelerated action to cut emissions.

Presidents and prime ministers along with state and local leaders were invited to speak, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, who excoriated the fossil fuel industry for its decades of deception.

“It’s time for us to be a lot more clear. This climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis,” he said, to applause and cheers in the chamber.

Ms Mottley also laid responsibility at the door of the fossil fuel industry, noting it had benefited from $7 trillion in subsidies last year, along with naming financial institutions and the transport sector.

“If you don’t take corrective action now, you will have to tell us where you’re keeping all your scientific research to relocate you and your families to the planet Mars or Pluto,” Ms Mottley said.

Petro Gustavo, president of major fossil fuel exporter Colombia, gave a stark assessment.

“The real goal that all countries should have is aiming for zero in terms of production and supply of coal, gas and oil. If we keep as we are on our current track, it will be suicide,” he said.