Al Gore, Jaden Smith Plead for Environmental Policy Reform at Summit L.A.

Al Gore -Jaden Smith -Getty-Split-H 2018
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival; Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Both environmental champions, the duo spoke about tangible steps everyone can take today to save the planet from man-made pollution.

Former Vice President Al Gore indicated he is calling on a higher power to steer the country toward blue waves in the elections. Halfway into his Sunday afternoon Summit LA talk with actor and fellow environmentalist Jaden Smith, Gore reminded the millennial-leaning crowd inside the Orpheum Theatre, "By the way, there is an election on Tuesday," clenching his fists and longingly looking skyward.

Later, he explained that despite President Donald Trump’s threats, the U.S. cannot legally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement until November 2020. "If there’s a new president — excuse me for a moment," the Nobel Peace Prize winner continued, folding his hands into prayer position. "A new president can give 30 days' notice, and we’re back in the Paris Agreement."

Perhaps these allusions were the result of his longtime study of the planet’s "dire" state. As a Tennessee representative in the 1970s, Gore helped organize the first congressional committee on global warming. In 2006, he authored the New York Times best-seller An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It, the inspiration for director Davis Guggenheim’s documentary of the same name (Paramount last year released the follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, this time helmed by Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk).

“Every night on the television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations,” Gore told Smith.

At just 12 years old — a few years after making his own film debut opposite his father Will in The Pursuit of Happyness — Smith and mentor/family friend Drew FitzGerald founded Just Water. Eighty-two percent of the boxed water company’s packaging comes from renewable resources (paper and plant-based plastics).

“Al Gore and his work has inspired me from a very young age,” said Smith, a past regular on The Get Down who last appeared in the Crystal Moselle feature Skate Kitchen. “I truly, truly owe my entire education on the environment and my passion for the world to this man.”

During their conversation — titled “Al Gore and Jaden Smith on New Hope for Solving the Climate Crisis” — Smith asked most of the questions, beginning with how Gore maintains a positive outlook when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just this month released an apocalyptic prognosis.

“I’m optimistic simply because I do believe that we have the ability to match this rising determination to bring change with the solutions that are already available,” said Gore, who also is the Climate Reality Project chairman. “We don’t need any new breakthroughs,” he argued, outlining advances in solar and wind power, as well as electric cars, and advocating investment, agriculture and forest conservation policies that need more support.

Gore and Smith — who are a half-century apart — shared many overlapping philosophies, and everyone applauded when the former implied Trump’s possible removal from office via due process (“I’m not going to lie, this experiment with Trumpism is not going very well, and in science and medicine, some experiments have terminated early for ethical reasons, so...”).

However, the ex-politician did push back a bit when Smith credited shortform internet content for galvanizing Generation Z to craft a better world. “The internet has been hacked, long before the Russians hacked it,” said Gore. “It was hacked by big money, and our democracy has suffered. Whether it’s a search engine or a social media site, we have got to stop this stalker economy, where they collect all the private data and build dossiers on everybody.”

He continued: “The solution to the climate crisis requires a solution to the democracy crisis. And the solution to the democracy crisis means new vigorous efforts to create a virtual public square with social media that operates in favor of the meritocracy of ideas and facilitates the kind of learning experience and dialogue that you’ve described while protecting us against Russian bots and the alt-right and all the groups that thrive spreading hate.”

Garnering the biggest laugh of the hourlong discussion, Smith said the best way he has found to convince peers to care about climate change is to “scare them as bad as I can. Honestly. Because the kids in my generation, they’re just like, ‘Oh, I’m tough, I don’t care, I’ll be fine, I’ll just go skate for the rest of my life.’ And [I say], ‘Bro, if the skate park floods, you’re going to have to learn how to surf.’”

Gore took the cue to deploy his own terrifying stats, including, “The cumulative amount [of atmospheric pollution] that is up there now traps as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding on the earth.”

Still, he believes, “We can win this, we will win this.” In a staccato, stump-speech-reminiscent yell, Gore reiterated, “We can solve this, but we have got to face the danger without letting it tip you into despair. Despair’s just another form of denial. There’s some people that go straight from denial to despair without pausing on the intermediate step of solving the damn crisis!”