Want to save the planet? Al Gore has an app for that
An Inconvenient Truth started out as a book and became an Oscar-winning movie. Al Gore’s follow-up book, Our Choice, has now gone multimedia too, but in a whole new way, as a first-of-its-kind app complete with documentary footage and even a trailer set to swelling, melodramatic music. Watch it here:
After Our Choice was published in 2009, Gore — a Mac geek who sits on Apple’s board — wondered how he could take advantage of the fledgling app craze. He teamed up with two former Apple employees, Mike Matas and Kimon Tsinteris, to adapt the book for iPhone and iPad, working also with the book’s publisher, Rodale, and Melcher Media, a production company. To do everything Gore envisioned, they had to create a whole new publishing platform; that led Matas and Tsinteris to launch Push Pop Press. Gore’s book is the startup’s first project.
After months of work, the result is a digital book with not just text and photos but audio, video, and interactive infographics. It lets you tap, swipe, pinch, and scroll your way through solutions to the climate crisis. Says Tsinteris, this is “what the future of book publishing looks like.” (Unless you have an Android phone or other non-Apple device; then you’re out of luck, as the app only works on the iOS operating system.) The app is selling for $4.99, and Gore will donate all of his proceeds to the Alliance for Climate Protection, the group he started up in 2006.
I called Gore to get the scoop on the app and his thoughts on the state of the climate movement.
Q. What inspired you to turn Our Choice into an app?
A. Well, you will recall that An Inconvenient Truth was both a book and a movie. I learned in that experience that the two platforms reinforced one another. As we were finishing production of the book version of Our Choice, the app universe was exploding. We asked ourselves, could this become an app? We then set about the task of reimagining the book on the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch platform. The main motivation was to exploit the nearly magical properties of this new form of publishing, the app, to give people a chance to interact with the content and explore it at their own pace and according to their own desires.
Q. How would you envision people using this app? Would it be a way to, say, combat a climate skeptic at a dinner party?
A. I’m sure that some people will use it for making the case. It even draws an analogy in that regard to the faux-controversy over Barack Obama being born in the United States.
Q. Can the app confirm the authenticity of a presidential birth certificate?
A. [Laughs.] People will use it, I hope, for a lot of purposes. As the author, I hope that at least some people will use the app to read Our Choice from start to finish in a linear way. I know that most will sample it and use the interactive infographics, and I hope that the compelling nature of the app will pull them into it far enough to explore all of the material presented.
Q. Climate skeptics seem to be more convinced than ever that climate change is some sort of conspiracy theory. What is the best response to climate naysayers?
A. I do think that the case has been made, just as the case has been made that President Obama was born in the U.S. The analogy holds when you acknowledge that, no matter what the facts, there will still be people who dispute them. But over time, the balance will continue to shift. The reality of the climate crisis is indisputable, and the real-world manifestations are ever more threatening. I do think that it is time to focus the conversation on how we solve the climate crisis.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the app?
A. You don’t pick your favorites among your children, but I’ll give you a couple of examples. I like the passive solar house where you can change from summer to winter. That makes it easy to understand the way architecture can interact with the environment and save you money and reduce emissions.
There’s the population graph where you can go from the year 0 all the way to the present and project into the future. I like the windmill where you can spin the blades by blowing into the microphone of your iPhone.
Q. Were there things that you had hoped to do with the app that you weren’t able to do?
A. Sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere — that’s the only thing it won’t do.
Q. Are there other green apps that you like?
A. I’ve been so immersed in completing this one. I just spend my time between this app and Grist.
Q. Do you now read books in print or on the iPad?
A. I use my iPad for so many things, I end up doing my reading of e-books mainly on the iPad. I also have a Kindle; I think it’s a great device, but it doesn’t have the interactivity that powers an app like this.
Q. What have you seen in the last year that’s given you hope for the climate movement? Are you seeing signs of hope out there that things are moving along?
A. Absolutely. [At the recent Power Shift conference,] there were 6,000 to 10,000 young people present. They were very enthusiastic.
I’ve also seen a very powerful shift in the business community toward efficiency, the exploration of renewable energy.
Most important of all, I’ve seen the emergence of the most powerful grassroots movement that the world has ever seen. There are, by some estimates, as many as 2 million new NGOs around the world focused on the environmental crisis and the climate crisis. I’m very encouraged by that.