Al Gore challenges SXSW to focus online activism on climate change

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AUSTIN—Days after he watched approvingly as Apple CEO Tim Cook took the wraps off a new MacBook and gave more details on Apple Watch, former Vice President Al Gore kicked off South by Southwest Interactive with a somber talk on climate change. How are the two related? Technology, of course.

Years from now, if the world hasn’t been ravaged by fires, floods, and famines, Gore said the next generation will look back at us and ask: “How did you change?”

“Part of the answer may well be that a group of people came to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas in 2015 and helped to make a revolution,” Gore said.

The audience of tech-minded folks who have descended on Austin for the music, film, and interactive festival was into what Gore had to say.

“He’s such an inspiration,” one attendee told her colleagues as they filed out of the Austin Convention Center’s exhibit hall.

But Gore is hoping SXSW’s demographic of young, tech-savvy, Twitter devotees will do more than just wax poetic about his presentation of climate change’s devastating effects. He wants them to start a grassroots movement using social media, like they did when net neutrality was threatened or when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) threatened to blacklist websites that offered so-called illegal content.

“The Internet is now replicating the kind of free flow of ideas that we had during the print era,” he said. “Look at how we won the struggle for net neutrality at the grassroots. All politics is local, and for some people, the Internet is local.”

That means signing climate change petitions, using social media to call out climate change-denying politicans, and streaming the Live Earth Road to Paris concert on June 18, an event designed to draw attention to the climate talks happening in Paris this December.

Gore’s brand of reality check is well-known at this point—he took the SXSW stage in 2013 to talk about the global economy, medical innovation, and the future in the same gloomy yet hopeful style. From the tone of the chatter that followed Gore’s talk, that style resonated with SXSW attendees not yet numbed by the brand stunts and Meerkat streams to come this weekend.

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