May 10, 2006 -- Al Gore, at the beginning of the upcoming documentary feature "An Inconvenient Truth," introduces himself to an audience gathered to hear about global warming by saying, "I'm Al Gore. I used the be the next president of the United States."
After the laughter dies down, he says, with an affable straight face, "I don't find anything particularly funny about that," and he gets an appreciative, though just slightly uncertain, second laugh.
Then he launches into what he calls his slideshow -- a clear and concise explanation that he has reportedly given about a thousand times around the world, aided by impressive animated mega-graphics on an enormous screen behind him -- of what Gore (and a growing number of others) calls a planetary emergency.
Whatever your politics, it is an authoritative and compelling demonstration of the unassailable reality and dangers for humanity of the continuing addition to the atmosphere of greenhouse gases emitted from the burning of fossil fuels -- coal, oil and gas.
Now The Wall Street Journal reports that Gore is also launching "an educational group" called the Alliance for Climate Protection.
One participant tells the Journal it "will look like a political campaign." It will spend millions to convince Americans that global warming is an extremely urgent problem.
Inevitably, many people seeing this movie and learning of this group will ask whether Gore is running for president again, despite his statements that he's not.
You learn in "An Inconvenient Truth" that Gore has focused on global warming longer than he's been a politician; he studied at Harvard under Roger Revel, one of the first scientists to realize that the industrial age has created a new and unnatural injection into the atmosphere of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that would change the climate of the entire planet.
So the movie (which opens May 26 in New York City and Los Angeles, and in the following weeks around the country and overseas) raises an interesting possibility -- that it really may be the case that Gore has, as an impressed Washington Post reviewer put it, "raised his sights" after his run for president and is now trying to help save civilization.
And yes, as our research here at ABC News has confirmed, virtually all the credible climate scientists say that if humanity continues with business as usual in pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere unabated, then global temperature will continue to soar into temperatures far higher than the human species has ever experienced, making Earth incapable of supporting civilization "as we know it" (that used to be a joke line in a Monty Python skit), perhaps with, as eminent Earth systems scientist James Lovelock speculates, "only a few breeding pairs of humans left near the poles," where, he supposes, life may still be tolerable.
Amid all this increasingly serious news from credible scientists about global warming, Gore's new Alliance for Climate Protection has made a point of being bipartisan -- and even nonpartisan.
Ronald Reagan's Environmental Protection Agency chief Lee M. Thomas, according to the Journal, has agreed to serve as a board member. Republican former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft is also believed to be involved.
A growing number of Republican legislators on Capitol Hill have reportedly told the White House in recent weeks that they part company with the administration on the subject of global warming. President Bush continues to insist that greenhouse gas emissions cuts should be voluntary. Bush even said recently that "the fundamental debate is, is [global warming] manmade or natural," although virtually all credible climate scientists around the world agree it's manmade.
There is also increasing talk on the Hill that -- and here is where the rubber (even literally) hits the road -- there must and will soon be legislation imposing caps on carbon emissions from America's smokestacks.
This is not really new news. Coal and oil executives have talked for years, at least privately, about the inevitability of caps on carbon emissions because of the great dangers of global warming. Some have even pleaded for it, privately, saying they were ready to do it but needed to be made to do it "in lockstep."
Is Gore's new Alliance for Climate Protection a stealth move in a political campaign for the White House? Hard to see how. There doesn't seem to be much stealth about what he's doing. It's rather the opposite: He's fighting to get Americans to realize we must all become energy efficient and drastically cut greenhouse emissions.
Will Americans see his leadership in a "planetary emergency" as an admirable, and possibly absolutely necessary, quality in the next president?
That's an open question, and one that at least some of the people who attend to his new group and see his movie will probably feel is secondary to the enormous question of the emergency itself.