The man who was almost president graced Honolulu with his presence Tuesday and walked us through a “seminar of sustainability.”

By turns a university professor, a wry observer, a recovering politician, a joke teller and a Southern preacher, Al Gore fired up an audience of thousands at the Stan Sheriff Center to believe that global warming can be stopped. But it’s possible only if each of us does our part.

“Ultimately, we are going to win this thing,” he said, one of many statements met with hearty applause.

He also managed to repeatedly gush over fellow Democrats Neil Abercrombie and Brian Schatz, who he singled out multiple times as leading the fight here at home and in Washington to tackle the environmental crisis head on.

“A breath of fresh air,” he called Schatz. “A true champion for the future.”

“My friend, your great governor,” he said of Abercrombie, his longtime friend.

“The Goracle,” as he is dubbed by many for his prophetic proclivities, spoke to an enthusiastic mix of students, faculty, enviro-types and VIPs that included faculty, Abercrombie officials and legislators. Gore’s speech was sponsored by the Stephen and Marylyn Pauley Seminar in Sustainability.

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Climate change is real and getting worse, Al Gore told the packed audience.

Gore did not disappoint. Grayer and with less hair, and with a slight paunch filling out his aloha shirt, in voice and mind he sounded as passionate as ever about the environment — a far cry from the inanimate robot label that has stuck to him over the years.

Gore’s talk was an updated version of the one he’s been giving for years and that he first laid out in his 1992 book “Earth In the Balance.” The planet is in trouble because humankind burns too much coal and oil, which is trapping greenhouse gases and raising temperatures.

The consequences grow more obvious by the day: famine, drought, floods, refugees, species extinction, to name just a few. The last few years alone have witnessed unprecedented super storms like Typhon Haiyan in the Philippines and Hurricane Sandy along the Eastern Seaboard.

Gore also had plenty of local plugs. He says the evidence on climate change first became clear from carbon dioxide emission monitors on top of Mauna Loa some 60 years ago. He drinks only organic Hawaiian-grown coffee. And he stayed in a beautiful hotel in Waikiki where he lamented our eroding shoreline.

And Gore brought part of his famous slideshow, powered by a Mac laptop. The pictures and graphs were gorgeous — like the Earth taken from the moon in 1968 — and startling — a Bell Curve showing the number of hotter days over the past 80 years grow alarmingly disproportionate to the number of cooler days and days with average temperatures.

“The way we have to respond to this is going to require a set of changes that are beyond our routine,” he said, his voice growing to a shout. “I know that we are capable of that. Our way of life is at stake, our grandchildren are at stake, the future of civilization is at stake.”

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Former Vice President Al Gore fired up the crowd of about 9,000 who came to listen to him talk about climate change.

But Gore cited two “game changers” in recent years that will help. The first is the growing realization from even climate-change deniers that something seems to be strange with the weather. The second is the exponential growth in photovoltaic solar panels, driven largely by consumer demand for lower prices.

The “barriers” to doing something about climate change are business and political interests that profit off of fossil fuels — “dirty energy that causes dirty weather.” He compared fake science from polluters stating that humans are not to blame for the climate to tobacco companies that used to hire actors to play doctors who denied cigarettes were dangerous.

“That’s immoral, unethical and despicable,” he said of both.

The Al Gore that used to be lambasted for saying he invented the Internet and was the inspiration for “Love Story” (and yes, there is some truth to each claim) was also on display Tuesday. One supporter of Republican Duke Aiona, who hopes to face Abercrombie in a gubernatorial rematch this fall, tweeted out that it was former Gov. Linda Lingle that deserves credit for the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, and not Abercrombie and his former lieutenant governor Schatz, as may have been implied by Gore. But it is true that the governor and the senator have made renewable energy a top priority.

Security at the Stan Sheriff was oddly strict for a man who has not held public office for 14 years and is unlikely to run again. Reporters were restricted to an area in the first level of the G section, far from the stage under the watchful eye of an usher.

Outside the center, local activists Liz Rees and Carolyn Hadfield handed out materials reading “Stop Drone Warfare and Surveillance” and promoting “Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development.”

Before the presentation, the University of Hawaii Foundation hosted an invite-only reception (“aloha attire”) for the Pauleys in the center’s Ed Wong Hospitality Suite that featured Gore, Schatz, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and UH officials including Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple.

Inside the center, before the lights went down around 7 p.m., the mood was festive, as if the crowd was awaiting a UH Wahine volleyball match. Fiji’s rendition of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” blasted from the public-address system. When Gore entered to thunderous applause — following a traditional pule from Hawaiian Studies Professor Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa — his visage was projected on the giant video screens hovering above the center of the center.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

“The future of civilization is at stake,” Al Gore tells the crowd at Stan Sheriff Center, urging them to take action against climate change.

Gore, 66, served as vice president under Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001. A former U.S. representative and senator from Tennessee, he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1988 and again in 2000, the year he won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush after a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision on the disputed Florida vote count.

Gore was already recognized for his work to raise awareness of global warning when he became vice president. His documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, won the Academy Award in 2006, and in 2007 he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But Gore also has many critics, especially political conservatives who deny that the planet is warming and that humans are largely responsible.

Last year, Gore endorsed Schatz, citing the newbie senator’s positions on the environment. On Monday, he was the star guest at a Schatz fundraiser at the Oahu home of Blue Planet Foundation founder Henk Rogers. Gore’s speech, for which he was not paid, served as the headline event for a Hawaii sustainability conference all day Tuesday at UH.

The Gore event was organized by the UH Sea Grant College Program of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, on behalf of the UH Manoa Chancellor’s Office and Schatz’s office.

Contact Chad Blair via email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

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