How Canadian filmmaker Jeff Skoll is fighting climate change in the Trump era

Rather than overwhelming dire warnings, it is fresh optimism and the opportunity to empower today's audiences that excites Jeff Skoll, who has reteamed with Al Gore for their new documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power.

Canadian producer, philanthropist focuses on the positive

Jeff Skoll takes part in a Sundance Film Festival panel in January. The billionaire Canadian engineer-turned-philanthropist and Hollywood producer has reunited with Al Gore to make An Inconvenient Sequel, a followup to their landmark 2006 documentary. (Getty Images/Matt Winkelmeyer)

In the past decade, many of An Inconvenient Truth's ominous predictions about the consequences of climate change have come to pass.

Superstorm Sandy flooded Manhattan, including the Sept. 11 memorial site. The Fort McMurray wildfires were among an increasing number of worldwide natural disasters.

But for Jeff Skoll, it wasn't dire warnings but rather optimism and the opportunity to empower today's audiences that excited him about re-teaming with Al Gore for their new documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

"We felt what we could do is give an update on what's happened and remind people that there are solutions at hand — a lot of good news," the billionaire Canadian engineer-turned-philanthropist and Hollywood producer told CBC News.

The Canadian billionaire web entrepreneur and film producer talks to CBC News about why his latest climate change documentary is critical. 1:56

Skoll's real sense of satisfaction comes from putting his money to work.

With a net worth of approximately $6.4 billion, Skoll — eBay's first president — is one of Canada's richest citizens. Since leaving the online auction site in 2001, he's created different initiatives to reshape the world, including Participant Media, the production company behind socially progressive films such as The Cove, Spotlight and An Inconvenient Truth.

Participant's latest venture, An Inconvenient Sequel, reunites Skoll with his friend Gore, the former U.S. vice-president and frontman of the earlier, Oscar-winning 2006 documentary.

Much of the film's footage was gathered as Gore worked behind the scenes at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference. An Inconvenient Sequel reveals delicate, backroom negotiations and last-minute deals reached as executives and government ministers struggled to reach a consensus. 

But the sense of victory of the accord passing deflates with the onscreen acknowledgement of U.S. President Donald Trump's subsequent decision to withdraw from the agreement. 

How much has Trump changed the equation? "In the grand scheme of things, not much," according to Skoll.

"The economics of clean energy are upon us. We're going to get there."

Al Gore speaks with former Tacloban City mayor Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya in Tacloban City, Philippines, in 2016, a scene featured in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. (Paramount Pictures)

One major challenge for Gore and Skoll is that the conversation about climate change has become politicized. To break through this partisan divide, Skoll's strategy is to focus on people's wallets.

"A lot of the people that voted for Trump care about those same issues. They want to have solar cells on their roof in Nevada, because it's less expensive and it's easier for them to control and, by the way, they're not allowed right now," he noted as one example.

An Inconvenient Sequel executive producer Jeff Skoll and former vice-president Al Gore pose at the film's Toronto premiere in July. (Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Where Gore pounds the pulpit with a righteous fury on camera, Skoll works behind the scenes.

He remains hopeful, though the former engineer admitted he gets frustrated by the pace of change.

"We're on the cusp of so many breakthroughs for a better world, peaceful, prosperous world — and yet it feels like it's taking too long. It's taking too long. "

Canadian roots, global outlook

Whether it's confronting climate change or working to end pandemics, Skoll credits his global perspective to growing up in Canada. As a young man pumping gas in Toronto to save for university, he took Canada's health-care and education systems for granted — until he started travelling.

"I backpacked around the world and went to places like Mexico City and Pakistan, where I'm like, 'Oh. Things aren't quite as good,'" he recalled.

Jeff Skoll speaks prior to a special screening of An Inconvenient Sequel at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on July 19. (Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

"Looking at America, which has so much wealth and potential and yet has so many deep-rooted problems, I think it gives us as Canadians an opportunity to be on the world stage on the climate change issue."

Beyond trying to make the world a better place, the Montreal-born, Toronto-raised Skoll has another great passion: hockey.

When illness forced the self-described world's biggest hockey fan (the Habs, specifically) to slow down last year, he found one silver lining.

"I got to watch a lot of hockey on the NHL app. That was fun."

 An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power opens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on Aug. 3. 

About the Author

Eli Glasner

Entertainment reporter and film critic

Eli Glasner is a national entertainment reporter and film critic for CBC News. Each Friday he reviews films on CBC News Network as well as appearing on CBC radio programs coast to coast. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee, Ont. to the Oscars red carpet.