(CNN) - Former Vice President Al Gore said he's optimistic about the future of the climate change debate, arguing Republicans are growing weary of global warning deniers.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Gore said climate change activists are in the process of "winning the conversation," just like activists won the civil rights movement.
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"The same thing happened on apartheid," he told columnist Ezra Klein in the interview posted online Wednesday. "The same thing happened on the nuclear arms race with the freeze movement. The same thing happened in an earlier era with abolition. A few months ago, I saw an article about two gay men standing in line for pizza and some homophobe made an ugly comment about them holding hands and everyone else in line told them to shut up. We're winning that conversation."
He also pointed to the debate over smoking, saying people thought the late-Sen. Frank Lautenburg of New Jersey was "crazy" for pushing legislation that would ban smoking in airplanes.
"But he was rewarded politically and then politicians began falling all over themselves to do the same. That's the optimistic scenario. And it's not just a scenario! It's happening now," he said, adding that Republicans tell him privately they're starting to accept climate change.
That process of "winning the conversation," however, has been stalled in prior years because "a shrinking group of denialists fly into a rage when it's mentioned," he said.
"It's like a family with an alcoholic father who flies into a rage every time a subject is mentioned and so everybody avoids the elephant in the room to keep the peace," he said, but argued "the ability of the raging deniers to stop progress is waning every single day."
Organizing for Action, the political group formed from the president's re-election campaign, earlier this month delivered unicorn statues to Republican deniers in Congress. The effort was part of a larger push from the group to "hold members of Congress accountable for their positions on climate change," according to a press release.
Gore credited President Barack Obama for his aggressive new climate change strategy that calls for limiting pollution from existing coal-fired power plants and issuing directives requiring the EPA to establish carbon pollution standards for plants that are already active. Gore said he was "very encouraged" by the policy moves.
– CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.