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Al Gore’s Nobel Words

March 1, 2010

Al Gore re-appeared today in the Herald Tribune with this terrifically written opinion piece.  

Gore’s great talent remains his phenomenal ability as a message-bearer. Contrary to the straw man his critics attempt to put up against him,  Gore is political man trying to provide the political acts of leadership and communication that such a future crisis-in-the-making finds difficult to find.

Gore also has an uncanny knack for political timing. Indeed, just when great communicators are once again needed to stifle the rising tide of misinformation and disingenuous criticising of climate scientists (and with Senators Graham-Lieberman-Kerry about to finalise their proposal for what is almost surely the last hope for a US climate bill in 2010), Gore opened his article with these words:

It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.

Of course, we would still need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world, and the economic risks of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas in return for that oil. And we would still trail China in the race to develop smart grids, fast trains, solar power, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy — the most important sources of new jobs in the 21st century.
But what a burden would be lifted!

 

Other great sections were this bit of insight into what China would do if the US did its part:

 

Because the world still relies on leadership from the United States, the failure by the Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the Copenhagen meeting guaranteed that the outcome would fall far short of even the minimum needed to build momentum toward a meaningful solution.

The political paralysis that is now so painfully evident in Washington has thus far prevented action by the Senate — not only on climate and energy legislation, but also on health care reform, financial regulatory reform and a host of other pressing issues.

This comes with painful costs. China, now the world’s largest and fastest-growing source of global-warming pollution, had privately signaled early last year that if the United States passed meaningful legislation, it would join in serious efforts to produce an effective treaty. When the Senate failed to follow the lead of the House of Representatives, forcing the president to go to Copenhagen without a new law in hand, the Chinese balked. With the two largest polluters refusing to act, the world community was paralyzed.

And these politically wise words on those who would criticise cap-and-trade and bicker over the technical detail of the solution. Once again, he is not bogged down in the detail:   

Some analysts attribute the failure to an inherent flaw in the design of the chosen solution — arguing that a cap-and-trade approach is too unwieldy and difficult to put in place. Moreover, these critics add, the financial crisis that began in 2008 shook the world’s confidence in the use of any market-based solution.

But there are two big problems with this critique: First, there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically. It is difficult to imagine a globally harmonized carbon tax or a coordinated multilateral regulatory effort. The flexibility of a global market-based policy — supplemented by regulation and revenue-neutral tax policies — is the option that has by far the best chance of success. The fact that it is extremely difficult does not mean that we should simply give up.

Second, we should have no illusions about the difficulty and the time needed to convince the rest of the world to adopt a completely new approach. The lags in the global climate system, including the buildup of heat in the oceans from which it is slowly reintroduced into the atmosphere, means that we can create conditions that make large and destructive consequences inevitable long before their awful manifestations become apparent: the displacement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, civil unrest, chaos and the collapse of governance in many developing countries, large-scale crop failures and the spread of deadly diseases.

Gore’s message is tireless returned at our feet by a simple accumulation of complimentary facts, with which he doggedly reminds us that: climate change is real, you cannot escape it, much as you wish you could, and the chances for doing so are still within our grasp, but only just.

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption. After all has been said and so little done, the truth about the climate crisis — inconvenient as ever — must still be faced.

The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing. It begins with a choice by the United States to pass a law establishing a cost for global warming pollution. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation, with some Republican support, to take the first halting steps for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.

Later this week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are expected to present for consideration similar cap-and-trade legislation.

I hope that it will place a true cap on carbon emissions and stimulate the rapid development of low-carbon sources of energy.

Finally, movingly, Gore finishes by moving beyond himself and summoning our last great communicator and leader in a time of a fundamental existential crisis, subtly completing the tie in of his many narratives – global, personal, political:

We have overcome existential threats before. Winston Churchill is widely quoted as having said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes, you must do what is required.” Now is that time. Public officials must rise to this challenge by doing what is required; and the public must demand that they do so — or must replace them.

It was obviously for his power as a message-bearer, not as a scientist, that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. One only hopes that it really does spur the neccesary action from the top.

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