Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Al Gore's Nobel Prize Call to Action


Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen.

I have a purpose here today. It is a purpose I have tried to serve for many years. I have prayed that God would show me a way to accomplish it.

Sometimes, without warning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision of what might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read his own obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believing the inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life’s work, unfairly labeling him “The Merchant of Death” because of his invention – dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, the inventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace.

Seven years later, Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name.

Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken – if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose.

Unexpectedly, that quest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment, I pray what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enough that those who hear me will say, “We must act.”

The distinguished scientists with whom it is the greatest honor of my life to share this award have laid before us a choice between two different futures – a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: “Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”
We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

However, despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

Last September 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

Seven years from now.

In the last few months, it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water due to massive droughts and melting glaciers. Desperate farmers are losing their livelihoods. Peoples in the frozen Arctic and on low-lying Pacific islands are planning evacuations of places they have long called home. Unprecedented wildfires have forced a half million people from their homes in one country and caused a national emergency that almost brought down the government in another. Climate refugees have migrated into areas already inhabited by people with different cultures, religions, and traditions, increasing the potential for conflict. Stronger storms in the Pacific and Atlantic have threatened whole cities. Millions have been displaced by massive flooding in South Asia, Mexico, and 18 countries in Africa. As temperature extremes have increased, tens of thousands have lost their lives. We are recklessly burning and clearing our forests and driving more and more species into extinction. The very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed.

We never intended to cause all this destruction, just as Alfred Nobel never intended that dynamite be used for waging war. He had hoped his invention would promote human progress. We shared that same worthy goal when we began burning massive quantities of coal, then oil and methane.

Even in Nobel’s time, there were a few warnings of the likely consequences. One of the very first winners of the Prize in chemistry worried that, “We are evaporating our coal mines into the air.” After performing 10,000 equations by hand, Svante Arrhenius calculated that the earth’s average temperature would increase by many degrees if we doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Seventy years later, my teacher, Roger Revelle, and his colleague, Dave Keeling, began to precisely document the increasing CO2 levels day by day.

But unlike most other forms of pollution, CO2 is invisible, tasteless, and odorless -- which has helped keep the truth about what it is doing to our climate out of sight and out of mind. Moreover, the catastrophe now threatening us is unprecedented – and we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.
We also find it hard to imagine making the massive changes that are now necessary to solve the crisis. And when large truths are genuinely inconvenient, whole societies can, at least for a time, ignore them. Yet as George Orwell reminds us: “Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

In the years since this prize was first awarded, the entire relationship between humankind and the earth has been radically transformed. And still, we have remained largely oblivious to the impact of our cumulative actions.

Indeed, without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself. Now, we and the earth's climate are locked in a relationship familiar to war planners: "Mutually assured destruction."
More than two decades ago, scientists calculated that nuclear war could throw so much debris and smoke into the air that it would block life-giving sunlight from our atmosphere, causing a "nuclear winter." Their eloquent warnings here in Oslo helped galvanize the world’s resolve to halt the nuclear arms race.
Now science is warning us that if we do not quickly reduce the global warming pollution that is trapping so much of the heat our planet normally radiates back out of the atmosphere, we are in danger of creating a permanent “carbon summer.”
As the American poet Robert Frost wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice.” Either, he notes, “would suffice.”

But neither need be our fate. It is time to make peace with the planet.

We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge.

These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; that Providence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called “Satyagraha” – or “truth force.”

In every land, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free.

Truth also has the power to unite us and bridge the distance between “me” and “we,” creating the basis for common effort and shared responsibility.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go far, quickly.

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”
That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”

In the last year of that war, you gave the Peace Prize to a man from my hometown of 2000 people, Carthage, Tennessee. Cordell Hull was described by Franklin Roosevelt as the “Father of the United Nations.” He was an inspiration and hero to my own father, who followed Hull in the Congress and the U.S. Senate and in his commitment to world peace and global cooperation.

My parents spoke often of Hull, always in tones of reverence and admiration. Eight weeks ago, when you announced this prize, the deepest emotion I felt was when I saw the headline in my hometown paper that simply noted I had won the same prize that Cordell Hull had won. In that moment, I knew what my father and mother would have felt were they alive.

Just as Hull’s generation found moral authority in rising to solve the world crisis caused by fascism, so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis. In the Kanji characters used in both Chinese and Japanese, “crisis” is written with two symbols, the first meaning “danger,” the second “opportunity.” By facing and removing the danger of the climate crisis, we have the opportunity to gain the moral authority and vision to vastly increase our own capacity to solve other crises that have been too long ignored.

We must understand the connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community.

Fifteen years ago, I made that case at the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. Ten years ago, I presented it in Kyoto. This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions.

This treaty should be ratified and brought into effect everywhere in the world by the beginning of 2010 – two years sooner than presently contemplated. The pace of our response must be accelerated to match the accelerating pace of the crisis itself.

Heads of state should meet early next year to review what was accomplished in Bali and take personal responsibility for addressing this crisis. It is not unreasonable to ask, given the gravity of our circumstances, that these heads of state meet every three months until the treaty is completed.
We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.

And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon -- with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.

The world needs an alliance – especially of those nations that weigh heaviest in the scales where earth is in the balance. I salute Europe and Japan for the steps they’ve taken in recent years to meet the challenge, and the new government in Australia, which has made solving the climate crisis its first priority.

But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters — most of all, my own country –– that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act.

Both countries should stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found without effort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wish to redeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these are the hard truths:
The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, across the unknown, falls the shadow.

That is just another way of saying that we have to expand the boundaries of what is possible. In the words of the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, “Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk.”

We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures – each a palpable possibility – and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures, and the urgency of making the right choice now.

The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, “One of these days, the younger generation will come knocking at my door.”

The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: “What were you thinking; why didn’t you act?”

Or they will ask instead: “How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?”

We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource.

So let us renew it, and say together: “We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act.


Anonymous said...

Gore is a seriously dishonest person. His acceptance speech is a load of beautiful sounding, soft-headed puffery relying on the dishonesty and deceptions he promoted in his recent propaganda film. The objective was to set up a world-wide carbon trading scheme with his company, its corporate cronies, regulators and various insiders expropriating wealth from every person on the planet who employs energy in day to day living. Think on that.

Reproducing climate porn such as what this dishonest creature Gore is pimping does little to support the cause of civil nuclear power. Instead it destroys your credibility. Why tie your cause to yet another political movement? Using gore as an your champion is not only dishonest, it is dangerous. Why allow the argument for nuclear power to be tarnished and sunk by association with someone like him? May as well say we're going nuclear because Allah says we should. Opps, someone's onto promoting that line already.

You should be promoting nuclear power on the basis of what it is and what it can achieve, not on the basis of a highly dubious "theory" which has been promoted in the absence of proof. Further you should understand that coercive socialisation and collectivisation of people is necessarily an evil. It has never worked out well in the past and is unlikely to in the future either.

Forget mouths like Gore. Don't feed 'em. Back yourself.

Norbert Neidermeyer

Charles Barton said...

Norbert, 95% of the scientist in this country share views on climate change that are similar to those of Al Gore. What ever you say about Gore is also true of tens of thousands of scientists including my father. Gore got his views from scientists. If gore is smart enough to make money through his understanding of global climate change, more power too him.

Anonymous said...

Dear Charles

Thank you for your reply.

1/. That is the method of argument by appeal to social metaphysics. It runs thus, because thousands of people hold a certain idea, therefore that idea must be correct. Such an approach is invalid. It is deeply misleading. For example, it is possible to argue that because millions of moslems believe the US is the great satan which must be destroyed, therefore it must indeed be correct that the US is the great satan that must be destroyed.

The fact that a number of people share an idea does not of itself make that idea valid. One is reminded of the case of Galileo; a case where the minority was correct and the many were wrong. A head count is not a reliable indicator of where the truth resides.

2/. 95% ? My understanding is that the climate science community is divided ~50/50, not that a head count is much of an indication of the validity of the science. Still, the IPCC pronouncements are very controversial and the theory it so heavily promotes is not proven science by any means. There is much evidence that contradicts it.

Put it this way, in effect, the IPCC is claiming accurate weather prediction for 20 years hence. That is a most dubious proposition.

3/. Gore's movie was deceptive and full of falsehood. That sort of thing is never to be trusted.

4/. The molten salt nuclear fission reactor approach, allied to the "acqueous" reactor, looks very promising. Its future should not be tethered to a political movement (previously discredited in its various earlier incarnations) which is likely to cause the impoverishment, needless suffering and deaths of many, many people. The last thing that nuclear industry requires is to be associated with a new form of collectivism or green totalitarianism. As has been said, "If you lie down with dogs, you'll get their fleas."

The benefits and capabilities that the nuclear technology promises is something to be proud of and promoted in its own right. Fact is, nuclear has strong economic advantages for the consumers of its services and capabilities. These range from cheap energy in unrealised quantity, through to new and useful materials, as well as spin off technologies. The utility of nuclear has never been promoted as strongly as it should be. It is clear that nuclear should be promoted, not on the basis of what is wrong with conventional technologies, but on its own attributes and capabilities. Just look at what is possible. That is what people should be told all about.



Charles Barton said...

Nobert, The theory of Greenhouse gases is not contested by any real scientist. It has been understood for well over a century that carbon-dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that by burning fossil fuels we were probably indirectly warming the planet. Observational evidence that atmospheric was increasing is over 50 years old. Observed climate changes are occuring all over the planet.

During the 1979's scientist who I deeply respect accepted the likelihood that global warming would occur. Some of them made predictions that have come to pass during the last 30 years. You express views that I find incredible. Al Gore, whar ever you think of his politics, did not lie.

Anonymous said...


Unfortunately this is still an appeal to social metaphysics. You know, "As all right thinking people know...". Worse is the notion of the "real" scientist, implying that any scientist who does not agree is somehow inferior, an "unreal" scientist who does not count (that's known as "playing the man"). Neither approach is valid (and an appeal to incredulity is an invalid approach as well).

The preference should be to evaluate the evidence for a proposition, as well as any evidence that contradicts it. In the case of the IPCC theory and recomendations there is plenty of evidence in direct contradiction. In such cases it is best policy to say, "We do not know", or, "There is insufficient evidence in our possession to arrive at a definative conclusion about this", or, "There is insufficient information available to prove the contention." It is preferable to do so, as that is the truth.

What is disappointing is that people who promote themselves as logical and rational scientists are often so ready to accept a theory and some questionalbe predictions on the basis of blind faith. By doing this they abandon science and enter the realm of theology and politics. "Thar be dragons." Certainly so and they are of a kind that bites deeply and poisonously.

I see serious threats for the nuclear industry if it continues to stray in this direction. Waiting over thirty years for widespread adoption of nuclear fission as a dominant form of power generation is a powerful demonstration of how politics and ideology can frustrate a technology. Waiting another thirty years is not out of the question at this point. It is not a good idea to tie the future of technology to a flawed political ideology.

Recently I attended an excellent dinner party in Apia, Republic of Samoa. We discussed such matters as molten salt reactors, focus fusion, polywell fusion and the like. Later in the discussion someone started discussing AGW. A elderly Polynesian man requested proof and proceded to lay out the hierarchy of evidence and proofs necessary to make the case. When people got frustrated and angry with him, he responded that the person who claims the positive must also accept the burden of providing proof. Without it all one has is a proposal or supposition. His point is sound. It was during a follow up conversation someone made the point that all that is necessary to refute a theory is one piece of evidence that contradicts it. Then it's back to research and experiment work to find out what is really occurring. A pity that so few take that path. Perhaps it is too difficult for them.

Someone famous once said something along the lines that people adopting intellectual short-cuts end up with mental short-circuits instead. That is what happens when faith is substituted for science.

In the case of the IPCC AGW theory and the associated politics the rational and logical position to take is that the theory is not proven and there is much evidence that contradicts elements of the theory. On that basis it is unsound to be setting political or economic policy, let alone attempting to be picking winning technologies. In such a situation it is not reason, logic and science that wins out.

Gore lied alright. As I recall there were some 34 separate examples in his "documentary". When this went to court recently they were divided out into nine groups or classes. In the end the judge ruled that the film was not a science documentary (in which case the lies would have resulted in some serious consequences) but rather was an example of political propaganda. Subsequently the judge declared that he was a believer in AGW. Interesting that even he could not abide the hyperbole, fibbing and deception Gore fronted.

Returning to the nuclear issue, it is vital that the industry produces some serious entrepeneurs who can advance it. The case to make is not how bad everything else may or may not be, but how well nuclear fission technology can satisfy the needs of interested parties and how it can do so on a voluntary exchange of value basis. Evade this and the future is not so bright. The competition will win. Can we afford for that to happen?

It is impossible to regress advanced societies to a more primitive or authoritarian level without untold suffering. I do not wish to see that happen.

Norbert Neidermeyer

Charles Barton said...

Norbert you are full of crap. I stopped arguing with global warming skeptics a year and a half ago, because it is all about people on ego trips, and selfish business people who do not want to see their gravy train go away, not about science.

If Al Gore lied, then my father who is a real scientist, has been lying since 1977. If Al Gore lied then Jerry Olsen lied to he when he told me about global warming in 1971. If Al Gore was lying then so was Edward Teller, when he laid it all out for a American Chemical Society meeting in 1957. Norbert you are full of it.


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