Despite leaving public office in 2001, Al Gore still knows how to work a crowd.
“I am Al Gore, and I used to be the next president of the United States,” joked Gore, who unsuccessfully made a bid for the White House in 2000 and served eight years as vice president in the administration of former president Bill Clinton. “I don’t think that’s very funny. Maybe someday I’ll fully appreciate that line.”
Although Gore opened his speech—which was sponsored by the Nicholas School of the Environment—with a few humorous stories from his political career, he spent most of his talk outlining broad solutions to global warming and urging those in attendance to take up the climate change cause. Gore spoke in a packed Page Auditorium and to a few hundred people watching via closed-circuit television in Griffith Film Theater Thursday evening.
Gore—who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his environmental activism and penned the bestselling book “An Inconvenient Truth”—said the tools needed to deal with global warming are already available. He noted that technological advancements in solar, wind and geothermal energy provide alternatives to a fossil fuel-based economy.
But ultimately, what is needed to correct climate change is the political will to make harmful environmental practices—like carbon-dioxide emissions—economically unattractive in the marketplace, Gore said. He emphasized that reversing the effects of climate change is a moral imperative and that ignoring the problem will only imperil future generations.
“Make no mistake, this is not just a political issue, not just a market issue, not just a national security issue, not just a jobs issue,” Gore said. “It is a moral issue.”
He briefly outlined the recent history of climate change, noting that human contribution to global warming has accelerated during the past 150 years as the world population grew exponentially. In addition to demographics, Gore attributed the changing relationship between humans and nature to changes in technology and a lack of attention to ecological change.
Even though some commentators still question the validity of the science behind climate change, Gore said the evidence in favor of a warming trend cannot be dismissed.
“The science is as solid as science ever gets,” he said. “Maybe gravity is more firmly established.”
It has been difficult to find workable solutions because the effects of climate change are realized long after the damage is done, Gore said. He noted that an array of dangerous problems—including deadlier tropical diseases, stronger hurricanes and deeper droughts—may emerge if nothing is done.
He added that the political process favors large corporations, many of which have lobbied against concerted efforts to address climate change.
To counteract this political reality, people should devote themselves to sustainable living and speak out in favor of climate change solutions, Gore said. To end the approximately hour-long speech, Gore reiterated his argument that solving climate change is a moral obligation.
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“The real solution is you,” Gore said to the hundreds of students in attendance. “You are capable of making a tremendous difference.... But to those who are closer to my generation, they need us to take leadership.”
After the lecture, some students said they enjoyed the speech and appreciated the passion with which Gore described climate change and its possible solutions.
“I liked how he framed it as a moral issue, because we’re beyond the debate about whether it’s happening, and we need to go and really look at the moral perspective,” said Allison Herren, a masters student in environmental management at the Nicholas School.
Nicholas School Dean Bill Chameides said he found Gore especially entertaining and passionate about the topic. Chameides spoke briefly at the start of the event before Democratic state Sen. and Board of Trustees Chair Dan Blue, Law ’73, introduced the former vice president.
“I was blown away,” Chameides said in an interview after the event. “He does a great job of getting into people’s heads and connecting with them.... Clearly he feels very passionately that this is an ethical choice.”
But not all of those gathered on the Chapel Quadrangle after the event agreed with Gore’s positions on climate change. A group of about eight individuals protested the lecture with signs and posters. The group was not affiliated with the University, nor were they invited by a student group, said Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta.