Thursday, July 5, 2007

Al Gore is a Hero

And it's not because he looks good in blue spandex wearing his underwear outside his pants. That would actually be disturbing. He is a hero because Google’s trend line for US searches on the term “global warming” shows a doubling in 2006. It proved to be a watershed year for American’s awareness of the issue. Suddenly, it appeared on the covers of Wired, Vanity Fair, Business Week, and Time Magazine. I think Al’s movie (can I call him Al? Super Al perhaps?) “An Inconvenient Truth”, which was released in May, had a lot to do with it. And it looks like this trend will double again in 2007.

Last September, John Holdren, Director of the Woods Hole Research Center and Chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told me that we had about five years to start on the downward path of CO2 emissions worldwide if we wanted to prevent the current “severe” effects of climate change from becoming “catastrophic” ones. James Hansen, NASA's Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies was in the news giving a “less than ten years” time frame. Here is an excerpt from his talk to the National Press Club in February, 2007:

If we do follow the “business as usual” path, even for another ten years, it guarantees that we will have dramatic climate changes that produce what I would call a different planet… It's likely that a large fraction of the species could go extinct.”

These two men are among America’s leading climate scientists. When they talk, I listen. Unlike batman who responded to the bat projected into the sky, these heroes are projecting a call to arms for us, the people. Unlike batman who could stop runaway trains, these men realize that the problem is not one an individual can solve.

Since then, every single talk I give has referred to this important 5 to 10 year window of opportunity. All of us need to transform the public’s awareness of global warming as one problem among many into one of highest urgency. Senate's energy legislation that all but ignored the number one issue – that all energy plans must be evaluated in the context of their CO2 output --illustrates the horrifying disconnect between scientists, the public, and therefore our public servants. It is a fantasy to imagine that tiny tweaks and innuendo can accomplish what is needed.

This last Sunday, Al Gore wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times. It was beautifully done. Here are some excerpts:

"Our home — Earth — is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings...If we don't stop doing this [producing CO2 emissions] pretty quickly, the average temperature will increase to levels humans have never known and put an end to the favorable climate balance on which our civilization depends...To this end, we should demand that the United States join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90 percent in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy Earth."

I so admire the subtlety of his language with phrases like "hospitable to human beings" and "in time for the next generation" that let him give the hard truth in a not-quite terrifying, and not-quite time specific way. Perfect for the mainstream media and mainstream America. I'm inclined to directness: if we don't stop, and fast, the human species will be reduced to a shell of its current population, and what is needed here in the developed world is a 90 percent reduction in CO2 emissions within 15 to 20 years.

Attend a Live Earth local event, watch the 7 concerts on 7 continents broadcast live on Saturday to be energized, feel the local and global embrace. Then start telling your friends and leaders that you are ready to do what is needed. It’s time for us all to become heroes. Hybrid batmobiles won't cut it; it's time to go loco in all the ways that matter.