Well, he turned me down for a personal interview (WTF?!) but I still managed to catch most of Al Gore’s speech at the 2010 Millenium Summit in Montreal. This presentation was not recorded or broadcast publicly so it is an earthgauge exclusive. You heard it here first! In his speech, the former VP discusses the inextricable link between the climate crisis and the ongoing fight against extreme poverty. Apologies for the poor sound quality and the gap at the 5:45 mark but it was a covert operation after all, which was disrupted on two occasions by event staff.
As Gore explains in his speech, for him climate change is not an environmental, nor an economic issue. It is a moral imperative. He asks: “How can we in good conscience accept all of those gifts from previous generations and then give the back of our hand to future generations by telling them that we were not willing to prepare for their future? The time will come when that next generation will make an assessment of the world in which they live. If they see the ice melted, the seas rising, the refugees flowing, the diseases spreading, the droughts and floods creating chaos, the failure of political systems in developing countries, they would be well-justified in looking back at us and asking, what were you thinking? Why didn’t you act? Didn’t you care?”
Surely Gore is correct in asserting that climate change is an ethical issue and we have a moral responsibility to future generations to take action. But there are great many issues that have been framed as “moral imperatives” (think extreme poverty, nuclear disarmament, factory farming, even homelessness in Canada), for which we have made pitiful progress over the years. I am not optimistic that pitching climate change as an ethical challenge will move us closer to a solution.
This recent article from the Guardian environment network (originally published in Grist) even goes so far as to argue that climate change transcends other issues, that it cannot and will not be addressed by the environmental movement (or any ‘movement’ for that matter) and that climate change needs to take its place alongside the economy and national security as a priority concern across ideological and organizational lines. “It needs to become a shared concern of every American citizen regardless of ideological orientation or level of political engagement,” writes the author, David Roberts. “That is the only way we can ever hope to bring about the urgent necessary changes.”
Still, the message of Gore’s speech is clear and his urgent and passionate call for action resonates even more strongly as we witness the continuing devastation being wreaked by natural disasters around the world. The unprecedented heat wave in Russia, the horrific flooding in Pakistan and the deadly mudslides in China can all be linked to a changing climate. They are not symptoms of things to come; they are a sign that climate change is already upon us.
No, we cannot say with certainty that climate change is responsible for these disasters but more frequent catastrophic events such as these are exactly what climate scientists have been predicting as we have continued to belch CO2 into the atmosphere year after year. Gore’s speech was recorded a few months ago but it now seems particularly prescient given the tragedies unfolding in recent weeks. [If you're short on time, listen to his comments at the 8:15 mark and beyond.] Will these disasters finally signify the tipping point that pushes us to take meaningful action? Don’t hold your breath.