February 16th, 2009
10:56 AM ET

Al Gore Urges Scientists to Help Shape Climate Debate

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Cate Vojdik
AC360° Writer

Former Vice President Al Gore was the keynote speaker here at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) annual meeting in Chicago. He drew a huge crowd. I ended up in a packed overflow room forced to stand while watching his speech on a massive screen. The crowd seemed to love him, and he beamed the love right back to them. In hard-core science circles, Gore is, for the most part, a rock star. His success in bringing global attention to climate change has earned him entrée into a community that has struggled to communicate its message to mainstream media for decades.

Gore gave big props to President Barack Obama, for appreciating science and pledging to restore it to its appropriate role in policy-making. He noted that in recent speeches President Obama has mentioned that his political hero, Abraham Lincoln, had a knowledge of and respect for science. Gore also thanked many of the scientists in the room who have mentored him over the years, helping him to master the knowledge that underpins his advocacy.

The former veep had a lot of cool animated slides and videos. One of my favorites morphed the arctic ice cap into a beating heart to show the effect of melting ice caps. Don’t ask me to explain the specifics.

Gore has mastered the art of delivering his message through analogies that resonate. He made the case that a common thread connects the financial meltdown and the climate crisis: an obsession with short-term thinking. On Wall Street, it led to huge and risky bets on mortgage backed securities that made investment bankers and shareholders enormously rich, until it all went bust.

Gore made the case that a similar outcome will befall the planet if we continue to invest in carbon based fuels. If nothing is done about the carbon equivalent of subprime mortgage assets that are piling up across the planet, he argues, the environment could collapse as spectacularly and devastatingly as the credit markets and mortgage markets have.

Gore’s main message to the scientists in the audience was to get involved in politics and policy making. He told them, bluntly, “scientists can no longer accept the division between the work you do and the civilization in which you live.” He told them part of the solution to saving the planet depends on the rapid spread of understanding about the causes and extent of the problem. He urged them to “become part of this struggle.” He stressed, with urgency, that science has a clear role to play in setting policy and also informing public opinion – a role, he said, that’s been overlooked for the last eight years.

I watched the audience as Gore made his plea. They were, almost to a person, riveted. Specialized journalists, like the science reporters here, enjoy a shout-out as much as anyone. So do scientists. With a new administration in Washington, there’s excitement and relief in the science community that facts and knowledge once again carry a premium.

Filed under: Al Gore • Cate Vojdik • Environmental issues
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    I hope in all the economic disaster that the climate doesn't get put on the back burner to be dealt with later – we have run out of time for that tactic – later is now.

    February 16, 2009 at 9:41 pm |
  2. earle,florida

    Promises are made in Storms, and Forgotten in the Calm,...ie)1973 oil embargo

    February 16, 2009 at 1:09 pm |