On Sunday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Al Gore that, while not saying much new, attempts to create a vision for Americans to address the climate crisis.
He begins by reminding us of the urgency.
Without realizing the consequences of our actions, we have begun to put so much carbon dioxide into the thin shell of air surrounding our world that we have literally changed the heat balance between Earth and the Sun. If we don’t stop doing this 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.
Just in the last few months, new studies have shown that the north polar ice cap — which helps the planet cool itself — is melting nearly three times faster than the most pessimistic computer models predicted. Unless we take action, summer ice could be completely gone in as little as 35 years. Similarly, at the other end of the planet, near the South Pole, scientists have found new evidence of snow melting in West Antarctica across an area as large as California.
And then Gore lays out the challenge for us Americans:
This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue, one that affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left versus right; it is a question of right versus wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours…
Next Saturday, on all seven continents, the Live Earth concert will ask for the attention of humankind to begin a three-year campaign to make everyone on our planet aware of how we can solve the climate crisis in time to avoid catastrophe. Individuals must be a part of the solution. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?”
Live Earth will offer an answer to this question by asking everyone who attends or listens to the concerts to sign a personal pledge to take specific steps to combat climate change. (More details about the pledge are available at algore.com.)
But individual action will also have to shape and drive government action. Here Americans have a special responsibility. Throughout most of our short history, the United States and the American people have provided moral leadership for the world. Establishing the Bill of Rights, framing democracy in the Constitution, defeating fascism in World War II, toppling Communism and landing on the moon — all were the result of American leadership.
Once again, Americans must come together and direct our government to take on a global challenge. American leadership is a precondition for success.
I couldn’t agree more. Americans need to take leadership for three big reasons:
- We are the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. We’re only 5% of the world’s population, but we produce nearly 25% of the carbon dioxide in the air.
- The world–particularly developing countries like China and India–are using our inaction as an excuse for their own. China will soon surpass us as the world’s largest produce of GHG (though we’re still the pre-eminent per capita offender, thank you very much) and only 2% of Chinese own a car!
- It’s the right thing to do. Period.
Now, I’m glad that the Live Earth concerts will be taking place, but the pledge campaign will accomplish what exactly? Recent polls show that Americans are increasingly convinced that this is really and truly a crisis, though there are troubling signs that the rift between Republicans and Democrats may be growing. Rather than getting people to make pledges, like a hundred other web sites already do, why not help them make those changes?
Gore goes on to propose that the U.S. sign a new international agreement by 2009 and calls for an aggressive 90% reduction in greenhouse gases by industrialized nations.
A new treaty will still have differentiated commitments, of course; countries will be asked to meet different requirements based upon their historical share or contribution to the problem and their relative ability to carry the burden of change. This precedent is well established in international law, and there is no other way to do it.
There are some who will try to pervert this precedent and use xenophobia or nativist arguments to say that every country should be held to the same standard. But should countries with one-fifth our gross domestic product — countries that contributed almost nothing in the past to the creation of this crisis — really carry the same load as the United States? Are we so scared of this challenge that we cannot lead?
And he ends with a vision for action, based on morality:
…there’s something even more precious to be gained if we do the right thing. The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge.
I am in almost complete agreement with Gore in his sense of urgency and where he places the emphasis towards action. But I can’t help but lament that the political climate in this country is so scorched by red vs. blue dogma that many in this country will ignore or attack the message simply because of the messenger.
Ironically, perhaps the only hope for the blinders to be cast aside is the relentless attack by the current Bush administration on so many of the values that ALL Americans–liberals and conservatives–share: Integrity, honesty, fairness, and respect for the rule of law.
Psychologically, I think it’s difficult for people to change directions even though they’ve hitched their world views and political identities to a horse that has led them astray. Our two-party political system virtually demands of us that we remain loyal to our chosen party, even when our party betrays us. The Republicans in recent years have made this expectation a blatant provocation: “You’re either with us or with the terrorists.” Which is why I suppose so many people in this country stuck by the Bush administration and their lapdogs in Congress over the last six years, despite the glaring ineptitude and corruption exhibited time after time–from Iraq and Katrina to the extensive corruption of elected representatives and White House appointees.
But perhaps the blatant disregard for the rule of law and basic tenets of fairness displayed by Bush’s pseudo-pardoning of Libby yesterday will be the last blast of wind needed to swipe away the blinders, before fealty sends us all–Republican, Democrat–over a cliff from which we can never return. Ladies and gentleman, the climate crisis IS that cliff.