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Al Gore’s must read op-ed in the NY Times (annotated): We Cant Wish Away Climate Change

By Joe Romm on February 27, 2010 at 5:14 pm

"Al Gore’s must read op-ed in the NY Times (annotated): We Cant Wish Away Climate Change"

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It would be an enormous relief if the recent attacks on the science of global warming actually indicated that we do not face an unimaginable calamity requiring large-scale, preventive measures to protect human civilization as we know it.

That how Al Gore’s op-ed big Sunday NY Times op-ed begins.

Since the anti-science disinformers get such absurdly unjustified amount of ink these days — even in the paper of record (see “NYT Faces Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage” — the least I can do is excerpt an actual science-based analysis at length.  I’ve added links to the relevant scientific literature:

Of course, we would still need to deal with the national security risks of our growing dependence on a global oil market dominated by dwindling reserves in the most unstable region of the world, and the economic risks of sending hundreds of billions of dollars a year overseas in return for that oil. And we would still trail China in the race to develop smart grids, fast trains, solar power, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy “” the most important sources of new jobs in the 21st century.

But what a burden would be lifted! We would no longer have to worry that our grandchildren would one day look back on us as a criminal generation that had selfishly and blithely ignored clear warnings that their fate was in our hands. We could instead celebrate the naysayers who had doggedly persisted in proving that every major National Academy of Sciences report on climate change had simply made a huge mistake.

I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion.   But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In fact, the crisis is still growing because we are continuing to dump 90 million tons of global-warming pollution every 24 hours into the atmosphere “” as if it were an open sewer.  It is true that the climate panel published a flawed overestimate of the melting rate of debris-covered glaciers in the Himalayas, and used information about the Netherlands provided to it by the government, which was later found to be partly inaccurate.

But the scientific enterprise will never be completely free of mistakes. What is important is that the overwhelming consensus on global warming remains unchanged. It is also worth noting that the panel’s scientists “” acting in good faith on the best information then available to them “” probably underestimated the range of sea-level rise in this century, the speed with which the Arctic ice cap is disappearing and the speed with which some of the large glacial flows in Antarctica and Greenland are melting and racing to the sea.

For some sources, see:

Because these and other effects of global warming are distributed globally, they are difficult to identify and interpret in any particular location. For example, January was seen as unusually cold in much of the United States. Yet from a global perspective, it was the second-hottest January since surface temperatures were first measured 130 years ago.

That’s true of the NASA dataset (click here).  NOAA just reported it was the warmest January in both satellite records

Similarly, even though climate deniers have speciously argued for several years that there has been no warming in the last decade, scientists confirmed last month that the last 10 years were the hottest decade since modern records have been kept.

The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere “” thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States. Just as it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, neither should we miss the climate for the snowstorm.

For more, see “An amazing, though clearly little-known, scientific fact: We get more snow storms in warm years!” and “Massive moisture-driven extreme precipitation during warmest winter in the satellite record “” and the deniers say it disproves (!) climate science:  Plus Dr. Jeff Masters on “Heavy snowfall in a warming world.”

Here is what scientists have found is happening to our climate: man-made global-warming pollution traps heat from the sun and increases atmospheric temperatures. These pollutants “” especially carbon dioxide “” have been increasing rapidly with the growth in the burning of coal, oil, natural gas and forests, and temperatures have increased over the same period. Almost all of the ice-covered regions of the Earth are melting “” and seas are rising. Hurricanes are predicted to grow stronger and more destructive, though their number is expected to decrease. Droughts are getting longer and deeper in many mid-continent regions, even as the severity of flooding increases. The seasonal predictability of rainfall and temperatures is being disrupted, posing serious threats to agriculture. The rate of species extinction is accelerating to dangerous levels.

See the U.S. Climate Change Science Program report, Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate and my overview post, Intro to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water

Though there have been impressive efforts by many business leaders, hundreds of millions of individuals and families throughout the world and many national, regional and local governments, our civilization is still failing miserably to slow the rate at which these emissions are increasing “” much less reduce them.

And in spite of President Obama’s efforts at the Copenhagen climate summit meeting in December, global leaders failed to muster anything more than a decision to “take note” of an intention to act.

Because the world still relies on leadership from the United States, the failure by the Senate to pass legislation intended to cap American emissions before the Copenhagen meeting guaranteed that the outcome would fall far short of even the minimum needed to build momentum toward a meaningful solution….

This comes with painful costs. China, now the world’s largest and fastest-growing source of global-warming pollution, had privately signaled early last year that if the United States passed meaningful legislation, it would join in serious efforts to produce an effective treaty. When the Senate failed to follow the lead of the House of Representatives, forcing the president to go to Copenhagen without a new law in hand, the Chinese balked. With the two largest polluters refusing to act, the world community was paralyzed.Some analysts attribute the failure to an inherent flaw in the design of the chosen solution “” arguing that a cap-and-trade approach is too unwieldy and difficult to put in place. Moreover, these critics add, the financial crisis that began in 2008 shook the world’s confidence in the use of any market-based solution.

But there are two big problems with this critique: First, there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically. It is difficult to imagine a globally harmonized carbon tax or a coordinated multilateral regulatory effort. The flexibility of a global market-based policy “” supplemented by regulation and revenue-neutral tax policies “” is the option that has by far the best chance of success. The fact that it is extremely difficult does not mean that we should simply give up.

Second, we should have no illusions about the difficulty and the time needed to convince the rest of the world to adopt a completely new approach. The lags in the global climate system, including the buildup of heat in the oceans from which it is slowly reintroduced into the atmosphere, means that we can create conditions that make large and destructive consequences inevitable long before their awful manifestations become apparent: the displacement of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, civil unrest, chaos and the collapse of governance in many developing countries, large-scale crop failures and the spread of deadly diseases.

It’s important to point out that the United States is not alone in its inaction. Global political paralysis has thus far stymied work not only on climate, but on trade and other pressing issues that require coordinated international action.

The reasons for this are primarily economic. The globalization of the economy, coupled with the outsourcing of jobs from industrial countries, has simultaneously heightened fears of further job losses in the industrial world and encouraged rising expectations in emerging economies. The result? Heightened opposition, in both the industrial and developing worlds, to any constraints on the use of carbon-based fuels, which remain our principal source of energy.

The decisive victory of democratic capitalism over communism in the 1990s led to a period of philosophical dominance for market economics worldwide and the illusion of a unipolar world. It also led, in the United States, to a hubristic “bubble” of market fundamentalism that encouraged opponents of regulatory constraints to mount an aggressive effort to shift the internal boundary between the democracy sphere and the market sphere. Over time, markets would most efficiently solve most problems, they argued. Laws and regulations interfering with the operations of the market carried a faint odor of the discredited statist adversary we had just defeated.

This period of market triumphalism coincided with confirmation by scientists that earlier fears about global warming had been grossly understated. But by then, the political context in which this debate took form was tilted heavily toward the views of market fundamentalists, who fought to weaken existing constraints and scoffed at the possibility that global constraints would be needed to halt the dangerous dumping of global-warming pollution into the atmosphere.

Over the years, as the science has become clearer and clearer, some industries and companies whose business plans are dependent on unrestrained pollution of the atmospheric commons have become ever more entrenched. They are ferociously fighting against the mildest regulation “” just as tobacco companies blocked constraints on the marketing of cigarettes for four decades after science confirmed the link of cigarettes to diseases of the lung and the heart.

Simultaneously, changes in America’s political system “” including the replacement of newspapers and magazines by television as the dominant medium of communication “” conferred powerful advantages on wealthy advocates of unrestrained markets and weakened advocates of legal and regulatory reforms. Some news media organizations now present showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment. And as in times past, that has proved to be a potent drug in the veins of the body politic. Their most consistent theme is to label as “socialist” any proposal to reform exploitive behavior in the marketplace.

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption. After all has been said and so little done, the truth about the climate crisis “” inconvenient as ever “” must still be faced.

The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing. It begins with a choice by the United States to pass a law establishing a cost for global warming pollution. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation, with some Republican support, to take the first halting steps for pricing greenhouse gas emissions.

Later this week, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are expected to present for consideration similar cap-and-trade legislation.

I hope that it will place a true cap on carbon emissions and stimulate the rapid development of low-carbon sources of energy.

We have overcome existential threats before. Winston Churchill is widely quoted as having said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes, you must do what is required.” Now is that time. Public officials must rise to this challenge by doing what is required; and the public must demand that they do so “” or must replace them.

Al Gore, the vice president from 1993 to 2001, is the founder of the Alliance for Climate Protection and the author of “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” As a businessman, he is an investor in alternative energy companies.

Hear!  Hear!

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45 Responses to Al Gore’s must read op-ed in the NY Times (annotated): We Cant Wish Away Climate Change

  1. Peter Bellin says:

    Great editorial. He takes on the fact that entertainment is sold as news, and perhaps could have more strongly made this point. It is a sorry state when the measure of news quality is the strength of ratings rather than an objective measure of their quality.

    Thanks for posting it.

  2. For all that Al Gore has done to sound the alarm, he’s been honored with the Nobel Prize. Wonderful op-ed, and great annotations by JR.

    At long last, this speech will have to be given by Obama in a 60 minutes prime time presidential broadcast, perhaps in a colloquy or dialogue with Lubchenko, Chu, Holdren at a conference table. The deniers have won the ground war, with data this past week showing the public increasing slipping into know-nothing land.

    I like Al fore’s approach that he wishes it were all wrong, and then we’d only have to deal with debt, security, international competitiveness and the most important economic industries lost to our trading partners.

  3. Ken Johnson says:

    Overall, Gore’s editorial is well-written, but I think one of the biggest obstacles to effective action on climate change is the kind of closed-minded position that Gore and others take on cap-and-trade, as evidenced by his statement that “there is no readily apparent alternative that would be any easier politically.” A viable cap-and-trade system — even sweetened with political concessions to nuclear and fossil-fuel industries — would create near-term decarbonization incentives only on the order of $20/ton. Something like feed-in tariffs in the electricity sector could create immediate incentives for renewables of order $100/ton; and financing instruments could leverage even larger incentives for energy efficiency (e.g. something like $300/ton for vehicle fuel economy).

    I believe that the only real reason why carbon taxes are not politically viable is that with a tax $100/ton means you pay $100 for every ton of CO2 you emit. By contrast, under cap-and-trade (with free allocation) you can get paid $100 for every ton you don’t emit below industry-average emission rates. Similarly, feed-in tariffs and financing can create high price incentives without imposing high costs on industry or consumers.

    Case in point: China is driving a massive expansion of renewable energy, not by imposing high carbon fees to overcome price barriers to renewables, but rather by subsidizing renewable energy with financing provided by very modest fees on electricity use (0.25 to 0.4 percent for residential users and 0.8 percent for industrial users).

    I believe that we will break the impasse on climate policy when Gore and other environmental advocates begin to recognize the difference between $20/ton and $100/ton, and when industry interests understand that “price” does not equate to “cost”.

  4. sailrick says:

    “Some news media organizations now present showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment.”

    Indeed. There is a special place in hell for the Sean Hannitys, Rush Limbaughs, Michael Savages, Glen Becks of the world.

  5. Chad says:

    I disagree with Gore. History will not look kindly upon the deniers, no matter what happens (and yes, I refuse to label the deniers “skeptics”, because they are not at all skeptical of the garbage they are fed by the right-wing political machine).

    There are two possibilities: AGW is real, or it turns out to be much ado about nothing. If the former, future generations will look back upon the deniers much as we look back upon Nazis and slave-owners today. If the latter, the matter will be largely forgotten, and anyone interested in history, upon looking back, would conclude that today’s scientists got the wrong answer despite good faith efforts to utilize the best knowledge they had, while the deniers luckily got the right answer for the (very) wrong reasons.

  6. Ivy Bear says:

    Think of where we would be now had Bush and the Supreme Court not stolen the election in 2000. No Iraq war, real progress on renewable energy,
    and a global effort to contain CO2.

    The deniers and the “reporters” searching for a “middle ground” between stupidity and facts will obviously have trouble with this. The political lines are pretty well drawn, and the denial crowd loves to hate Al Gore. But that doesn’t change the scientific facts.

    Nice of the NY Times to let this oped appear, after all of the misreporting they have done in the past.

    Ivy Bear

  7. Dave says:

    I concur with Gore that the climate crisis is at its root a crisis of governance. There will always be liars and hucksters masquerading as newsmen and representatives. The public does not currently care enough to distinguish and demote them, and because of that a good number of our problems are much more intractable than they need to be.

    In a cultural-evolution sense, I see climate change as a messenger telling us to grow up as a culture (and as a species). When climate change is somehow solved or adapted to, there would be other crises requiring the same social capital we now so obviously lack.

    Thanks for posting this, and thanks to Gore for his essay.

  8. Papatom says:

    Oh, and I forgot to mention the nutbags still hung up on the 2000 election. Is there any more illustrative view into their psyche??? And do they even have a clue about the alternative energy research dollars spent by the Bush the Younger’s administration? Of course not, because they are holed up in their mother’s basements blogging away as if they actually had a clue about life outside their little castle in the sky. Pathetic.

  9. Andy Heninger says:

    sailrick wrote

    There is a special place in hell for the Sean Hannitys, Rush Limbaughs, Michael Savages, Glen Becks of the world.

    Those are just the paid entertainment. The villains in this story are the Rex Tillersons, Dick Cheneys, Rupert Murdochs and Don Blankenships of this world. If these powers thought that the clowns were becoming counterproductive, they would be gone. If they concluded that accurate reporting of the science was desirable, that too would come to pass.

  10. Michael Heath says:

    I’m a big fan of Al Gore as a policy wonk and think this editorial near perfectly expresses and describes our current state of affairs. However we must concede that Mr. Gore really annoys people we need to come over to our side, and part of this divisiveness comes from Mr. Gore’s words and deeds.

    For example, in this article he shows his lack of emotional intelligence by venting against those who oppose our having a smart modern regulatory framework. Of course his points are valid, but rather than alienating these people he instead could have appealed to them by making the equally valid argument that oil and especially coal possess externality costs whose total costs arguably make it the most expensive energy sources humankind will ever consume, a cost where nearly the full bill has yet to come due on coal and which will be disproportionately paid by U.S. taxpayers rather than producers or consumers.

    Improving the efficiency of markets by accounting for externalities and insuring these costs are instead paid by producers and their consumers can be a mutual rallying point appealing to the business community at large beyond fossil fuel producers and their largest consumers. Instead Mr. Gore used this opportunity to lash-out in a way that might have been emotionally satisfying to him and liberals, but self-defeating when it comes to getting business people on the fence to consider what we know.

  11. Brewster says:

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how well Gore wrote the OP-Ed, he’s only preaching to the choir.

    As soon as any Denier reads that name, all logical circuits are turned off.

    And the Denialsphere has trashed “Algore” so badly, even moderates will read his article with a jaundiced eye.

  12. MarkB says:

    Gore seems to be warning Senate leaders (correctly in my view) that substituting cap and trade with some other mechanism for lowering carbon emissions is a bad idea at this point. Thoughts?

  13. Anton says:

    What about fee and dividend method as suggested by James Hansen instead of cap and trade? Whomever mines CO2-emitting fossil fuel is charged a fee for extracting it. That money is then pooled together and redistributed back to every legal resident. So if you purchase goods made with process that created CO2 pollution, you pay. If you purchase products made with clean energy, you save. Instant incentive to phase out CO2 emitting processes. And that’s it. No expensive bureaucracy, no middlemen “market” devices taking part of cash for nothing. And no way for polluters to game the system.

  14. Jeff Huggins says:

    We Can’t Wish Away Ignorance, Shortsightedness and Selfishness (I’m Afraid!)

    It would be an enormous relief if excellent reasoning, honest and intelligent editorials, energetic blogging, and e-mails and phone calls to politicians could bring about an effective and sufficient response to the climate change and energy problems and a sustainable new way forward.

    But there is a problem, isn’t there?

    The honorable Al Gore’s editorial is excellent. Bravo! He’s a very bright guy, and I applaud him. He “gets” the science and the stakes. He seems to understand, very well, what the scientific community and all of those National Academies are saying.

    But there is something that the editorial does not quite say that is, I believe, also very important. Even as the editorial is correct regarding the global warming problem and the stakes, and also regarding the issue of political paralysis, it seems to be missing something equally important. Perhaps Mr. Gore just did not want to raise the issue, at this point? So I will.

    One can be correct about the science of global warming and the immense stakes involved and, yet, be incorrect in one’s interpretation of “the science of human history” and the science of human psychology. I doubt that Mr. Gore is incorrect regarding these things, but his editorial didn’t go into the matter explicitly …

    … which is this …

    When was the last time that society made a major change to address a pressing problem based mainly on excellent reasoning, great editorials, energetic blogging, and phone calls to politicians? When was the last time that society made such major changes without actual action on the part of concerned parties of one sort or another?

    Was American independence gained based on excellent editorials alone? Was slavery abolished based on reasoning and fact alone? Did women gain the vote based on humble requests and appeals to reason, and nothing more? Did Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. bring about changes through blogging? Was the Vietnam war brought to an end by letter-writing?

    I’m sorry to have to pose these questions, and (to be clear, so I’m not misunderstood) I’m not suggesting a civil war! Nor am I saying that excellent editorials and energetic blogging aren’t important parts of the solution.

    But, it seems to me that history and common sense tell us that something much more than editorials and blogging will, alas, probably be necessary. I am a huge fan of reasoning—I wrote a book called “The Obligations Of Reason”—but reasoning alone, as expressed in editorials and phone calls and letters and so forth, has not proved sufficient, historically, to bring about major and necessary changes. What is that phrase? “I’m just saying.”

    We will probably need the Rosa Parkses, the Martin Luther King Jrs, the Gandhis, the Susan B. Anthonies, the Joan Baezes, the Thomas Jeffersons (who went a bit farther than writing editorials when he wrote the Declaration), and so forth. Here again, please don’t misunderstand me: Each problem calls for its own path(s) to a solution. But, for goodness sake, we aren’t even boycotting ExxonMobil yet!? Re-read Mr. Gore’s editorial, and consider the view of the scientific community and the present political paralysis, and consider that: WE aren’t even boycotting ExxonMobil yet!? How do you figure that?

    Indeed, one of those “companies whose business plans are dependent on unrestrained pollution of the atmospheric commons” and that has become “ever more entrenched” is the largest advertiser in The New York Times, or nearly so, communicating their nonsense to us nearly every week, on the front page no less. The very same paper that offers Mr. Gore’s editorial will not, and does not, raise even a soft feather of investigative journalism or in-depth news that would critique its apparent benefactor.

    (If I were Mr. Gore, now that The Times has run his editorial, I’d march into The Times building and insist that Times leadership fish or cut bait, via offering the public excellent and accurate and wise news coverage itself.)

    So here we are: We face the immense problems discussed in the editorial, which I applaud. But, our “newspaper of record” won’t offer even a half-hearted critical whisper regarding ExxonMobil. And, where are the Rosa Parkses?

    People marched to bring the Vietnam war to a close, and we can’t even muster the cooperation and energy and verve to boycott ExxonMobil.

    Let’s not make the mistake of getting climate science correct but misunderstanding human history and human psychology so much so that we wait forever thinking that well-written editorials and fact-full blogging will solve the problem alone. Most likely, sadly, they won’t.

    Again, I applaud Al Gore, but we’d better figure out what’s next.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  15. PSU Grad says:

    I have two thoughts. First, the deniers will seize on the following from the Op-Ed:

    “As a businessman, he is an investor in alternative energy companies.”

    “AHA!!!”, they will piously intone. “He stands to make money from this. See??????? He’s a fraud!!!” (It’s already happened, just wait, there’s be more).

    And a comment for Jeff Huggins (@13) excellent blog, in response to the following:

    “People marched to bring the Vietnam war to a close, and we can’t even muster the cooperation and energy and verve to boycott ExxonMobil. ”

    Right, but why the difference? Keep in mind we didn’t really have significant, continuing marches during the Iraq war, either. Why?

    Because nobody’s rear end was on the line. During Vietnam we had a draft. I wasn’t old enough to understand whether the protesters were more concerned about the war or that THEY might have to go, but my guess is it was the latter. We didn’t see that during the Iraq war because students KNEW they wouldn’t have to go. It was someone else’s problem. What we saw were protests in FAVOR of the war, mainly because “patriotism” had become chic and easy (just wave that flag, put this magnet on your car and call those “other” people “anti-American” and “socialists”). So long as nobody actually had to do anything, it was all good.

    You can’t boycott ExxonMobil because people need to get to work, and many of us don’t have a mass transit system worth a tinker’s d*mn. If you boycott ExxonMobil, they’ll get gas elsewhere.

    The reality is that people first have to understand there’s a problem. And the deniers have done a great job spreading uncertainty and doubt, for their own obvious economic reasons. I’ve said it before, theirs is a comforting message…”now, now, don’t worry about those HYSTERICAL “scientists”, they can’t forecast the weather two days out, how do they know what’ll happen in 50 or 100 years? And Al Gore? He stands to MAKE MONEY from all this HYSTERIA and lives in a REALLY LARGE house!!! And he wants YOU to sacrifice???” And so they go on with their lives, because of the doubt.

    Right or wrong, that’s how I see the world right now. You want to do something, take the messages of the “pro” Iraq war folks and apply it to the deniers. Repeat it and repeat it and repeat it. Hit them where they think their strength lies (they all think they uber-patriots, when most are the biggest cowards you’ll ever find who care only about themselves, not their country).

  16. John McCormick says:

    RE #7

    Ivy Bear, a minor edit:

    Think of where we would be now had…Ralph Nader dropped out of the campaign, in Florida, and supported VP Gore….etc.

    John McCormick

  17. joe1347 says:

    Another timely article (from Juan Cole), this time some advice for the climate scientists.

    “Advice to Climate Scientists on how to Avoid being Swift-boated and how to become Public Intellectuals”

    http://www.juancole.com/2010/02/advice-to-climate-scientists-on-how-to.html#comments

  18. Jeff Huggins says:

    To PSU Grad, Comment 16

    Hi PSU Grad. Thanks for your kind comment.

    As it relates to my comment, I agree with you on one thing but not on another.

    I agree that, in the case of activism to bring the Vietnam war to a close, much of the energy for that probably had very much to do with the risk of being drafted. A challenge for us today, of course, is whether people can muster the energy to take the climate matter seriously, and to get active, even though individuals don’t feel any risk/threat that is as acute as being drafted into a war.

    Regarding the other point, I don’t agree that we can’t boycott ExxonMobil or that such a boycott would not be effective. There are different timeframes — short term, medium term, long term. Different people will be able to switch to cleaner forms of transportation, electric or hybrid vehicles, or vehicles with much greater fuel efficiency (than their present vehicles) according to different time frames. For some, that will take a while. Others can move in those directions more quickly. BUT, either way, even in the near-term, as people still need and use gasoline, there is still the choice of who to buy it from, and that is a very important choice. Choices such as that do send signals and are motivating to companies, if they are made by a large enough number of people.

    If and as you still need gas, get it from the number 3 company, or the number 5 company, or an independent gas station. Don’t get it from an ExxonMobil station — even though they don’t actually own the stations any more, or at least they’ve gotten rid of most of them (I’m not sure if they still own some). Don’t buy their motor oil or other products. And tell others. Those decisions will make a difference — if enough people make them — and indeed are necessary. ExxonMobil is the largest of the U.S.-headquartered oil companies, and one of the two largest in the world, depending on how you compare them to Royal Dutch Shell, and ExxonMobil is the chief deceiver and delayer.

    Imagine five cars speeding down a freeway, with the first car — boldly and carelessly leading the way — going 90 miles an hour, and with the other four cars, behind it, in the first car’s “draft”, going 80 miles an hour. You are one Highway Patrol car. Which car are you going to pull aside? Who will you give the ticket to? Will that send a signal to the driver AND to the other cars?

    Even if you need gasoline, your purchase decision — who you buy it from — is immensely important. If more people would “get” this, it would make a difference.

    Thanks again for your comment, and Cheers,

    Jeff

  19. Wit's End says:

    Regarding Vietnam – Part of it was the draft, but also, in that era, it was quite shocking to see scenes of war on the nightly news. Many people who never would have been drafted – because they had college deferment, or were female – strenuously opposed the war for moral reasons. Now, people have grown up watching incredibly violent movies and games, they are inured to stories like the Blackwater brutalities.

    The protesters against the war in Vietnam also had the exciting feeling of empowerment – there were other major cultural shifts occurring at the time.

    By now, people who are against government atrocities and wanton corporate pollution have lost so many battles. There have been too many travesties to enumerate – Iran-contra, the wicked harassment of Clinton, Gore’s loss, the Iraq war, the insane and ridiculous war on drugs, the erosion of health security, the exploitation of the markets by the financiers who are bent on destroying the middle class…

    I don’t know how you can channel all these failures into a progressive movement to address climate change. I do agree with PSU grad – there isn’t going to be any meaningful boycott or other action until people understand the enormity of the problem of climate change – and unfortunately, that is not likely to happen until it’s too late, if it isn’t already.

  20. fj2 says:

    We are in an extreme emergency and the attitude should be that we must be dealing with it in the most expedient and determined way.

    Al Gore still does seem to relay this sense of urgency and is a big mistake.

    Gorbachev had a much stronger New York Times piece: “We Have a Real Emergency”.

    And, stuff has to happen fast.

    Regarding healthcare: We need a healthy citizenry and this will fall in line once we start seriously dealing with this dire emergency; immediately!

  21. fj2 says:

    The President must stand up before Congress and detail decisive action addressing this dire emergency.

    This is the best possible thing he can do.

    And, the United States of America going it alone with an aggressive action would do no harm. On the contrary, it would do plenty of good.

  22. Laura says:

    I think there needs to be a new report on global warming that only presents the facts with proven data. Seems like this would be the easiest way to prove the global warming theories. The facts with proven data are becoming less and less. Can we just get a new report that actually will prove global warming exists? Until this happens most people are just not buying it anymore.

  23. Let me loudly and publicly thank you, sir, for being (as near as I can tell) the ONLY blogger on Memeorandum to actually defend Al Gore’s thesis, in a sea of snide, snooty snark. (Did I forget to add “specious,” “borderline libellous” and “clueless”?)

    Take a look, because this is, to our eternal shame, the NORMAL state of affairs in this climate debate, a feeding frenzy of sarcasm and virtually zero defense or rationality:

    http://www.memeorandum.com/100227/p34#a100227p34

    Every story that comes up, it seems, is swarmed by semi-professional and professional denialists, haters, goons and thugs. And it is such a rarity to see someone coming to the defense of what ought to be a self-evident emergency that, alas, high praise must be given for what ought to be a far more common act of courage. Exemplary work. Thank you.

  24. Ben Lieberman says:

    If boycotts emerge as a strategy will they follow the civil rights model? I’m not sure there is any parallel to a sit in. The international anti-Apartheid movement did create pressure on South Africa, but those actions could focus clearly on one target.

  25. Jeff Huggins says:

    Ben (Comment 25) … (and Emerson on Goodness)

    Ben, good question. I think part of the answer is that many forms/approaches/forums will need to be part of the mix.

    One — of many — should (and will) probably involve the college generation and campuses. Even now (indeed, even five years ago) one could justifiably wonder why in the heck major universities (Harvard, Stanford, Cal, MIT, and etc. etc.) are buying anything from the likes of ExxonMobil, Koch, and a number of other worst offenders. Here, I’m including the universities themselves, and students.

    Also, another actionable pathway involves the immense pension funds and investments held by organizations that are themselves strongly in favor of doing something about climate change. A great number of those pension funds — some of them immense — should promptly divest themselves of investments in companies that are the chief offenders. There are other investments available that should perform better as time progresses and that would actually be good for future generations, the environment, sustainability, and so forth.

    So, several of the focused pathways for action could, and should, involve institutions of higher learning as well as large organizations with pension funds.

    These days, money speaks the loudest, apparently, and the idea of boycotts and economic action is more doable and tractable than one might think.

    In one of his great essays — indeed, probably one of the most American and famous essays of American history — Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none.”

    That statement says a lot.

    It’s fair to say, I think, that people concerned about climate change have immense scientific knowledge supporting them, but our intended “goodness” has far too little “edge” to it, under the circumstances.

    (See Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”)

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  26. ChicagoMike says:

    Papatom: “And do they even have a clue about the alternative energy research dollars spent by the Bush the Younger’s administration?”

    Bush increased funding for research in technologies with no hope of becoming reality anytime soon (fuel cell cars and carbon capture for example) while simultaneously cutting funding for research and deployment of technologies that really work (like energy efficiency). Polluting industries love this approach because it maintains the status quo for the foreseeable future.

    We already have most of the technology we need to make the transition to a clean energy economy. What’s lacking is a cap on emissions that will bring the price of fossil fuels in line with their true costs and lead to the deployment of current clean energy technology on a large scale.

  27. Dave says:

    Jeff –
    I share your sense of urgency and the need for visible political actions. We need to provide outlets for the latent public will to act for climate stability. It is there – I spent just a few hours last December organizing a march and got 75 people out in the street (in Montana!)

    Boycotts, editorials, academic tracts, teaching, direct action, art, lifestyle choices, music, science, political campaigns… We need it all. There actually is strength in diversity.

    Ben -

    A (potentially harebrained) idea:

    If not sit-ins, then how about “bike-ins” where people refuse to use fossil-powered transport for defined periods (days, weeks, months… years?). There could be clearly visible signs or colors on the bikes to indicate that choosing biking is a political act, and even when parked the bikes would be billboards indicating support for action on climate change.

    Groups rides – similar to Critical Mass demonstrations but without the obstructionism – could bring more focused attention. I think that demonstrations should focus on the positive aspects of action on climate change (security, community, health, fresh air) rather than blaming drivers for screwing up the world.

    The real power of the civil rights movement was that people were publicly putting themselves on the line for what they believed in. I think the climate stability movement needs to start doing that.

  28. JJM says:

    Joe, I hope you don’t delete this comment but I think you need to know. The problem with Al Gore being the face and voice of climate change is that it confirms for most people what they have always suspected, that climate change is more about politics than it is about science. As long as he remains the spokesperson for the cause at least half of the population will remain skeptical of the science.

  29. Jeff Huggins says:

    Getting Visible (and Dave’s Comment 28),

    Great comments Dave. Thanks.

    You know, as many people as there are who care about the climate change problem, they aren’t making themselves “visible” in public, really. Except for one or two days a year, at the events, nobody would know who you (we) are.

    I like your idea of bikes and, indeed, making things visible: Making a concern about climate change visible.

    Way back when, when Bill McKibben announced 350, I went down to the local hat place and had them put “350″ on a generic cap, i.e., a baseball cap. I figured that I would be three weeks ahead of the time when everyone was wearing one. But you know what. I haven’t seen ANYONE wearing a “350″ hat. Someone forgot to have them made?! Have you seen a “350″ hat?

    So much time has passed, now, that I not only have my “350″ hat, but I’ve had time to have it signed by both Jim Hansen (when he was out here) and Stephen Schneider (at a recent talk he gave).

    But, climate concern has no — zero — visibility at the person-street-personal level. We’re too shy.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  30. PSU Grad says:

    To Jeff Huggins (@19) or whomever else:

    I don’t mind the disagreement, it’s somewhat enlightening.

    The problem I see with a boycott of ExxonMobil is that their hands are everywhere. Let’s say you’re on a plane and it’s fueling up. Did the avgas come from ExxonMobil? If so, do you get off the plane? What if it’s a small city and you have few other flight options?

    How about the buses? Do they have a fuel contract with ExxonMobil? Do you then shun public transport if they do?

    I understand your point, but it’s not going to be an easy process.

    And I thoroughly agree with JJM (@29). Al Gore has become such a polarizing figure for many that I don’t think he can effectively convey the message to those who aren’t already convinced about the validity of climate change science. Maybe Bill Nye the Science Guy?

  31. Wit's End says:

    I had this discussion with Significant Other last night when we got a preview of Gore’s OpEd. SI contends that so many people are already turned off to Gore that he is a net negative.

    My belief is that it’s because he is so successful (in the sense that his movie reached a wide audience, he is a prominent public figure that everyone knows, and won the Nobel, etc) he is bound to attract the ire of deniers, and anybody else who stepped into those shoes as spokesperson would attract the exact same degree of unjustified vilification that Gore does.

    It just comes with the package – remember, many vocal deniers are being paid to attack, and they will viciously attack anyone with Al Gore’s stature and credibility who threatens the status quo.

  32. Ryan T says:

    Laura, you mean like the IPCC AR4 (still considered relevant, if a bit conservative, despite a couple of errors out of thousands of pages of material)?

    Or this (including links therein):
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/How-do-we-know-CO2-is-causing-warming.html

    Or these:
    http://understandit.ml1.net/anomalymaps.html
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A2.lrg.gif

    You have to ask yourself why people aren’t “buying” it anymore. What’s changed? Look no further than what’s been happening in the political sphere and the controversy-driven media lately. Everything from erroneous interpretations to trumped-up charges of scientific malfeasance. And all this happens to be occurring in a cool winter, with heavy moisture-fueled snowfall, in the U.S. (less than 2% of the planet’s surface). So here, immediate perceptions are pretty much in-line with what’s in the media, for now. But if you read this and other climate blogs, you know that regional weather fluctuation and heavy precipitation events are not inconsistent with a climate trend of warming. Or the risk of that trend accelerating and harming today’s ecology and burgeoning populations.

  33. Dan says:

    An alternate view, from Senator Graham himself:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/opinion/28friedman.html

  34. Fr. Tom says:

    As an Episcopal priest I have a congregation that ranges from very “liberal” to very “conservative.” Among the conservatives the mere mention of the name “Al Gore” signifies that whatever else follows is suspect and not to be trusted. Periodically I preach on the spiritual dimensions of our failure to confront what we have and are doing to our home planet. And periodically I hear comments like, “Is that you liberal sermon for the year?” and “I hope you don’t expect me to believe that left-wing trash?” Al Gore’s editorial is extremely important. It is simply a shame that it will be ignored by so many.

  35. William T says:

    A good comment on Al Gore’s influence at Rabett Run, to whit:

    Eli has long regretted the attacks on Gore from those who share his concerns, and even worse the reluctance to defend him. Gore does not understand the science as well as the best scientists, he is perhaps not the best communicator, nor is he as willing to pander as many politicians, but the entire package is unique. As many climate scientists are learning, if you are not for those who support you, they will not be able to be for you. Much time has been wasted and the denialists have built strength by supporting each other because of the illusion on our side that perfection could be demanded of allies.

    Of course not everyone will love Gore – that’s normal for politics. However, he is effective “in the game” on Capitol hill. One could ask if there is senator or other prominent political figure on the “pro-action” side who is as “far out” as Inhofe is on the “no-action” side? And could that person be accepted as being “on the same side”?

    It’s about the Overton window, stupid.

  36. Dave says:

    Jeff,
    You are exactly right. We do not have on-the-street visibility, and we need it. the first step is creating some easy ways for people to show their support.

    I am planning to make some “350″ bike signs in the style of triathalon race numbers (tyvek material attached inside the frame with zip ties). I’ll go for a bright yellow so they will double as visibility aids.

    To make the message clearer I’d like to put a tag line below: “cycling for climate stability.” I think materials should emphasize what we are advocating more than what we oppose.

    Other ideas? If this goes well it can be spread widely very easily.

    PSU Grad,
    Boycotts don’t have to be airtight to be effective. They are primarily political and image-oriented. We are unlikely to make much of a direct dent in ExxonMobil’s profits – for all the reasons you mention – but we might be able to force them to curtail their climate disinformation campaigns.

    All,
    It is clear that anyone of public stature will be attacked for threatening the status quo of fossil-fueled industry profit. To return to the civil rights era example, the worst things imaginable were said of its leaders and adherents. But now we have a national holiday for King.

    Supporters of climate stability can expect nothing less than similarly rabid attacks, and we must respond with support for leaders like Gore. If we abandon Gore because he has been attacked, but then try to express exactly his points, we lose credibility with potential friends, encourage our foes, and further confuse the great undecided middle.

  37. paulm says:

    Wow, would have been president.

    Come, on its time to save the world.

  38. toby says:

    I wonder if Arnold Schwartzenegger wrote the same op-ed, what would the response be?

  39. David Smith says:

    I have a quick question and then a comment.

    First, is there a less bad company that I can buy gasoline from in order to use my car? By less bad I mean a company that is not participating in the effort to counter the science.

    The present approach to legislation of AGW seems to hold the consumer harmless, not at fault. Why is that? The strategy which failed with Health Insurance Reform is to negotiate with the large corporate producers, (Producers who have bottomless pits of money to throw at their problem and are fighting for their economic lives as well).

    These producers will probably continue to fight because they believe that fighting is cheaper than changing. They may be too lazy to change. They can still make tonnes of money not changing. Isn’t it becoming obvious that this is a tough battle to win.

    This strategy totally lets the consumer off the hook. I don’t actually care why this is. The strategy is deeply flawed. The greenhouse gasses that we are concerned about only occur when someone buys something. If we, the consumers, did not buy the “something” it would not be produced.

    Anybody who, through their own actions and free will, puts a ton of GHG into the atmosphere should pay a price for that action. This price needs to be enough to discourage such action. By anyone, I mean every legal entity, a person, a for profit company, a nonprofit company…All are accountable.

    There should be a stick and a carrot. The tax on emmisions producing products and processes should be accompanied by a reduction in tax for the related products and processes that do not produce emissions.

    Make the polluters pay. Oh yeh, we are the polluters.

  40. norm says:

    Great writing by Gore. Calm rational and accurate. Unfortunately we live in a country where, as William T points out, the Overton window has been stretched so far out of position that it includes the ravings of people like Beck and Inhofe. No one needs to apologize for Gore, or analyze his faults. Gores successes are in spite of the playing field being tilted at about fourty five degrees. Ever since the Valdez spill, Gore has been a major target.

    Jeff wrote: “Way back when, when Bill McKibben announced 350, I went down to the local hat place and had them put “350″ on a generic cap, i.e., a baseball cap. I figured that I would be three weeks ahead of the time when everyone was wearing one. But you know what. I haven’t seen ANYONE wearing a “350″ hat. Someone forgot to have them made?! Have you seen a “350″ hat?”

    Looks like they do. get yours at the 350 online store: http://www.cafepress.com/Project350.369017171

    although it should be called a “350 cap”.

  41. David Smith says:

    Art of War;

    “Ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting. The highest for of warefare is to attack the strategy itself. The next, to attack alliances…” only then to attack armies.

    The current effort is attacking the armies, the foot soldiers. It’s not really working. The strategists are currently invisible and able to carry on without interuption with relatively unlimited resources.

    The strategy – Spread vicious emotional dis-information among the weak, fearful, thoughtless members of society who tend towards conservatism.

    The alliances – Energy producers to energy producers, energy producers to Conservative think-tanks, Trade associations, Senators and congressmen. (I wanted to include PR Firms but they are employees).

  42. Rick DeLong says:

    Jeff, great comments about the need for extensive popular protests. As the other posters demonstrate, such a movement is unlikely to come from people who are already well entrenched in a fossil-fuel dependent lifestyle, even if they understand the risks associated with climate change and our current economic course.

    At some point, I believe, the university students of the U.S. will wake up and realize that society has given them no future. Part of this may come from climate change, part from the crisis of social security and healthcare. Sadly, I think this will happen too late because people seem to respond only to imminent threats (i.e. the next few years), whereas climate change is a creeping threat with changes too incremental to register as an imminent catastrophe in people’s minds. These student protests may well come in 10-15 years, not today when we need them.

    My personal hope is that Peak Oil and the subsequent decline and rising cost of oil production will wreak enough economic havoc that the vectors of economic incentives will finally change from “we (corporations) need to get people to consume as much as possible” to “we have to downsize, localize, deconcentrate production, and recycle.” This will be the most efficient climate change solution.

    Today many of us are justifiably trying to push the ideas of hybrid and electric cars, alternative energy, home heating efficiency, etc. Such innovations would allow us to hold on to our current societal model while making modest improvements in energy efficiency leading to a gradual tapering off and slow decline of CO2 emissions.

    However, what Peak Oil may well bring is a USSR-style collapse with a subsequent 50% or more drop in GDP, making the current modest efforts a moot point. I believe strong “climate change action” will only come about as a side effect of economic collapse and restructuring. I think it will come when personal debt reaches a tipping point and large numbers of people begin to go bankrupt. Debt will accumulate not for reasons directly traceable to climate change or Peak Oil, but for immediate reasons such as medical bills, joblessness, house payments, and utilities. Waves of personal and corporate bankrupcies will shock the banking system and lead to a general financial crisis. At some point, no further government “stimulus” will be possible, the country will default, and economic collapse will be unavoidable.

    It seems likely that relatively few people will recognize that exploitation of finite fossil fuels are the ultimate cause of the economic crash. They will blame the Republicans or the Democrats rather than the disappearance of cheap energy. Only in hindsight, from the perspective of a post-oil economy, will the true causes become apparent.

    One can only hope that the cheap energy begins to disappear soon enough to provide real climate mitigation when it is still possible to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

  43. Richard Brenne says:

    I’ve been writing and critiquing op-eds for 37 years and I think this is the best single op-ed I’ve ever read, literally an essay for the ages.

    We can use it as a template for all our communication because it is so accurate and precise in so many areas.

    While Al is the ultimate lightning rod, each of us needs to follow Al, Joe and Bill (sounds more like roll call at an Elks Club meeting) in increasing the effective communication of this message in all media, with Climate Progress as the hub of the communication wheel.

    I’d say everything Al (he asked me to call him “Mr. Vice President”) says but with words, sentences and paragraphs averaging half the lengths of each he uses if at all possible. This isn’t easy given the complexities he communicates so brilliantly but something we need to try.

    In my own talks I’ve learned from Mark Twain to take the stage and just stand and look at the audience for the longest time – this left his massive audiences weak-kneed and helpless with laughter and my slightly smaller audiences merely puzzled and blinking. Then I say just two words: “Al Gore.” I then know the kind of audience I’m facing by calibrating the amount of steam coming out of people’s ears.

    And so I recommend we all use Al’s op-ed as the template for all the most important things that need to be said, and then say them ourselves and support everyone else saying them as much as humanly possible, and more so.

  44. Rob C. says:

    If you want to see why finding a solution for climate change is such an uphill battle, read the letters to the editor in the NYT today. The last letter uses the old denier meme of “sure the planet may be warming, but it isn’t certain that humans are causing it.” This is penned by one “Generoso Pope.” Generoso Pope was the name of the founder of the National Enquirer. I may not be a betting man, but I would place money that this is an alias for a PR hack.

    Activists and scientists have been fighting with one hand tied behind their back for far too long. It is time to expose industry’s efforts to manipulate the media and lie the public into inaction.

    David Smith’s comment was right on target. Attack the strategy, don’t simply react to the enemy’s army. The best way to do this is to point out their corrupt motives and expose the links between deniers and fossil fuel industry dollars. Calling all hackers: “Swift-Hack” was a challenge. What would happen if some enterprising activists managed to get a hold of the email correspondence between, say, denier front groups and Exxon (or more accurately, Exxon’s PR Firm DCI Group)?