Al Gore New York Times op-ed a lesson for Obama in how to talk about climate change with candor


In the Sunday February 28 New York Times former Vice-President Al Gore weighs in with a strong, 1,900-word op-ed column that includes a spirited defense of climate science and the besieged climate science community (something it would be nice to see Obama start doing). Gore also takes aim at the political paralysis that has been allowed to develop in Washington, notwithstanding the large Democratic majority. He argues for not abandoning cap-and-trade legislation—even as it now appears that it may be on the verge of being jettisoned by Senate climate bill negotiators. Will Senate leaders try to sell us a watered-down compromise that is inadequate to the problem supposedly being addressed? And he delivers a richly-deserved thrashing of the hubristic triumphalism of free-market fundamentalists, who have served the interests of corporate power and wealth, promoted fake-populist demagogues, and undermined the country’s ability to govern itself intelligently.  “From the standpoint of governance,” Gore says, 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.”

Post by Rick Piltz

President Obama, here is the way you should be talking about climate change and its context, if you were addressing it with the candor and the sense of urgency you once claimed it called for. And here is the way you would be talking if you wanted to step up and show the climate science community that you have their back.

We Can’t Wish Away Climate Change

New York Times
February 28, 2010

Op-ed Contributor

Gore begins with:

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.

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. …

After some discussion of the scientific evidence on climate change and the sorry state of Washington policymaking, Gore sets the problem in this larger political context:

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. …

These are just excerpts. Read the whole piece.

See Joe Romm’s post at Climate Progress on the Gore column, annotated with useful links to documentation on global climatic disruption.

Earlier CSW posts:
February 24: Sen. Inhofe inquisition seeking ways to criminalize and prosecute 17 leading climate scientists

February 23: Scientists ill-equipped to deal with all-out war on climate science community

January 28 Obama State of the Union evasive and inadequate on climate change and climate science

December 31, 2009: A New Year’s resolution for Obama: Figure out how to talk to the public about climate change

November 22, 2009: Obama 2008: “Time for delay is over. This is a matter of urgency.” US 2009: No climate policy


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