Former Vice President Al Gore spoke to a full audience at Battell Chapel on Tuesday afternoon, warning of the dangers of global warming.
The lecture, titled “The Climate Emergency,” was supplemented by photographs of the earth, its environment, as well as graphs documenting climate change and its impacts.
“When I use the phrase ‘climate emergency,’ I have partly in mind the fact that this is happening right now,” Gore said. “Unless we do something, there will be catastrophic consequences for all of civilization.”
The speech was cosponsored by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the seminar entitled “Politics and the Environment in the 2004 Election Cycle.” In his introduction, environment school Dean Gustave Speth ’64 LAW ’69, described Gore’s 1992 book “Earth in the Balance” as the “Silent Spring” of their generation and called Gore an “extraordinary leader.”
Focusing on the imminent threat due to climate change, Gore described melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels and increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as symptomatic of an alarming problem. Gore explained that these concerns are the result of the deteriorating relationship people have with nature.
“The underlying cause is a collision between our civilization and the earth,” Gore said. “It can be prevented, and it can be changed, but the relationship between the human species and our planet has been completely changed.”
Gore said the new relationship was due to the confluence of population growth, new technology and humanity’s way of thinking. The exponential population growth in the past 50 years has caused resource scarcities and other environmental problems, Gore said, but he argued that even more importantly, human advances need to be taken into account.
“When we don’t examine habits that have persisted for a long time and then use the same habits with new technology, and we don’t take into account the new power that we have, then the consequences can get away from us,” Gore said.
As an example, Gore explained that with the advent of nuclear weapons forced societies to re-evaluate their ideas about warfare. He contended that in this same vein, new technologies in daily life pose such a threat to the environment that societies must reconsider the implications.
Gore added that people must now question their underlying assumptions about the environment.
“Global warming seems to be gradual, but it’s actually sudden,” Gore said. “There are others who assume that this problem is so big that we can’t solve it. And we can, if we put our minds to it.”
Gore argued that global warming problems can be effectively tackled with the right political leadership and collective will. Emphasizing the magnitude of this challenge, he showed a picture of the earth taken by NASA from 3.7 billion miles away.
“Everything we’ve ever known is in one little, pale dot, and if we keep the right perspective and keep our eye on this problem we can solve this problem; we must solve this problem; we will solve this problem,” Gore said. “It’s really up to you.”
During the question-and-answer session, Gore responded to an audience member’s question about how the world would be different if he had been the 43rd president.
“The underlying question that comes from that one is what do we together do right now to choose the kind of future we would like to see,” Gore said. “I am the most biased person in the world. I didn’t vote for Bush. I didn’t come here to give a partisan speech, but I honestly believe it is extremely important to have new leadership on January 20.”
Gore also expressed his support for presidential candidate Senator John Kerry ’66, calling him one of his “strongest allies” on these issues.
“I don’t think there is any senator who has a stronger record on behalf of environmental protection,” Gore said.
Gore’s visit was organized by Heather Kaplan FES ’04 and Kathleen Campbell FES ’04, who are enrolled in the environment-school seminar on politics and the environment. Gore is one of 15 speakers invited to campus through the course.
“I was blown away by how charismatic he was, how engaging he was. So many times climate issues are hard to grasp, and he made it interesting,” said Kaplan, who called Gore’s comments inspiring. “I think everyone was pretty blown away by it.”