"We are what is wrong, and we must make it right"

Last night, in Oslo, Al Gore delivered a simple, powerful message. It's a familiar message to anyone who has watched him speak since 2000, or watched his movie, or read his books. It's simply a call for nothing more or less than the need for all of us to accept responsibility for the effects of our actions:

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

All that Gore is asking is that people accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We - particularly those of us in the industrialized world - are the ones responsible for climate change. It is only fair for us to accept the responsibility for mitigating the problems that we have caused. It may cost us something to do that. It will not be easy for us, and it may well require each of us to make some sacrifices.

But nobody ever said that accepting responsibility is supposed to come without costs.

It's somewhat ironic that most of the political opposition to taking action on climate change comes (at least in the United States) from the conservative side of the political spectrum. Some of the most vocal opponents of taking action to mitigate our impact on the climate are some of the same people who have, time and again, castigated their political opponents for being unwilling to subject people to the consequences of their actions. They are big on making other people accept the alleged consequences for their actions (many of which involve such heinous deeds as daring to be poor), but when it comes time to face up to things that they have been involved in, they take refuge in the claim that their responsibility has only been proven beyond reasonable doubt - but it hasn't yet been shown to be beyond unreasonable doubt.

That claim was addressed (indirectly) by R. K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in his own Nobel Lecture last night:

The IPCC produces key scientific material that is of the highest relevance to policymaking, and is agreed word-by-word by all governments, from the most skeptical to the most confident. This difficult process is made possible by the tremendous strength of the underlying scientific and technical material included in the IPCC reports.

. . .

Science tells us not only that the climate system is changing, but also that further warming and sea level rise is in store even if greenhouse gases were to be stabilized today. That is a consequence of the basic physics of the system. Social factors also contribute to our future, including the 'lock-in' due, for example, to today's power plants, transportation systems, and buildings, and their likely continuing emissions even as cleaner future infrastructure comes on line. So the challenge before us is not only a large one, it is also one in which every year of delay implies a commitment to greater climate change in the future.

Change is happening, and it will continue to do so as a consequence of our actions even if we manage to level emissions tomorrow. True adults accept responsibility for their actions, even when the consequences are unpleasant. At the moment, unfortunately, we are being lead by children. They're standing in the kitchen. They've got chocolate on their fingers, and crumbs around their mouths. And they're crying because grown-ups want to dock their allowance to pay for the broken cookie jar on the floor.

8 responses so far

  • Karen says:

    wow, Gore is a great speaker. you can't get much clearer than that. he's really trying to cut through the inertia created by "I can't understand it, so I'll pretend it isn't there".
    where i live (New Zealand), there's a rising movement of "do anything, every bit counts". a couple of years ago we might have sniffed at turning the smallest appliance off at the wall, "as if it would matter" - now there is a feeling everyone on the block IS doing it, everyone on the island, everyone in the nation, and that will/MUST snowball into everyone in our hemisphere, to everyone on the one & only planet we can live on, or else it will shrug us off and continue on without us.

  • Ginger Yellow says:

    "We are what is wrong, and we must make it right. "
    I like Gore and am glad he's doing what he's doing, but this is the sort of line that just gives his opponents ammunition and puts off waverers. People don't like being told they're the problem, even if they are. Just rewording it as "Our actions are what is wrong..." would be much better.

  • Garry says:

    The world's problems are being placed on the ordinary public when in fact, the greater part is on the shoulders of greedy unscrupulous businessmen.
    Whilst everybody can do their bit to help, Governments need to address the most serious reasons for Global warming, (aside from their hot-air making things worse!!)
    1/ Stop world wide deforestation and the greedy corporations who practice it, we need to name, shame and boycott their products.
    2/ Stop manufacturers from wasteful practices: Mobile phones dumped because replacement batteries are artificially hiked in price to make it not worth while.
    3/ Stop car makers from building in massive and expensive waste, for instance they are now making clutch plates so thin that you are likely to have to replace after 30,000 miles instead of 200,000 miles and of course, you can't just by the clutch plate but have to have the whole assembly.
    Another example is Alternators, earlier ones had the provision of replacing the brushes, but now they have stopped that so you have to spend �150 instead of �15 to replace the whole unit and so it does on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum!
    Washing machines, TV's, Videos, Computer parts and a whole host of manufactured goods deliberately made to fail after about 5 years or less, even a component failure means the scrapping of a whole circuit board rather than just the faulty component - like �100 worth of Computer Motherboard for a few pence worth of Capacitor that was deliberately under-rated to initiate an early failure.
    Until Industry gets its act together and is made to stop wasting the Earth's resources and spewing out massive emissions of CO2in manufacture, then our individual efforts are lost.
    Let us see a blacklist of companies so that the consumer can boycott their goods and buy only from responsible industry!

  • Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet) says:

    There used to be a time in America when a great challenge meant meeting that challenge. The Great War, the Great Depression, World War II (including the atomic bomb program), rebuilding Europe, containing dictatorial communism, these were all great challenges that made Americs stronger at the end.
    Thanks to modern 'leadership' (and yes, Mr. Bush, I am pointing at you and your cronies) we now shy away from challenges. Picture an Eisenhower or Kennedy facing global warming today. The investment in education and new research would be hellishly expensive. It would require new taxes. And at the end of a decade, American companies would be supplying the world with solutions. Instead, we are cutting taxes for the rich (which means borrowing from our children (which means even less money available at the federal level to deal with crisis)) and actively blocking any attempt to deal with the problem of global warming.
    If America could, through research and investment, come up with alternatives (or make existing alternatives more economically viable) we could continue to lead the world economically, socially and morally. Instead, we have the war on terror, the war on the middle class and the war on the constitution.

  • Steve says:

    Great post! You are exactly right! The sad thing is that despite all the evidence, there is still very widespread conscious and unconscious denial -- especially within the educated, economic elites -- including Al Gore! Al has been a wonderful front person for awareness on these issues, but he is not leading transformative change. What is most needed and will eventually be forced upon us, is a radical transformation of our consumptive culture and its values. Leadership toward achieving that end is virtually unknown within the popular culture -- and sorely missed.

  • Metro says:

    I was reading a post over at a blog I normally enjoy. It was entitled "The UN Leads By Example (Not!)" and made a very good point about the pollution created by these junkets in the era of internet meetings, and the irony thereof.
    But the comment string read like a laundry list of climate change "skepticism" (a word used in this context only because "Stick-their-fingers-in-their-ears-and-scream-'Not-listening!-Not listening!'-ers" is so cumbersome).
    I left quite disheartened. After all, if that was the average netizen, what hope is there for change? So I'm really glad I stopped in here.

  • George says:

    The December 12 post by Gary was right on target!
    The economic incentives by powerful and greedy firms to deliberately waste resources has to be changed before we can seriously tackle global warming. There are efforts by a few firms to conserve energy but by and large governments have been caving in to the efforts by powerful industrial interests and allowing them to defraud the public while wasting the environment.
    This extends into many areas, one example being how real estate developers in the USA have been erecting large, energy hogging houses after bulldozing every last vestige of vegetation that lies in their wake!
    This example gives me the opportunity to mention another possible cause of global warming, which Gary touched on previously--a warm up fueled directly from man's creation of urban and suburban desertification. Barren housing zones, unshaded parking lots, and industrial zones cannot help but to raise the overall temperature of the earth.
    The creation of man-made hot zones in inhabited areas as well as the destruction of forests from logging, over farming (especially overgrazing) of marginal areas affects the environment two ways:
    One, it adds to the overall heat because the more of the earth's surface has no vegetation to buffer (and utilize) solar radiation.
    Secondly, the destruction of vegetation adds to the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere because the is less vegetation to draw carbon dioxide back into the soil.
    Realizing multiple human actions cause global warming rather than ascribing it to a single--albeit crucial--cause may not only give us more avenues to slow down global warming, but may provide us more ammunition to refute those who claim that man cannot affect the climate. For example, some scientists are purporting that there a disparity between atmospheric temperatures and surface temperatures which shouldn't exist in a C02 based global warming model and that somehow proves that man is not to blame for the rise in temperatures.
    I don't doubt that natural cycles have played the major part in earth's history for climatic change and, may indeed be part of our present reality, but to say that its the ONLY reason seems shortsighted in the least. Indeed, ever since mankind harnessed fire and began agriculture, there has been some human impact on the environment--at least locally--as the fall of a number of ancient civilizations attests.
    This is a blog commentary by someone who hasn't had the time or funding to research and gather the data for a multiple global warming model. But there must be those who have the resources who are busy researching the multiplicity of ways that we are impacting our impacting our environment.
    I think there will be an ongoing debate as new evidence is obtained but I hope that mankind will have the political will to ACT on the evidence and overcome the short-sighted special interests who have been obstructing the fight against the environmental destruction that has fed global warming.

  • J. B. Jolibois says:

    Global warming is the epitome of jnk scince. I have been waiting for a reasonably clear and succinct explanation of the theory and none has ever been presented. A sales pitch is not a scientific theory. Theories have numbers that can be checked. A lot of dire predictions have been put forth without showing the work of how they arrived at the results. Al Gore is a smooth talking con man who will soon start to disavoiw his support for man made global warming. See "The emporor's new clothes"