Stanford Report, March 17, 2004
Environmental ills require immediate
action, Gore says
BY RAY DELGADO
The industrialized world is on a collision course with nature, according to former Vice President Al Gore, who passionately urged Stanford students to take action to save the environment during a talk last week at Kresge Auditorium.
Speaking before an audience of mostly Graduate School of Business students, Gore presented a series of slides and statistics that showed global temperatures skyrocketing over the last 50 years.
"How do we get the message across so that people go, 'Whoa, wait a minute, we've got to do something about this'?" Gore said. "The proper reaction ought to be mass marches, with people saying this is nuts for us to allow all of this global pollution to continue in a way that threatens the sustainability of civilization as we know it."
For the most part, Gore avoided criticizing the current Bush administration's environmental policies, although he said he would have liked the United States to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that would require countries to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.
But he did not hold back from criticizing the automotive industry and referenced a newspaper story from earlier in the week that said Ford Motor Co. plans to buy hybrid engine technology from Japanese auto giant Toyota, the manufacturer of the enormously popular and fuel-efficient Prius sedan.
"Instead of hiring more engineers to solve the problem, they hired more lawyers to fight against the requirement that they do the right thing," Gore said. "And so now they're having to buy the technology from Japan in order to try to catch up. And that story is going to happen over and over and over again."
Gore said automobile and energy companies have failed to recognize the moneymaking potential of creating new technologies and eco-friendly industries, which would also create new jobs. "We can actually create wealth by doing what we need to save the global climate," he said. Fortunately, he said, many businesses "are beginning to line up on the solutions side" through increased environmental awareness and leaders with good values.
When asked why the public doesn't hear more about the increasing threat of global warming, Gore spoke passionately about the need to change the public discourse so that more people are educated about the damage that is occurring in the environment.
"Our democracy itself is facing a crisis," Gore said. "Public discourse is not operating as it should." Gore said 75 percent of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was primarily responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, proof that Americans are often ill informed about current events.
"The fact that 75 percent of the American people think that [Saddam] was primarily responsible for it is an indictment of the current condition of public discourse in the United States," Gore said. "And in order to get proper attention for serious issues, whether it's the environment or health care or the fact that we're not creating any jobs in the United States, poverty, etc., etc., we really have to change the nature of public discourse."
A big part of the problem, Gore said, is that the number of media companies continues to shrink with mega-mergers, leaving only a handful of companies controlling the flow of information.
Gore showed a series of slides that showed dangerous indications of global warming. Nine of the top 10 hottest years recorded since the Civil War have occurred in the last 12 years, he said.
Other evidence of warming trends cited by Gore: the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed 15,000 people; a shrinking snow pack on Mount Kilimanjaro that is expected to melt completely in 15 years; rising carbon dioxide levels that are expected to double in 50 years, partly due to massive deforestation occurring in the developing world; an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes and other weather-related disasters; mounting weather-related claims filed by the insurance industry; Greenland ice that has been melting at 40 percent over the last 40 years; and the shrinking ice shelf in the arctic that could completely disappear during the summer in another 50 years.
"Glaciers really do not care about politics," Gore said. "They don't respond to ideology. They just get colder or warmer."
Although he never accused the Bush administration of playing politics with the environment, Gore showed a slide from a Republican pollster that encouraged Republicans to emphasize the uncertainty of global warming data and find scientists who would support their positions.
Gore's message of pending environmental disaster was paired with an equally passionate challenge to the next generation's business leaders to do what they can to change the status quo.
"It's a privilege to be alive at a time of such fantastic challenge and opportunity," Gore said. "We are at a turning point, and so deciding to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem is critical."