Put Politics Aside and Celebrate Al Gore's Nobel Prize

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First, our warmest congratulations to Al Gore. The Nobel Prize is one of the world’s great honors and, in our view, one that is extremely well-deserved.

But I’m conscious that the standing ovation Gore is enjoying today is not exactly unanimous. The climate change conversation has become polarized – and belligerent – over the last decade. And Al Gore – a politician who dared to address a controversial public issue outside the conventional political process – has become a lightning rod for some hyper-political criticism. How can we get people from all points on the political spectrum to celebrate Gore’s Nobel Prize without feeling that they are sacrificing their own cherished political interests?

It is, first of all, a shame that we have to ask such a question. It’s a shame that North American society has grown so adversarial that it is impossible to congratulate a political opponent without appearing weak. It’s also a shame that the fossil-fueled climate change deniers were originally so successful in defining global warming as a political issue. It’s a shame that many Republicans agreed early on to ignore the science, reasoning simply that “if Al Gore’s for it, then I must be against it.”

A lot of credit is owed to people like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain for getting us past that political polarization. These smart and courageous men broke early from the Republican pack to salute science over self-interest.

But the Nobel committee seems to agree that an even larger portion of credit should go to Al Gore. In a public education and advocacy campaign unprecedented in history, Gore was instrumental in alerting North Americans to this global threat. He got our attention.

Of course, he was not working alone. If I may be allowed a personal aside, I’d like to credit the David Suzuki Foundation (full disclosure; I’m the Chair) which produced its first major climate change campaign in 1996. And, more obviously, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a global scientific collaboration that is also unprecedented in human history – has done almost two decades of exemplary work in advancing our understanding of this issue, even as certain self-interested parties were trying to keep us locked in confusion.

Still, for all the effort that everyone else has expended, I think it’s clear that, in the American conversation, Al Gore tipped the balance. For which we all should offer an unequivocal: Bravo!

But we won’t. Too many of us, today, are brooding about this honor, entirely because of its political implications. Too many are arguing, for example, that Gore was “only” trying to use his climate change advocacy campaign as a stepping stone to a presidential run for 2009. Well, if Gore planned all this – if he planned to win an Oscar, write a best seller and capture the Nobel Prize by publicizing the risks of anthropogenic global warming – he may be smarter than any of us suspected. If he’s that prescient, he might make quite a good president.

But you don’t have to commit a hypothetical vote to Al Gore for president. You don’t have to forgive him for not fighting harder for the White House in 2001. You don’t have to abandon any of your own political preferences just because you stand up today, with the the Nobel committee and the whole world, and say, thanks Al. Thanks for the hard work. Thanks for the good judgment. Thanks for refusing to let Exxon’s baffle brigade continue to sew doubt about this critical global issue.

We have not turned the corner on emission controls, but I believe this Nobel Prize will demonstrate that we have turned a corner on a dark time of dissembling and denial. North America has finally acknowledged the scientific consensus and joined the global political consensus. For which, once again, we should say: Thanks Al. And congratulations. Today, you deserve it.

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