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Al Gore at the TED 2006 conference
Ethan Zuckerman, 23 Feb 06

TED organizer Chris Anderson introduces Al Gore as the president of the US in an "alternative universe so very close to our own." Vice President Gore takes the stage, unfortunately not naked to the waist, beating drums. But he does open with a good joke:

I am Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States of America.
laughter, applause
I don't think that's funny.

Gore's talk is a slideshow of images, designed to help us think about "a planetary emergency, a climate crisis". He quotes the old saw that the Chinese character for crisis includes signs for "danger" and "opportunity" and suggests that we have the possibility of making the 21st century the "Century of Renewal"

The slideshow begins with the first image of earth from space, taken on the Apollo 8 mission. This image, Gore tells us, inspired countless environmentalists, sparked Earth Day, the EPA and the modern environmental movement. He shows the iconic full-disc image of the earth taken from Apollo 17 - the last picture of earth taken from space, since it's the last time humans have been beyond near earth orbit. He tells us this image is so well known - possibly the most reproduced image in the world - because it's the only one where the sun is entirely behind the camera. He then shows some contemporary images, made from stitching together cloud-free satellite photos and building maps and animations.

Gore tells us that maps help us challenge embedded asumptions. We believe that continents are too big to move... but maps help show that Africa and South America fit together neatly. Quoting Mark Twain, "What gets us into trouble is what we know, but just ain't so."

A similar embedded assumption is that the earth is so big, we can't have any impact on it. This isn't true any more. Showing us first a Matt Groening cartoon, then data about CO2 levels, he tells us that the level of atmospheric CO2 is rising very quickly. This line, Gore tells us, is what motivated him to move into politics, attempting to pass legislation including a carbon tax.

He shows us images of melting glaciers in Kilimanjaro and "the park formerly known as Glacier". We look at the Himalayan Glaciers, which are the headwaters of seven rivers which provide the drinking and farming water for 40% if the world.

He goes on to explain that we've experienced the 10 hottest years on record in the last 14 years, including temperatures of 122F in India. It's not just the land that's getting hot - ocean temperatures are rising as well, consistent with models of global warming, and way outside historical data.

Warmer oceans mean more, and stronger, storms. Japan saw 10 typhoons last year - the previous record had been 7. For the first time, we saw a hurricane in the South Atlantic, as well as a record hurricane season. Storms are stronger and wetter - outside the bounds of history - including downpours like the one that flooded Mumbai recently.

Unfortunately, global warming makes places drier as well, changing rainfall patterns. Gore points to the crises in Niger and Darfur as being connected to desertification in those regions.

Gore tells us that the polar regions should be thought of as "canaries in the coal mine". The Ward-Hunt Ice Shelf recently cracked, freaking scientists out badly. "Drunken trees" in Alaska are falling because they sunk roots into permafrost, which now is melting.

These changes at the poles have systemic effects - ice reflects a great deal of energy, while open water absorbs a great deal of eat. Losing ice has a hugely non-linear effect. And there's an additional effect - much global cooling happens by warm water moving up the coast of Europe and being cooled in Greenland. About 10,000 years ago, a change in salinity caused these "conveyor currents" to fail, which caused a thousand-year ice age in Europe. (London and Paris get one third as much heat from the ocean as from the sun.)

These changes are having habitat changes as well - not just on polar bears, but for insects closer to the equator. Trees in the US west are suffering from pine beetle attacks. Mosquitos now live at higher latitudes, meaning that Nairobi is facing malaria for the first time.

Gore identifies three reasons for the crisis we're facing: increasing population, increasing impact of the technologies we use, and the misconceptions of our thinking.

Unpacking those misconceptions, Gore addresses issues of doubt over global warming. There's no real disagreement about global warming - a survery of peer reviewed papers showed 928 supporting a theory of global warming and 0 opposing it. But there's a powerful lobby that is producing doubt, and suceeding - a survey of the popular press reveals that 53% of popular press articles have some doubt about global warming.

Gore argues that another misconception is that we need to balance environmentalism with economic impact. Showing a picture of the earth and a pile of gold bars in balance, Gore notes, "If we don't have a planet..." and trails off to laughter. If we do the right thing, he argues, we'll create a lot of wealth and a lot of jobs. Right now, we can't sell cars in China, because we can't meet their environmental standards.

Finally, Gore believes that a final misconception is that we can't do anything about this. He reminds us that Americans have a history of leading incredible efforts - eliminating slavery, landing on the moon, bringing down communism. He reminds us as well that we've solved a huge environmental problem already, reversing the hole in the ozone layer.

Chris Anderson puts Gore on the spot, and asks if he'll be running for president... and if not, why not? Gore gives an honest answer - he's run four nationwide races and says "I don't think I'm a very good politican." From the audience, someone yells, "You won" and he responds, "Yeah, there is that."

He goes on to explain that politics has become about 30 ads and simple soundbites, neither of which do well at conveying the magnitude of challenges like this one. (Which may explain why Gore's 18 minute talk is an hour long with a ten minute response to Anderson's question... :-)

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I saw Gore in Portland (OR) when he was trial-running the same talk. Beyond the compelling facts, self-deprecating humor, effective and informative visuals, etc., there is one thing Ethan doesn't point out -- Gore is a powerfully charismatic figure who connects with his audience and exudes leadership.

He is the kind of person who can communicate, as Jamais said, how we "turn world-ending problems into world-changing solutions." Couple Gore's ability to articulate this issue with his powerful speech defending the US constitution against the autocratic tendencies of the current administration (delivered on MLK Jr. Day), and he is one of the few people who *might* be able to turn public life in a more positive direction at a perilous moment.

Are we seeing him as the true worldchanging ally that he is? How can we spread the word and support this kind of leadership? Is this a role for worldchanging readers and writers?

Posted by: Ted Wolf on 23 Feb 06

Would it be inappropriate for Al Gore to challenge Michael Crichton to a debate on global climate change? We really need a high profile debunking of the nonsense that he's been disseminating lately.

Posted by: Aaron on 23 Feb 06

I saw Gore give this speech in LA, and I have to echo what Ted Wolf posted. Gore's ability to lay out the terrifying reality of global warming, and then convince the audience that we can save the world is stunning. This May Paramount is releasing a documentary based on this presentation, called "An Inconvenient Truth":
Everybody should see it.

Posted by: Janet Hessert on 23 Feb 06

Debating Crichton only elevates his baloney.

Posted by: name on 23 Feb 06

Question: who is out there, elsewhere in the world, who can use the bully pulpit as well as Gore? For a while it could have been Tony Blair, but he's buried in political baggage and no longer in a position to exert moral leadership on this. Who are the Europeans, Asians, Africans, Latin Americans who can speak to this issue and move popular sentiments?

Posted by: Ted Wolf on 23 Feb 06

i have to echo everyone here. I was mesmerized at the Portland exhibit. Maybe it was because Katrina had occurred three days before. Maybe it was because I stood in line for ages, only to find out it was sold out. As I was driving from the Convention Center parking lot, I got a call from a friend inside saying "Gore heard people were sent away... he's agreed to stay for a second exhibit". Back in I went, sat on the floor for hours waiting for my turn. Gracious, passionate, a true leader, with a message that captivated all of us. He is well worth waiting for, in more ways than one. I for one, can't wait to do everything in my power to support his leadership in 2008 if I have that opportunity.

Posted by: Margery Bare on 23 Feb 06

The Stop Global Warming Virtual March is a non-partisan effort to bring all Americans together in one place to prove that global warming is here now... and, it is time for us to do something about it.
One person can can change the world. Over 275,000 people have already joined. Imagine what millions of marchers can do! Together we will be heard.
Join the March Now!
Its easy! - No cost, No hassles. There is every reason in the world to become a virtual marcher. Why? Because it affects our public health, our national security, our economy, our planet's future.
Our mission is to use the strength of our numbers to urge 1) Our government to join the rest of the world in addressing global warming, and 2) American business to start a new industrial revolution on clean energy products that reduce our dependence on oil and other global warming pollution.

Posted by: the singularity on 23 Feb 06

We posted about StopGlobalWarming last year:

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 23 Feb 06

Here's a link to video of a talk Gore gave recently that started with the same joke. I assume it is the same essentially the same talk. This talk was given at the NetImpact conference at Stanford toward the end of last year.

Posted by: Jesse Patel on 23 Feb 06

He would do best as an activist or political leader than as a president.

Sometimes it's better to choose one particular cause and stick to it. And he chose a very important (and diffcult) one.

Posted by: Alan on 23 Feb 06

This is Al Gore's destiny. This is what he was meant to do. That is why our PAC has a petition to the UN to institute a Global Environmental Ambassador, and we suggested that Al Gore be the first. If you agree that his leadership on this issue should be felt on a truly global scale in this capacity, then please read our petition and consider joining us in this effort. This petition will be delivered to the Secretary General this June. Also look for his new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" opening this May 26, and his book titled the same, which is coming out this April.
Thank you.

Posted by: Jan Moore on 23 Feb 06

Gore in 04 x 2

Posted by: Robert Allman on 23 Feb 06

Just one problem with Gore:  nobody will believe he'll take Islamic terrorism seriously after this speech.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 23 Feb 06

Engineer-poet: more people are going to see their lives changed more drastically by global warming than will ever be touched by Islamic (sic) terrorism. We've fallen into a political trap that is making it impossible to address urgent problems. Gore may never be an "elected" leader again, but he can be a leader that gets people to expect more from their politicians than empty promises of "safety." Doing poorly on terrorism and nothing on global warming is not a politics of survival.

Posted by: Ted Wolf on 23 Feb 06

Engineer-Poet: I fail to see how what Gore said in that speech should be controversial.

Preventing Saudis from studying in the US and imprisoning some that are already on US soil for small visa violations won't stop terrorism. The US administration over reacted.

He's also appealing for Middle Eastern nations to take Iran's threat seriously.

Seeing as those in the audience may have had a child in a US prison, or been denied a visa... I would see his message as moderate and diplomatic.

Is the public opinion climate in the US still so bad that recognizing an overreaction makes you ineligible for the presidency?

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 23 Feb 06

Gore's speech in Saudi Arabia seems to mirror exactly what Bush is saying now about the US ports and trusting Arab countries, etc. I don't see the Saudi speech as a political detriment at all. If anything, it shows strong leadership. Something we need more of.

Posted by: Mike B on 24 Feb 06

I fail to see how what Gore said in that speech should be controversial.
Language like "terrible abuses" and "unforgivable" conditions grants legitimacy to the Islamic supremacists.  His language should have been much more muted; if we learned anything from 9/11 , the fifteen of nineteen terrorists who were Saudi and the fact that Mohammed Atta had plenty of experience with the West, it is that we cannot take the Wahhabi establishment as anything but hostile and deadly.  3000 dead is not an excuse for everything, but it justifies a lot.  It is not paranoia; they really are out to get us.
Preventing Saudis from studying in the US and imprisoning some that are already on US soil for small visa violations won't stop terrorism.
It'll make it much more difficult for would-be terrorists to get here and stay here.  Remember, several of the hijackers were visa violators even under the old, loose regime.
Seeing as those in the audience may have had a child in a US prison, or been denied a visa... I would see his message as moderate and diplomatic.
But if he wants to be a political force here, the message has to be seen as reasonable rather than kowtowing.  I think he went over that line.
Is the public opinion climate in the US still so bad that recognizing an overreaction makes you ineligible for the presidency?
No, but anything that smacks of dhimmification does.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 24 Feb 06

Can anyone point me to where I can find the Al Gore slideshow online?

Posted by: Guy Lane on 24 Feb 06

> Just one problem with Gore: nobody will believe he'll take Islamic terrorism seriously after this speech.
> Posted by Engineer-Poet

Yea, about that. Have YOU stepped up and asked for your taxes to be raised to pay for that 'terrorist battle'?

Thought not.

Over at, this text showed up: " You are right about the overarching importance of Global Warming, and the consequences of the end of the oil economy. In the meantime though all possibility of a rational response to these things will be destroyed by war with the Islamic world."

If you want your position to be taken seriously - 'Lets fight islamic terrorism' - then you need to support higher taxes and an actual examination of how the US has gotten to where it is, and what the outcome of actions are going to be. One-sided wind-bag spouting of slogans ain't gonna cut it.

Posted by: eric blair on 24 Feb 06

Here is another voice like Gore's that conveys the urgency in a credible manner:

If you like what he says, let Gus Speth know. Quote him in your own blogs, letters to the editor, etc. Reinforce the message, and the language.

Posted by: Ted Wolf on 24 Feb 06

Engineer Poet-

Climate Chsnge IS an issue of national security. Al Gore is speaking out for the entire world by advocating for this issue. His remarks in Saudi Arabia were truthful. The current visa policy is inconsistent, and the abuses against innocent visitors here were also documented by many agencies, including Human Rights watch and the the DOJ. Also, his work on this topic for the last thirty years is more than you will ever see from those who brought us more terrorism with this war in Iraq, and who have done nothing but dismiss the spectre of climate change to this Earth's detriment. And if truly believe in this war on terrorism, I then suggest you enlist instead of trashing a good man who tells the truth.

Posted by: Jan Moore on 24 Feb 06

Eric Blair snarks:

Have YOU stepped up and asked for your taxes to be raised to pay for that 'terrorist battle'?
Yes.  I'd love to see motor fuel taxed up to $5/gallon, because it would strike directly at the financing of the Wahhabi regime.  I was writing about this two years ago.

Jan Moore:

Climate Chsnge [sic] IS an issue of national security.
So let him stick to that, where nobody has to worry about his blindness to other dangers.  I'm with him on that.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 24 Feb 06

I'm still puzzled why it has to be one or the other? Serious progress on climate change will tip and accelerate a shift away from reliance on middle east oil. Serious taxation of fossil fuels should be part of it. Reduced demand will reduce revenues to middle east regimes (e.g., Saudi) that are neither democratic nor much help in restraining terrorism. The fundamental street agitation of radical Islam may well get worse, but the "global delivery" opportunities for agitators may shrink as well. Until we see climate policy and terror policy as one thing (with other agendas rolled in, too) we are in for trouble. Thinking Gore should limit his remarks to "just climate" is like thanking Bush for limiting his policies to "just terror." Guess what, we are already living with the results.

Posted by: Ted Wolf on 24 Feb 06

If you include wealth transfers to terrorists along with greenhouse warmings as a danger, the price increase of crude oil is a hazard in itself.  We'll make progress faster on both if we make motor fuel more expensive.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 25 Feb 06

An exerpt from an article in the Yankton (SD) Daily Press & Dakotan, January 21, 2006 presented the issue, based on research from a well-respected scientific institution at Boulder, CO, quite well:

"Dr. Susanne Moser, a research scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said human influence on climate change in general is certain.

'People have run the (climate) models with only natural factors - variations in sun and volcanoes, all that stuff - and they can replicate the climate up until about 1930 or 1940,' she said. 'Then they've run the models with only human inflows. In the beginning, that doesn't look good, but it gets better as you go, especially in the last few years.'

When both natural and human factors are combined, she said it's an almost perfect match.

'That tells you we're getting pretty good at understanding that humans have a definite influence, and it's the dominant one beginning around 1950,' Moser said.

Still, some people believe climate change is a fluke or a cycle that will turn back, she said. And just this week, six former Environmental Protection Agency chiefs faulted the Bush administration for failing to take the lead in confronting global warming, calling it a 'dishonest' and 'self-destructive' approach.

'We're not in a cycle,' Moser said adamantly. 'We're definitely pushing the temperature and the averages of climate variables out of the range of variability that we've known.'"

Posted by: R Patocka on 26 Feb 06

I've been wondering when someone would come up with something better than the harmless-sounding "climate change" or the ambivalent "global warming." I think Gore's proposed "climate crisis" conveys the same urgency as "climate catastrophe," "extreme climate" or others that have been proposed.

Not having seen a preview of "Inconvenient Truth," I wish the producers would also release a straight version of the presentation only, which I've seen Gore deliver effectively three times in the past months.

I too found the Gus Speth NYTimes piece very effective -- at some point, I hope someone will come up with a "hook" that really grabs people. (My own wake-up effort last Feb, and CalCars' flyer quoting James Hansen, Lester Brown, Robert Kennedy and others on "Plug-in Hybrids + Ethanol: We Can Tackle Global Warming" are at .)

Posted by: Felix Kramer on 27 Feb 06

"Just one problem with Gore: nobody will believe he'll take Islamic terrorism seriously after this speech."

I don't see anything he said that was incorrect. In fact, his speech (at least, the excerpts that were provided) seemed rather clear-sighted and reasonable.

Posted by: Bolo on 27 Feb 06

While I strongly agree with most of Gore's position on climate change, there is one position he continues to maintain where, in my opinion, he is being disengenuous. While it is true that the Montreal Protocol has played a major role in preventing catastrophic ozone loss, it is equally true that the life-times of many ozone destroying compounds are so long-lived in the stratosphere that it will take many decades, perhaps a century, for stratospheric ozone to return to normal (i.e. pre 1980 levels). And this is predicated on full-compliance by all countries to ban production and use of these ozone destroying compounds, no exceptions (though exceptions for implementation have been given). Ultimately, Gore is technically correct by stating the process has been reversed but misleading in implying that the problem has been solved. Consider that biologically damaging UV-B radiation (280-320 nm)will continue to increase and penetrate to the earth's surface so long as ozone loss or deficit continues, which could be decades as stated, few seem concerned, including Gore, at potential long term health and biological impacts. Skin cancer, including cutaneous malignant melanoma, is only one aspect, albeit an important one. Eye cataract, systemic cell-mediated immune suppression as well as ecosystem perturbations upsetting biological balance thousands of years in the making are others. You are putting out a great message, Mr. Gore and I urge you not to let up. Lets just make it more complete.

Posted by: E. C. De Fabo on 28 Feb 06



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