Sunday, June 11, 2006

Just got off the phone with Al Gore

I couldn't resist saying it that way.  It's true, though, I called in on a conference call arranged by for their supporters.

Eli Pariser of interviewed Al Gore and passed on questions from the audience on the conference call.  The topic was global warming and Gore's movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth.  I assume that will put up a transcript at some point.

Yes, of course, somebody asked The Question.  "I am not planning to be a candidate again", he said, but he reminded us he hasn't given a "Shermanesque statement" yet.  He says he wants to try to change "the whole political environment", especially to address global warming.  He wants to help expanding the limits of what's possible in dealing with the environmental crisis.

Gore mentioned Ghandhi twice.  The first time he talked about Ghandi's concept of the "truth-force" which can be a powerful force in moving people to gain a sense of urgency about problems like global warming.

Responding to a question about what people can do in their personal lives to help preserve the environment, he quoted Ghandhi as telling people to be part of the change you want to see in the world.  He also mentioned the Web site, which is related to the movie and book, as one source of specific suggestions.

I found it was particularly interesting that Gore talked about his arms control work in the 1980s.  At that time, there was a grassroots movement in favor of a "nuclear freeze" agreement between the US and the Soviet Union which would freeze their stockpiles in place as a step toward disarmament.  Lovers of the nuclear bomb said it was all a big Commie plot, of course.  (Actually, it was originated by Senator Mark Hatfield, a Baptist Republican from Oregon.)  Gore said that he had opposed that particular solution.  But he realizes looking back that the political pressure created by the grassroots nuclear-freeze movement was critical in creating an environment where people in Congress could help move the arms-control process forward.

Gore mentioned that many leading scientists think we may be no more than 10 years away from reaching a point of no return on global warming.  Interestingly, he said that he had offered to present the slideshow or movie at the White House in private, off the record.  But the oil boys that run things haven't responded.  (He didn't use the terms "oil boys".)

He also referred to C.P. Snow's notion of the "two cultures" when it comes to science.  Science has become so complex and so specialized that it makes it difficult for scientists to communicate their ideas clearly to the general public on something like global warming.  He also said that scientists thrive on uncertainty, while political institutions are paralyzed by uncertainty.

He talked about the problem of pseudo-scientists who "crank out phony scientific studies" on behalf of industries who fear they will be inconvienced by new environmental regulations.  He referred to the tobacco companies' long effort to debunk the scientific findings about the health risks of smoking as kind of a model for the pro-pollution efforts today.

He said, "This Bush-Cheney administration is about as bad as you could possibly be" on the global warming issue.

But he stressed that global warming should become a bipartisan issue and that many Democrats need to have a fire light underneath them, too.  He stressed changing the minds of the public to communicate the urgency of this problem, in particular its moral and ethical dimensions.

He got quite passionate talking about how future generations would look back at us if we don't do much more to address global warming.  He said "the debate is over among the scientists" about the basic reality and danger of global warming, and we now have to convince politicians to act.

He observed that we are borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy oil in one of the most unstable regions of the world. "That's not a good pattern", he said.

When asked his priorities for policies to address global warming, he responded with the following:

1. The US should join the Kyoto Treaty and become part of the development of the successor treaty being negotiated right now.

2. Create market incentives to drive the shift to renewable energy.

3. Eliminate subsidies for oil and coal.

4.  Substitute a new source of revenue for the payroll tax and have a CO2 tax instead, though he says it's not "politically feasibile right now". 

He talked about how the technology is available to reverse global warming, but it's political will that is lacking.  And, he said, political will "really is a renewable resource".

He encouraged people to contact their representatives in Washington but also at state and local levels.  He mentioned that resolutions in favor of ratifying the Kyoto Treaty have helped create pressure for that step.

Cross-posted at The Blue Voice.

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