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October 15, 2007
We Need Al Gore,
Because Global Warming Truly Threatens Peace
Last week’s presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore completed
not only a remarkable evolution in the career of an American politician,
but it also helped to put in a proper, prominent frame what is perhaps
the most serious problem we face today.
With the award, Gore became that rarest of animals in American politics
– a voice all its own. In the past, we’ve reserved this kind of
prominence only for former presidents. Former vice presidents tend to
slink away from the public eye once they leave office. Gore, thanks to
his Nobel Prize, will forever be someone who gets the ear of the
It is good that America’s loudest voice that never sat in the Oval
Office be associated with the issue of global warming, and that it
brings not only such depth of understanding but also passion and
optimism towards a solution. Even though it appears that Gore will
decline the opportunity to run for president, his will be a voice we
will need over the next decade.
The two most critical problems that the next American president will
inherit is a lack of coherent national energy policy and global warming.
America’s love affair with petroleum will soon come to an end, either
because of peak oil or because the rest of the world will simply catch
up with how much we consume, thus driving up prices. Sing a dirge for
cheap oil, because it’s dead and gone.
Global warming itself is a problem like no other that we’ve faced. That
helps explain why it’s taken so long for us to take it seriously –
comparatively few people have educated themselves on what it is and what
it could mean.
Skeptics like to point to the fact that it is still discussed in terms
of probability, which is both predictable and indicative of how serious
Science doesn’t speak the language of absolutes, but of probability and
chance. Even if there is less than a 1 percent chance that something
will not come true, scientists by nature and training will leave open
the possibility that all of our assumptions on something are wrong.
But, we should be concerned about not knowing the precise impacts it
will have on our way of life.
The primary component for peace is stability, and the primary component
for stability is a set of reliable assumptions. For instance, we can
safely assume that we can grow a lot of corn in Iowa.
In the world of global warming, however, Iowa summers are supposed to be
as hot as an Arkansas summer, except drier. Then again, depending on how
things interact, it might not. If you can’t be sure where you can grow
food, how do you expect to keep peace? We can safely assume at least one
thing will happen if massive crop failures prevent food from reaching
our cities – civil disturbance.
Already, in certain parts of Africa, violence and political unrest have
been tied to global warming. Because those hit hardest by global warming
are expected to be those who live in the world’s poorest nations
(naturally), this was to be expected. Where people live hand-to-mouth,
change for the negative guarantees the worst of outcomes.
This is the peace aspect of this particular Nobel Prize. Peace isn’t
always kept by separating warring parties or finding compromise between
them. Often, it’s found simply by averting problems that would
antagonize people with longstanding differences.
This is the reality of global warming. It is too often discussed in
purely scientific terms, where the numbers and definitions are traded as
talking points rather than matters of serious dialogue. But, in truth,
it is a human problem, where the end product of those numbers and
talking points is lost stability, which threatens world peace as badly
as any power-mad tyrant.
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