These are precisely the types of climatological events scientists - and Al Gore in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance - predicted would become commonplace as the planet's temperature rose. The costs of these disasters are staggering - both financially and socially. The flooding in Britain alone is estimated to exceed $1 billion pounds - and the rains haven't stopped yet.
Beyond the obvious fact that it's getting pretty expensive to do nothing about global warming, I wonder, is it too late to rescue the planet? Al Gore doesn't think so - and he believes you and I are the ones with the power to save the earth.
Gore, writing an Op-Ed piece titled "Moving Beyond Kyoto,"in today's New York Times, says the United States must step forward and provide the moral leadership needed to address global warming. And America must do it now. He begins:
Gore calls on the American people to stand up and demand action of our political leaders. He proposes a new climate treaty aiming to reduce global warming pollution by 90%. He sets a two-year timetable - he envisions this new agreement completed by 2009. The need is urgent and requires immediate action. A consensus can - and must - be built. He writes:
WE — the human species — have arrived at a moment of decision. It is unprecedented and even laughable for us to imagine that we could actually make a conscious choice as a species, but that is nevertheless the challenge that is before us.
Our home — Earth — is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.
This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue, one that affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left versus right; it is a question of right versus wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours.
On Sept. 21, 1987, President Ronald Reagan said, “In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”
Can Gore finally build the global consensus needed to achieve his vision? Despite sounding this alarm for more than fifteen years, far too many Americans remain in denial about global warming's dangers. Many others - including this writer - have not made the adjustments in our daily lives necessary to reduce our individual impact on the planet. Too often, the change is "inconvenient." In many homes and businesses, simply recycling newspapers, bottles and cans is considered too much of a hassle. Now, I'm no scientist, but reducing global warming pollution by 90% would likely require changes the average citizen would view as going far beyond recycling and carpooling.
We — all of us — now face a universal threat. Though it is not from outside this
world, it is nevertheless cosmic in scale.
When then-Sen Gore wrote Earth in the Balance it was a powerful expose on how human activity in the industrial age had dramatically - and negatively - impacted the earth's ecosystem. As a result, the planet - and human civilization - teetered on the edge of catastrophe. Addressing the situation required political courage and leadership. Gore wrote back then:
I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously.... [E]very time I pause to consider whether I have gone too far out on a limb, I look at the new facts [on the environment crisis] that continue to pour in from around the world and conclude that I have not gone far enough.... [T]he time has long since come to take more political risks--and endure more political criticism--by proposing tougher, more effective solutions and fighting hard for their enactments.Sadly, our leaders did not take brave political risks. Instead, Congress failed to even ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The American people were not asked to fundamentally change their living patterns. Rather, we drove bigger, less fuel-efficient cars on longer commutes to our McMansions filled with an ever-expanding array of energy consuming electronic gadgets. I hate to say this but sacrifice and moral leadership may be characteristics of bygone American generations.
The book was controversial and many political opponents dismissed Gore's warnings as unfounded hysteria. Gore was roundly attacked by big business and their lackeys in the Republican Party. A coordinated and well-funded campaign to debunk the theory of global warming was so effective that the term itself became ineffective. This is why "global warming" has been replaced by the more innocuous "climate change."
But, let's be clear, the failure to act has been bipartisan. Democrats have undoubtedly been more receptive to green positions and have favored environmental regulations, but our leaders certainly have not been the risk-takers Gore demanded them - and himself - to be.
While the politicians dithered and the populace consumed, the planet kept getting hotter.
And the tipping point - the moment from which there is no return - approaches, more rapidly than the scientists predicted in the early 1990s. The Arctic ice sheets are melting faster than any of the models forecast. There are indications the North Atlantic Gulf Stream current is slowing down, which could have catastrophic consequences on Europe's climate in coming decades. Weather has become more severe and extreme. Droughts are drier and longer. Hurricanes are more powerful and more frequent.
In order to avert catastrophe Gore observes, "individual action will also have to shape and drive government action." Apparently, he has lost his faith in the politicians providing the leadership necessary. He goes on, "Americans must come together and direct our government to take on a global challenge. American leadership is a precondition for success."
This Saturday, on 7/7/07, the Live Earth concerts will launch Gore's global campaign of "individual action." Every member of the listening audience - an estimated 2 billion people - will be asked to sign The Live Earth Pledge (you can sign it now if you care to). It's the first step in the three year global campaign to unite humanity against a universal threat - ourselves.
Let's hope we're not too late.