Al Gore and the Moral Imperative


“Our political system has something in common with the earth’s climate,” Al Gore is saying to wild applause. “It is non-linear. Change can seem to be happening slowly, and then it can shift to a completely new path.” The former vice president and current star of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (official site: was describing, to a packed house at Town Hall in Times Square yesterday, why he feels more hopeful than the most pessimistic scientists that the most serious consequences of global warming can be averted.

The event was full of hope, much of it taking a decidedly partisan shape and residing in the figure of Mr. Gore himself. “I wanted to get this chance to see the next president of the United States,” said Bryan Snyder, waiting in line with his 17-year-old son Spencer. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people looked at him with fresh eyes after this movie.” Neither would the New York Times, New York Magazine, or liberal bloggers.

For the most part, Gore successfully deflected the question about the future of the Democratic Party in favor of the slightly more important one about the future of life on planet Earth. He was assisted in this task by eminent Columbia University climate scientist James Hansen, who explained that about one degree of warming has already occurred, and one more degree cannot be forestalled, but will keep us just within the current normal climate range. Aother 10 years of “business as usual” carbon dioxide emissions will push us over the edge into the era of irreversible consequences–polar ice caps melting, 25 meters of sea level rise, the works. Hansen invoked the precedent set in the ’80s, when we successfully curbed ozone destruction by banning CFCs.

Gore held the audience rapt when he described our moment in history as an unusual chance to experience a “shared moral purpose,” by confronting and defeating the global threat. Yet with Wired Magazine as the event’s sponsor, it was hard not to feel disappointed as the urgent discussion dissipated into a call of “crisitunity!”

In the assumption that new energy technology, compact fluorescent bulbs, ethanol, and market-based reforms like a carbon tax will not only solve the problem but create jobs and continued prosperity, there is a failure to question the American way of consumption, so aberrant in history and in the world, which today makes us the source of 30 percent of all greenhouse gases. Laurie David, one of the film’s producers, specifically recommended sending your dry cleaning out in a reusable garment bag. This is a moral imperative?