ASPEN, Colo. - "There's an African proverb that says, 'If you want to go quick, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.' We have to go far quickly," former Vice President Al Gore told a packed, rapt house at the Benedict Music Tent Wednesday. With many scientists pointing to a window of less than 10 years to moderate the effects of global warming, he said, meaningful change is still possible, but "It is a race."
The size of the climate problem? Worldwide atmospheric carbon has jumped from 280 to 383 parts per million in the last century; the polar icecaps are melting three times faster than anyone's direst prediction; China is on the verge of surpassing the United States for greenhouse gas emissions; bark beetles and wildfires are sweeping across Western forests; temperatures are climbing, sea levels rising, glaciers vanishing. By some estimates, humans must pull 30 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere to have a shot at reversing such effects.
"What we're facing worldwide really is a planetary emergency," Gore said. "I'm optimistic, but we're losing this battle badly."
Gore, interviewed by business luminary John Doerr, spoke at the Aspen Institute's Greentech Innovation Network summit -- a gathering of world innovators hoping to boost the development of green technologies.
It's going to take a 90-percent decrease in carbon emissions from developed fossil fuel guzzlers like the U.S. and a 50-percent decrease worldwide to get a handle on the problem, Gore said -- changes that will take major leaps of political will far beyond what current politicians see as feasible. That reduction, which would be mandated by a world-wide treaty, could happen through carbon taxes, cap and trade, technological innovations, and energy conservation and efficiency, he continued, as long as it is accompanied by a major grassroots public shift to sustain it at the level necessary.
Gore advised the audience to compare the blue orb of the Earth to Venus, where daytime temperatures reach 867 degrees Fahrenheit and it rains sulphuric acid. The two planets have the same amount of carbon, Gore explained, but Venus' just happens to be in the atmosphere, while most of the Earth's is still locked underground. "The habitability of this planet for human beings really is at risk," he said.
So is there room for optimism faced with the specter of Venus? Gore thinks so, but it's not in the current parade of presidential candidates or the slew of climate-related bills moving through the U.S. legislature -- measures Gore called "baby steps."
"It's going to depend on what's in the hearts and minds of the people," he said, and that's part of the motivation for Gore's recent Live Earth event -- a 24-hour, seven-continent concert series that featured more than 100 musicians hoping to raise awareness of the solutions to global warming. Live Earth reached countless concertgoers, he said, as well as more than 8 million people by Web streaming.
Add to that the fact that Gore has spent 30 years trying to bring the world around to the effects of global climate change, and the last several touring with his slideshow (now the Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth"), writing books, and teaching 1,400 people worldwide how to deliver the global warming message in several different languages. Next week it will be China, then India.
"It's a different kind of campaign," he noted, one that surpasses what he might be able to accomplish in a bid for the presidency in 2008.
"Dealing with this climate crisis is not only what we have to do, it's our chance to get our act together," he said, pointing to the escalating loss of tropical forests, the crisis in Darfur, the destruction of global fisheries. The problem is so big, any solution must be comprehensive - and it should be a wakeup call. "These are not political problems. They are moral imperatives."
© 2007 Aspen Daily News