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The Climate Youth Will Lead

AL Gore deserves to be commended, but activists must go to next level of direct action with or without him

Gary Houser

"At stake is the survival of our civilization and the habitability of the Earth... The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission; ... a shared and unifying cause; ... the opportunity to rise." - Al Gore, from An Inconvenient Truth

This weekend, Al Gore had a magnificent opportunity completely laid in his lap to lead the young generation into claiming such a mission. Tragically, Gore himself failed to muster the moral strength to "rise" to the occasion. Although every indicator points to a historic necessity for the climate movement to seize the moral high ground and invoke the power of nonviolent resistance, it is now clear that this kind of visionary leadership and empowerment will need to come from ordinary people and activists at the grassroots level. To the good folks attending Power Shift and also those in the wider movement working hard for the paradigm shift that can protect life on earth: We are the ones we have been waiting for and We must seize the moment.

Gore has done a commendable and vital job in creating public awareness about the immense threat presented by climate disruption. No one has achieved more in translating the science into a form that large numbers of people can comprehend. The current disconnect, however, lies in his reluctance to challenge the political status quo and declare without apology that our society is now at a juncture where we must call upon a higher moral power. He is not looking at the danger of this moment and seeing it like a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King would see it.  Despite many heroic efforts he still inhabits the calculated landscape of a politician and rejects the opportunity to ascend to high moral leadership.

Gore is speaking the words of urgency but he is not matching those with the actions of urgency. On Friday night, before the gathered youth climate movemem in Washington, he once again acknowledged that "you cannot negotiate with the laws of physics". He certainly understands that frightening tipping points of no return move closer and closer, and that a catastrophic level of climate disruption is on the brink of spinning out of control. He also understands that the governmental process for dealing with this has essentially been "paralyzed" (his own word) by the tremendous financial clout of the very industry which is driving the disruption.

In an emergency of this magnitude, it is simply not sufficient to ask young people to repeat what they have already done before to no avail - i.e. simply talk to their elected representatives. It is also not enough to vaguely tell young people that they need to fight against the inordinate power of these vested interests and the government that has capitulated to it. Gore could have once again acknowledged the need for civil resistance and declare that people need to put their bodies on the line and risk arrest in the name of preventing a crime against humanity from going forward.

What did he do instead? He drew an analogy to the civil rights movement, but only to bring up a point about young people questioning their parents about racism. He completely avoided any mention of the nonviolent civil disobedience that was at the heart of that movement. More predictably, yet equally disturbing he could not bring himself to say even one critical word about how the Obama administration has failed to lead on the climate crisis.

Gore's words on the science are still important. But for a model on the actions that are now necessary, young people must look to those who have championed the power of nonviolence such as Gandhi and MLK. Gandhi said: "Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless or, which is the same thing, corrupt.... Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of humankind." It is clear we have reached the time when we must act on this "sacred duty" and tap into this "greatest force".

The home page of the Power Shift site announces that this is the gathering that will launch "the next wave" of the movement. For the sake of our planet, may it recognize what now needs to happen and draw upon the wisdom and courage to implement it. May the Power Shift generation "rise" to the occasion and claim its place in history.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Gary Houser

Gary Houser

Gary Houser is a long-time public interest writer, currently a documentary producer working on climate tipping points, and a founding member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group. Email: mountainmist8 [at]

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