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Updated 10:00 AM October 31, 2005




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Gore: Time to step up to save Earth

Global warming, a deep moral issue as much as a scientific one, should cause all people to realize the truth of its consequences, former Vice President Al Gore said in a lecture to the University community Oct. 24.
Former Vice President Al Gore has been in the eye of the storm in the battle against global warming. Shown here against a photo of one of the many hurricanes to strike the planet this year, Gore said 2005 is the first year scientists have run out of names to give the storms. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Gore, an ardent defender of international environmental issues, presented the 5th annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on "Global Climate Change" at the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

"This is an issue about who we are as human beings," Gore said. "It is about the future of the human species. We are here to use political processes and freedom to communicate the truth of our situation."

An audience of students, University officials and local politicians welcomed Gore, who was introduced by Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) and former senior scientific advisor to the Clinton Administration. Bierbaum has collaborated with Gore during 22 of his 30 years in politics.

Bierbaum, highlighting some of Gore's most notable environmental achievements, called him an "environmental visionary." "Where there is no vision, people perish," she said.

A man usually known for his serious demeanor amused the audience when he opened: "I am Al Gore, and I used to be the next president of the United States."

Flashing the first picture ever taken of Earth from outer space on two large projection screens, Gore introduced the problem of global warming with a scientific synopsis. According to Gore's citations, the current concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere, drastically altering the Earth's climate, will adversely affect human and natural systems at catastrophic levels for future generations.

"People think this world is so big, we couldn't possibly affect it," he said. Gore addressed what he called the slow, yet cataclysmic, danger confronting mankind if warnings of the effects of global warming are continually ignored politically and individually.

Gore argued that monumental global climate changes in the past 50 years are evident in the melting of some of the world's largest glaciers. He punctuated the point with slide comparisons of the completely melted top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to that of the same mountain, once covered by a large glacier. Gore also highlighted evidence documenting the positive correlation between rising carbon dioxide concentrations to that of rising global temperatures.

"The 10 hottest years on record have happened in the last 14 years," Gore said. "2005 will be the hottest year ever." He also said that the world has seen all-time records for the number of typhoons, tornadoes and anomalistic weather patterns in the south Atlantic, where a hurricane brewed off the coast of Brazil a few years ago—a rare occurrence in that region of the world.

Storms on a global scale also have increased 50 percent in the last 30 years, he said. According to Gore, global warming could have contributed to the strength of Hurricane Katrina, which intensified to a category 5 storm when it traveled over the warming Gulf of Mexico.

Gore addressed three common misconceptions about the threat of global warming: it is an inaccurate theory; Americans must choose between economy and environment; it can't be fixed.

He explained studies that reflected near unanimous agreement on the dangers of global warming. He also argued that it is possible for a nation to be ecologically sensitive while it thrives economically. The truth, Gore said, is that humanity possesses the knowledge and technology to fix the present climate problems.

"Something has happened to the way we view global warming," he said. "We are all confronted morally to see this challenge before us." Referencing a famous quote by Winston Churchill, Gore reminded the audience "We are in a period of consequences."

"Never again, we have decided," Gore said of the United States' stance against terrorism post-9/11. "We should be concerned with things alongside terrorism—not just terrorism." His comment was embraced with applause from the audience as he continued: "We have to accept our moral consequences."

"Are we capable of doing big and different things in this world?" he asked, flashing slides of some of the nation's finest achievements—man landing on the moon, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the fall of apartheid.

His concluding slide depicted Earth as a speck of dust among a vast and mysterious universe. Pointing to the dot, Gore closed, "It is our only home. Its inhabitability is in danger. It is up to us to keep our eyes on the prize."

SNRE, the Center for Sustainable Systems (CSS), Office of the Vice President for Research, School of Social Work, and the Division of Kinesiology sponsored the lecture, established to honor Peter M. Wege, chair emeritus of the CSS External Advisory Board, and his contributions to the areas of economy and ecology.

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