Al Gore delivered a speech this afternoon in Perth, Western Australia. He ambled onto the stage in front of 2000 people, and spoke for the following hour in a deep, calm and measured voice. These are my recollections of his key points.
The climate crisis is a symptom of civilisation, as we currently know it, colliding with the ecosystem of the planet. Studies of happiness among people in the West have shown that since the 1950s economic growth has steadily risen, but we have not been getting any more happy. So not only is the pursuit of short-term material wealth at the expense of the planet a bad idea for nature, but it is a bad idea for us as well.
Every day we pump out 70 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air. 25 million tons of this is absorbed into the ocean, causing the acidification of the seas. We act as a society as though it is just business as usual. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘we must disenthrall ourselves’ from this shared delusion. We must disenthrall ourselves from the shared delusion that it is ok to put 70 million tons of CO2 into the air each day.
During the Middle Ages in Western Europe knowledge was largely controlled by the Church. With the Declaration of Independence in America in 1776, and with the Enlightenment of the 18th century, knowledge became something which could be debated among private individuals. If one person didn’t believe something, but was shown by another person that for this or that reason it was true, then they would be open to altering their views about the world. The clergy didn’t have a monopoly on the truth anymore. Now the best argument, made with the best evidence, could come through.
At the end of the World War Two, a bunch of German philosophers sat down in Frankfurt and discussed what had gone wrong, what had lead to the rise of Hitler. Theordore Adorno said the following words: ‘knowledge has become power’. Wherever Al Gore has gone around the world to spread the word on the climate crisis he has encountered the vested interests of governments, businesses and industries which do not want the truth to come out. The media is full of these vested interests. Instead of an open, democratic public sphere where we can say, look this must be true because of that, now those with an interest in the world not knowing about the climate crisis have increasingly shut down the conversation. The rise of the internet, and the emergence of blogs, such as the one you are reading right now, is a positive thing in that it can help us navigate around some of these effects of power.
Austrlia and America are the only countries to have not signed the Kyoto Protocol to deal with the climate crisis. We are like Bonny and Clyde. If Bonny falls, if Australia signs, then Clyde will will be left all by himself, and then finally there will be overwhelming pressure for the US to join the international community. After the US joins, there will be overwhelming pressure for countries like China to get onboard. So in a sense Australia is the domino that has to fall. We Australians can have a disproportionately important effect on solving this global problem.
After he had spoken in a strong voice, Gore became hushed. He ended by quietly quoting a Scottish mountain climber’s words:
‘When you commit yourself, Providence moves.’
The 2000 strong audience broke into applause, now standing in their seats. The concert hall was loud with the sound of acclamation.
So, what do I think about Al Gore now I have heard him speak in person? I’m not easily convinced to buy into new movements, as those of you who know me will attest. However, now I’ve heard Gore in person, I honestly think this:
All those who have thought deeply about the world we live in, now have a new leader.
Back at home, and looking at Gore’s recently published book, full of large colour photos and clear, succinct quotations, I can only further confirm to you that this man is now the leader for all of us who get out of bed in the morning with an inquiring mind and an ethical framework. If you cannot see Al Gore speak in person, then see his film and buy his book.
We must disenthrall ourselves from this shared delusion. It will take courage.
I have a final comment that I would like to add to this report on the speech this afternoon. Each of us has our own strength and talent to bring to matter. Human ingenuity will be needed. However, those of us who have started to break out of the shared delusion use words such as emergency and crisis to describe our current situation. Do our actions reflect our words?
If we are in an emergency, then we should start acting like we are in an emergency. It is time for public protest. It is time for students to stage noisy campus sit-ins, and for enterprising media activists to get the tv cameras rolling on the tons of coal they’ve just dumped in the forecourt of Parliament House in Canberra.
As Mike Tidwell wrote a couple of days ago, ‘big change requires both legislative action and determined public protest.’ While the lawyers were working the courts, Martin Luther King Jr. was on the street boycotting buses. While anti-Vietnam War legislators were holding hearings in Congress, men and women of service age were unfurling banners on the streets.