Al Gore’s Nobel Lecture, Oslo, December 10, 2007
Your Majesties,Your Royal Highnesses, Honorable Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies,Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have a purposehere today. It is a purpose I have tried to serve for many years. I have prayedthat God would show me a way to accomplish it.
Sometimes, withoutwarning, the future knocks on our door with a precious and painful vision ofwhat might be. One hundred and nineteen years ago, a wealthy inventor read hisown obituary, mistakenly published years before his death. Wrongly believingthe inventor had just died, a newspaper printed a harsh judgment of his life’swork, unfairly labeling him “the Merchant of Death”because of his invention－dynamite. Shaken by this condemnation, theinventor made a fateful choice to serve the cause of peace.
Seven years later,Alfred Nobel created this prize and the others that bear his name.
Seven years agotomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harshand mistaken – if not premature. But that unwelcome verdict also brought aprecious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to servemy purpose.
Unexpectedly, thatquest has brought me here. Even though I fear my words cannot match this moment,I pray that what I am feeling in my heart will be communicated clearly enoughthat those who hear me will say, “We must act.”
We, the humanspecies, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival ofour civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as wegather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solvethis crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if weact boldly, decisively and quickly.
However, despite agrowing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world’s leaders arestill best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those whoignored Adolf Hitler’s threat. And I quote: “They go on in strange paradox,decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift,solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”
So today, wedumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shellof atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. Andtomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulativeconcentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.
As a result, theearth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is nota passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion.And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated withincreasing distress, is that something basic is wrong. We are what is wrong,and we must make it right.
Now science iswarning us that if we do not quickly reduce the global warming pollution thatis trapping so much of the heat our planet normally radiates back out of theatmosphere, we are in danger of creating a permanent “carbon summer” .
As the Americanpoet Robert Frost wrote, “ Some say the world will end in fire; some say in ice.”Either, he notes, “would suffice” .
But neither needbe our fate. It is time to make peace with the planet.
We must quicklymobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously beenseen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survivalwere won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surgeof courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortalstruggle.
Now comes thethreat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, anduniversal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring thischallenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would beunsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose ourfate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to actvigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?
Mahatma Gandhiawakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with whathe called “Satyagraha” – or “truth force.”
In every land, thetruth – once known – has the power to set us free.
Truth also has thepower to unite us and bridge the distance between “me” and “we”, creating thebasis for common effort and shared responsibility.
There is anAfrican proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want togo far, go together.” We need to go far, quickly.
We must abandonthe conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They canand do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. Atthe same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite theestablishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”
That meansadopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity andinitiative at every level of society in multifold responses originatingconcurrently and spontaneously.
This newconsciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity.The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy forpennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbaior Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere onthe globe have the chance to change the world.
When we unite fora moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashedcan transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world inthe 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they hadgained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan,the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight thatunified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy in Germany, Japan,Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is timewe steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”
We must understandthe connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger,HIV/AIDS and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must betheir solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the globalenvironment the central organizing principle of the world community.
Heads of stateshould meet early next year to review what was accomplished in Bali and take personalresponsibility for addressing this crisis. It is not unreasonable to ask, giventhe gravity of our circumstances, that these heads of state meet every threemonths until the treaty is completed.
We also need amoratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal withoutthe capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.
And most importantof all, we need to put a price on carbon – with a CO2 tax that is then rebatedback to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, inways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is byfar the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis.
The world nowneeds an alliance – especially of those nations that weigh heaviest in thescales where earth is in the balance. I salute Europe and Japan for the stepsthey’ve taken in recent years to meet the challenge, and the new government inAustralia, which has made solving the climate crisis its first priority.
These are the lastfew years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful futureif we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found withouteffort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wishtoredeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these arethe hard truths:
The way ahead isdifficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe to be feasible is stillfar short of what we actually must do. Moreover, between here and there, acrossthe unknown, falls the shadow.
We are standing atthe most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision oftwo futures – each a palpable possibility – and with a prayer that we will seewith vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures, and theurgency of making the right choice now.
The greatNorwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, “One of these days, the younger generationwill come knocking at my door.”
The future isknocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will askus one of two questions. Either they will ask,“What were you thinking; whydidn’t you act? ”
Or they will askinstead, “How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve acrisis that so many said was impossible to solve?”
We have everythingwe need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewableresource.
So let us renewit, and let us say together, “We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose wewill rise, and we will act.”