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Al Gore Speaks on Global Warming and the Environment

Beacon Theater, New York
January 15, 2004, Noon

Thank you, Carol, Joan and Peter.

And thanks to all of you for coming here today.

lt was an honor to work with Carol Browner on environmental policies in the last administration and I am grateful for her leadership of Environment 2004. I want to thank Peter for his leadership as Executive Director of MoveOn.org Civic Action and I appreciate all of those who have worked in the trenches with both of these organizations that are co-sponsoring today’s speech.

I want to say a special word about Joan Blades, who traveled from California for this event and who, along with her husband, Wes Boyd, co-founded Moveon.org. She has been from the beginning a moving force behind the emergence of this dynamic new grassroots movement in American politics and public policy.

I have made a series of speeches about the policies of the Bush / Cheney Administration towards the major challenges that confront our nation: national security, economic policy, civil liberties, and today: the environment.

For me, this issue is in a special category because of what I believe is at stake. I am particularly concerned because the vast majority of the most respected environmental scientists from all over the world have sounded a clear and urgent alarm. The international community – including the United States – began a massive effort several years ago to assemble the most accurate scientific assessment of the growing evidence that the earth’s environment is sustaining severe and potentially irreparable damage from the unprecedented accumulation of pollution in the global atmosphere.

In essence, these scientists are telling the people of every nation that global warming caused by human activities is becoming a serious threat to our common future. I am also troubled that the Bush/Cheney Administration does not seem to hear the warnings of the scientific community in the same way that most of us do.

Here is what we are talking about:

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Even though the earth is of such vast size, the most vulnerable part of the global environment is the atmosphere – because it is surprisingly thin – as the late Carl Sagan used to say: like a coat of varnish on a globe.

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I don’t think there is any longer a credible basis for doubting that the earth’s atmosphere is heating up because of global warming.

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So the evidence is overwhelming and undeniable.
Global Warming is real. It is happening already and the anticipated consequences are unacceptable. But it is important to understand that this crisis is actually just a symptom of a deeper underlying cause:

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Yet in spite of the clear evidence available all around us, there are many who still do not believe that Global Warming is a problem at all. And it’s no wonder: because they are the targets of a massive and well-organized campaign of disinformation lavishly funded by polluters who are determined to prevent any action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, out of a fear that their profits might be affected if they had to stop dumping so much pollution into the atmosphere.

And wealthy right-wing ideologues have joined with the most cynical and irresponsible companies in the oil, coal and mining industries to contribute large sums of money to finance pseudo-scientific front groups that specialize in sowing confusion in the public’s mind about global warming. They issue one misleading “report” after another, pretending that there is significant disagreement in the legitimate scientific community in areas where there is actually a broad-based consensus.

The techniques they use were pioneered years earlier by the tobacco industry in its long campaign to create uncertainty in the public’s mind about the health risks caused by tobacco smoke. Indeed, some of the very same scientific camp-followers who took money from the tobacco companies during that effort are now taking money from coal and oil companies in return for their willingness to say that global warming is not real.

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In a candid memo about political strategy for Republican leaders, pollster Frank Luntz expressed concern that voters might punish candidates who supported more pollution, but offered advice on the key tactic for defusing the issue:

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The Bush Administration has gone far beyond Luntz’ recommendations, however, and has explored new frontiers in cynicism by time and time again actually appointing the principal lobbyists and lawyers for the biggest polluters to be in charge of administering the laws that their clients are charged with violating. Some of these appointees have continued to work very closely with the outside pseudo-scientific front groups even though they are now on the public payroll.

Two Attorneys General have now publicly accused officials in the Bush White House Council on Environmental Quality of conspiring with one of the outside groups to encourage the filing of a lawsuit as part of a shared strategy to undermine the possibility of government action on Global Warming.

Vice President Cheney’s infamous “Energy Task Force” advised lobbyists for polluters early in the new administration that there would be no action by the Bush White House on Global Warming and then asked for their help in designing a totally meaningless “voluntary” program. One of the industry lobbyists who heard this pitch later made an unguarded speech to his peers about the experience and said the following:

“Let me put it to you in political terms. The President needs a fig leaf. He’s dismantling Kyoto, but he’s out there on a limb.”

The White House has routinely gone out on a limb to involve large contributors representing companies charged with violating environmental laws and regulations in the drafting of new laws and regulations designed to let their clients off the hook.

The story is the same when it comes to protecting the American people from pollution. The Bush administration chooses special interests over the public interest, ignoring the scientific evidence in favor of policies its contributors demand.
Consider Mercury, an extremely toxic pollutant causing severe developmental and neurological defects in fetuses. We know its principal unregulated source is coal-fired power plants. But the Bush Administration has gutted the protections of the Clean Air Act, revoking an earlier determination by the EPA that mercury emissions from power plants should be treated as hazardous air pollutants. Even Bush’s own FDA issued warning about mercury in tuna.

Are you all right with that – the President saying that Mercury shouldn’t be treated as a hazardous air pollutant?

Consider toxic wastes. The Superfund has gone from $3.8 billion to a shortfall of $175 million. The result is fewer cleanups, slower cleanups, and a toxic mess left for our children. That’s because the Bush administration has let its industry friends off the hook; the tax these polluters used to pay to support the Superfund has been eliminated, so that you, me, and other taxpayers are left holding the bill.

Are you all right with that – the country’s worst polluters getting off the hook while you and I pay?

And consider the enforcement of environmental laws. For three years in a row, the Bush administration has sought to slash enforcement personnel levels at EPA. Offices were told to back off cases, leaving one veteran EPA servant to say, “The rug was pulled out from under us…You look around and say, “What contribution can I make here?”

Are you all right with that – the EPA being stripped of its ability to protect our air and water?

I’ll tell you who’s all right with that. A recent review of contributions to the Bush campaign from utility industry executives, lawyers and lobbyists showed that 15 individuals were Bush Pioneers – those who raised at least $100,000 for the Bush campaign.

We’ve seen this radical change in our parks too. Just ask the coalition of more than 100 retired career park service employees who wrote a letter saying that their mission to protect parks’ natural resources has been changed to focus on commercial and special-interest use of parks.

These are not small shifts in policy – they are radical changes that reverse a century of American policy designed to protect our natural resources. Here’s what America used to be. Yellowstone Park was created in 1872, in part to preserve its forest, mineral and geothermal resources. Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 championed this philosophy, setting aside millions of acres of forest reserves, national monuments and wildlife refuges. This balanced approach – combining use of needed resources in the short term with conservation for future generations -- has been honored by Roosevelt on down the line, president after president – until this one.

In preparing this series of speeches, I have noticed a troubling pattern that characterizes the Bush/Cheney Administration’s approach to almost all issues. In almost every policy area, the Administration’s consistent goal has been to eliminate any constraints on their exercise of raw power, whether by law, regulation, alliance or treaty – and in the process they have in each case caused America to be seen by the other nations of the world as showing disdain for the international community.

In each case they devise their policies with as much secrecy as possible and in close cooperation with the most powerful special interests that have a monetary stake in what happens. In each case the public interest is not only ignored but actively undermined. In each case they devote considerable attention to a clever strategy of deception that appears designed to prevent the American people from discerning what it is they are actually doing. Indeed, they often use Orwellian language to disguise their true purposes. For example, a policy that opens national forests to destructive logging of old-growth trees is labeled “The Healthy Forest Initiative.” A policy that vastly increases the amount of pollution that can be dumped into the air is called the “Clear Skies Initiative.”

And in case after case, the policy adopted immediately after the inauguration has been the exact opposite of what was pledged to the American people during the election campaign. The promise by candidate Bush to conduct a “humble” foreign policy and avoid any semblance of “nation building” was transformed in the first days of the Bush presidency, into a frenzied preparation for a military invasion of Iraq, complete with detailed plans for the remaking of that nation under American occupation.

And in the same way, a solemn promise made to the country that carbon dioxide would be regulated as a polluting greenhouse gas was instantly transformed by the inauguration into a promise to the generators of CO2 that it would not be regulated at all.
And a seemingly heartfelt declaration to the American people during the campaign that he genuinely believed that global warming is a real problem which must be addressed was replaced after the Inauguration by a dismissive expression of contempt for careful, peer-reviewed work by EPA scientists setting forth the plain facts on at global warming.

These and other activities make it abundantly clear that the Bush White House represents a new departure in the history of the Presidency. He is so eager to accommodate his supporters and contributors that there seems to be very little that he is not willing to do for them at the expense of the public interest. To mention only one example, we’ve seen him work tirelessly to allow his friends to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Indeed, it seems at times as if the Bush-Cheney Administration is wholly owned by the coal, oil, utility and mining companies.

While President Bush likes to project an image of strength and courage, the truth is that in the presence of his large financial contributors he is a moral coward – so weak that he seldom if ever says “No” to them on anything – no matter what the public interest might mandate.

The problem is that our world is now confronting a five-alarm fire that calls for bold moral and political leadership from the United States of America.

With such leadership, there is no doubt that we could solve the problem of global warming. After all, we brought down communism, won wars in the Pacific and Europe simultaneously, enacted the Marshall Plan, found a cure for polio and put men on the moon. When we set our sights on a visionary goal and are unified in pursuing it, there is very little we cannot accomplish.

And it is important to recall that we have also already succeeded in organizing a winning global strategy to solve one massive global environmental challenge:

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Instead of spending enormous sums of money on an unimaginative and retread effort to make a tiny portion of the Moon habitable for a handful of people, we should focus instead on a massive effort to ensure that the Earth is habitable for future generations.

If we make that choice, the U.S. can strengthen our economy with a new generation of advanced technologies, create millions of good new jobs, and inspire the world with a bold and moral vision of humankind’s future.

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We are now at a true fork in the road. And in order to take the right path, we must choose the right values and adopt the right perspective.

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My friend the late Carl Sagan, whose idea it was to take this picture of the Earth, said this:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know. Everyone you ever heard of, ever y human being who ever WAS lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering , thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds , Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light…

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand…

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

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