Gore: Climate change a ‘moral issue’
‘We will rise to this,' says winner of Nobel prize
ASPEN — Nobel laureate and former vice president Al Gore said Friday that climate change is an issue for Western forests, the nation’s security and economy, and more.
“But at bottom it is a moral issue. It is a moral issue, and we have to be a generation willing to stand up and do the right thing,” Gore said to heavy applause at an Aspen conference on the impact of climate change on Western forests.
Rolling out another of his trademark slide shows, an impassioned and sometimes professorial-sounding Gore urged listeners not to leave it for future generations to question why people today saw trees die and glaciers melt and didn’t act.
“What right do we have in our present generation to say to all succeeding generations for many millennia to come that we just couldn’t get our heads straight on this?” Gore said.
Gore wrapped up an afternoon of speakers and panelists, including several scientists, as well as U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.; former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter; and Harris Sherman, undersecretary for natural resources and environment for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Friday’s event was put on by For the Forest, a group focused on problems of insect infestation and other forest issues.
Gore tailored some of his comments specifically to concerns like the loss of tens of millions of acres of forests in places such as Colorado due to beetle outbreaks that scientists believe have been brought on by climate change.
Speakers said such outbreaks are spreading to latitudes and elevations not previously of concern. Drought and high temperatures also are causing widespread deaths of aspen stands, and tree die-offs believed to be related to climate change are being seen in places such as the eastern United States and in other countries. Such deaths, they said, also mean the loss of organisms that play an important role in fighting climate change by absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide.
“If you love the forests and you care about what’s happening to them,” Gore said, “the number one connection to what’s happening to them is warmer temperatures.”
But Gore said other living creatures besides trees are responding to climate change, such as birds that are changing migration patterns by hundreds of miles.
“Thousands of species are reacting to this new reality that we have created on the planet. These animals with bird brains know what’s going on,” Gore said.
Besides his slides that depicted migratory birds and decimated Western forests, Gore ran through a litany of images from what he described as an important last year or so, climate-wise, with large-scale floods, fires, drought and other weather-related calamities striking numerous places around the world.
With the 10 hottest years on record all occurring in the last 13 years, 98 percent of climatologists agree that climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions is a fact, Gore said.
“And a lot of them are practically screaming from the rooftops now, trying to get the attention of the rest of us to say this is unprecedented, and we have to act. And so, do we trust the scientists or not?” Gore said.
The Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” focused on Gore’s campaign to bring attention to climate change, and his efforts led to him sharing the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
He said the United States needs to respond to climate change by means such as putting a price on carbon emissions and pursuing alternative energy forms. But efforts to make these things happen are being stifled by well-financed, cynical campaigns to exploit any remaining doubts over whether climate change is occurring, he said.
“Uncertainty is cherished in science and paralyzes politics,” Gore said.
But he voiced optimism, “based on my deep love and belief in who we are as Americans,” that the country eventually will act to counter climate change as countries like China already are starting to do.
“I think that we will rise to this. It’s essential that we do it because these other countries by themselves are not going to be able to do it,” he said.