The Gulf oil spill is a “consciousness-shifting event” says Al Gore

9 05 2010

The New Republic today published an article by the Nobel prize-winning/former US Presidential candidate, Al Gore. Say what you like about Mr Gore, but he is a consistent and, on the whole, articulate advocate of radical change to reverse global warming trends. When he talks, people listen.

On the back of the media coverage that the Gulf disaster is (quite rightly) getting, he points out that the key difference between oil spill and increasing levels of CO2 spill is that:

[P]etroleum is visible on the surface of the sea and carries a distinctive odor now filling the nostrils of people on shore. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and has no price tag. It is all too easily put “out of sight and out of mind.” Because the impacts of global warming are distributed globally, they often masquerade as an abstraction. And because the length of time between causes and consequences is longer than we are used to dealing with, we are vulnerable to the illusion that we have the luxury of time before we begin to respond.

But neither assumption is correct. Most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans and reemerges over time into the atmosphere. As a result, we are capable-–through inaction—of making truly disastrous consequences inevitable long before the worst impacts are manifested. Our perception of the dangers of the climate crisis therefore relies on our ability to understand and trust the conclusions reached by the most elaborate and impressive scientific assessment in the history of our civilization.

In other words, rather than relying on visceral responses, we have to draw upon our capacity for reasoning, communicating clearly with one another, forming a global consensus on the basis of science, and making a choice in favor of preventive action on a global scale.

Mr Gore concludes with this stirring passage:

This [the Gulf oil spill disaster] is a consciousness-shifting event. It is one of those clarifying moments that brings a rare opportunity to take the longer view. Unless we change our present course soon, the future of human civilization will be in dire jeopardy. Just as we feel a sense of urgency in demanding that this ongoing oil spill be stopped, we should feel an even greater sense of urgency in demanding that the much larger and more dangerous ongoing emissions of global warming pollution must also be stopped to make the world safe from the climate crisis that is building all around us.

Sunday Greens

9 05 2010

St Petersburg Times – traces the recent history and political consequences of large-scale oil disasters.

Dot Earth – on the shifting narrative of oil in the US after the Gulf spill.

Xinhua – reports on China’s continuing commitment to the climate change principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” According to Xie Zhenhua, one of China’s leading climate negotiators:

Developed countries discharged a great amount of greenhouse gases during their industrialization in the previous two centuries. That is the main cause of global warming…[T]hat’s why they should take most of the responsibility to reduce carbon emissions… Developing countries are now beginning to industrialize. It is unfair to limit their development.

According to Xie, developed countries should transfer green technologies to developing nations and dramatically increase their aid to poor nations.

John Vidal – reviews the latest in a long line of books focused on how to reconcile prosperity/growth with ecological concerns. That establishment economists such as Paul Collier are prepared to tackle this conundrum is, in a way, heartening. Vidal is, however, highly critical of Collier’s diagnosis.