Politics

Why Al Gore deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Gore’s effort to focus attention on climate change supports the goal of preventing wars

This is a guest essay by Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. It was originally published on Salon.com. What's world peace got to do with global warming? Perhaps everything. Or it will if things don't change fast -- if, in 10 or 20 or 40 years devastating floods and droughts displace millions of refugees and spur nations and tribes to desperate bloodletting. At which point, no one will have the slightest doubt why members of the renowned Scandinavian foundation thought former U.S. Vice President Al Gore was an obvious choice for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Speculation has been growing that Gore will be chosen for the prize on Friday. Regardless of the outcome, Gore is, quite simply, the indispensable player in the drama of mankind's encounter with the possibility of destroying the climatic balance within which our civilization emerged and developed. As anyone who read the book or watched the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" knows, Gore has been troubled by and fascinated with the science of climate change since his undergraduate days at Harvard, where he first encountered the theory that carbon emissions are slowly causing the planet to overheat. He began holding congressional hearings on the subject the moment he hit Washington in the early '70s and has not let up since -- perhaps because he understood instinctively that it was not a question of whether changing the atmosphere's chemical balance would disrupt climate, but when, and how fast. He recognized, too, that the incredibly hard task of turning around the world's energy economy would become impossible if we waited for global warming to announce its presence, stage left, with alarum and hautboys as Shakespeare might have scripted. So for years he accepted the thankless role of Cassandra, the Greek prophet no one would heed. But unlike Cassandra he did not sit by to watch fateful tragedy unfold. Once, when I was particularly frustrated by challenges I faced in my job at the Sierra Club, Gore heard me out and replied: "Never, ever give up." That would seem to be his motto, as reflected in the thousands of speeches he has delivered, the Live Earth concert he built from scratch, the naysaying he has endured, the movement he inspired. What's all that have to do with peace? Look at Iraq, Darfur or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- bloody sites that have engendered three Nobel Peace prizes. Twenty-first century conflicts seldom feature stable governments colliding, but rather collapsing societies attacking themselves. These are much harder to solve with diplomacy or peacekeeping troops. Prevention is the key. The Nobel Committee has recognized this in recent years, awarding its prize to such previously unlikely winners as Iranian feminist Shirin Abadi, and Muhammad Yunus, a pioneer of microfinance for the poor. A quick list of trouble spots that climate chaos could ignite would include:

A look at Tom Tancredo’s environmental platform and record

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An interview with Tom Tancredo about his presidential platform on energy and the environment

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Climate change and world peace

Three reasons Gore deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Conservative carping aside, Al Gore is a perfect candidate for three reasons: The award has always gone to people who have done more than just promote "peace," such as Albert Schweitzer, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa. The award has recently (2004) gone to an environmental leader, the great Wangari Maathai, who "founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental nongovernmental organization, which has now planted over 30 million trees across Kenya to prevent soil erosion." Global warming is a grave threat to future peace and security -- as more and more experts are acknowledging. Global warming creates the possibility of millions of refugees, spurred terrorism, sea-level rise, and food and water shortages -- water being a major source of conflict. Indeed, climate change may already have been a key factor in the Darfur crisis (see here and here). If we avoid catastrophic global warming, Al Gore's tireless efforts to educate the nation and the world will be a major reason. He will have prevented untold humanitarian crises and countless regional conflicts. Gore would bring honor to the award.

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Prime mover

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The meaning of global warming, part two

Stabilizing climate means embracing technology, public investment, and global economic development

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Grading on a curve

The Republican candidates acknowledge climate change, but they don’t much care about it

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Organizers or TV stars?

How should the environmental movement spend its money?

Tonight will witness the biggest social event of the D.C. environmental calendar: the Green Corps 15th anniversary bash. All the green glitterati will be there to honor Rep. Ed Markey and John Lewis with awards -- and more importantly, to raise money to support training organizers for the environmental movement. I've been helping out with the event for the last few months and I'm excited about it. It's made me reflect on how much the environmental movement has changed since I graduated from the year-long Green Corps organizing fellowship in 2002 -- and think anew about the relative importance of organizing to other methods of achieving social change. For those who don't know, Green Corps is the field school for environmental organizing. It generally takes 20-35 recent college graduates (out of more than 800 who apply!) and trains them in all the basic skills that go into running and winning an environmental (or really any social change or political) campaign. Then you get sent out somewhere in America to lead an environmental campaign yourself, working under the banner of a local, state, or national environmental group. My first campaign, for instance, was to work with Greenpeace to secure $5 billion in financing from the California government for clean energy financing. It's a lot more responsibility than most people think they'll have right out of college, and when you win, as you often do, it's hard not to embrace organizing for the long run, as most Green Corps organizers do. As a result, they've gone on to do amazing work with everyone from the Sierra Club to Move On and the Gulf Restoration Network. During my Green Corps year from 2001 to 2002, though, organizing was almost all we had. It was difficult for national environmental groups to get big-time media coverage of any environmental issue, much less the climate crisis, which seemed to be going nowhere as long as President Bush was in office. Now, since An Inconvenient Truth hit movie screens, it seems like everything is media: whether you read Women's Wear Daily, watch NBC or Fox, or read your local paper, the planet is hot, hot, hot! That change has had a huge impact, altering the spectrum of what's possible: we no longer have to beg for crumbs or think up cartoonish stunts to get attention (though no one should estimate the power of a cartoonish stunt to get attention). Suddenly, even Republican presidential candidates are forced to address the climate crisis and Democrats in Congress are actually considering fairly ambitious climate legislation. People across the country are making small changes to their own lives that might add up to something. More importantly, politicians at every level are more willing to give pro-environment legislation time on the agenda. Here's why I keep coming back to organizing -- and think the environmental movement needs to continue to focus on building its long-term organizing capacity rather than becoming overly enthralled with a pure media approach: