Climate change needs a Gandhi not a Gore

Was Al Gore’s 24-hour climate-change information marathon a world-changing event or just ‘more of the same’?

Jeff Tollefson, a journalist at Nature, emailed me late last night to ask what I thought of the 24-hour long Climate Reality event, led by former vice-president of the United States Al Gore.

Here’s what I replied.

I actually avoided the Goreathon, and I guess that says something in itself.

I think it was a bad idea to ask people to let his project take over their Twitter / Facebook accounts for the day. I’m sure people are more likely to listen to their real friends’ real thoughts on climate change than to listen to Al Gore speaking through their friend’s social media accounts.

I saw Gore give his lecture a few years ago and he was a fantastic speaker. Then he disappeared for a few years. He seemed to have lost his passion for communicating about climate change, and that meant he lost a lot of credibility.

If he wants to change the way the world thinks about climate change he needs to be out there every day, visible and among the people who will be affected most or whom he says will need to change most – not on a pedestal performing periodic stunts and charging large sums for speaking engagements, books and DVDs.

One journalist I know in London went to a screening of the new Al Gore presentation tonight and sent me a text that said: “Gore gets gold for most boring and least galvanizing talk on climate, ever… That, and possibly damaging.”

Climate change needs a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King or a Mandela, and Al Gore is none of those.

Jeff published my comments and those of a few other people here.

What do you think? Did you watch any of the Climate Reality events, or use your Twitter and Facebook accounts to share its information?

Or as Jeff asked me: Was it useful? Will it convince anybody? Is anybody paying attention? Is the science being conveyed accurately/in a meaningful way? Is Al Gore helping the cause or merely politicising it?

[Update 29 April 2014: Al Gore has responded to some of the things I said here, in an interview with Darren Samuelsohn for Politico magazine. You can read my more recent thoughts in this follow-up post]

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8 Responses to Climate change needs a Gandhi not a Gore

  1. James Fahn says:

    Fairly or not, Gore seems to be a very polarizing figure here in the US. A lot of climate change deniers often seem to evoke their opposition through a kind of personal animosity to him.

  2. celticlion says:

    I find myself some what now detached from the debate. After attending the conference to set up the new generation of UK climate models in London 2002, (part of the 2007 Nobel) DEFRA asked me to contribute to a United Nations Environment and Development report. To cut a long story short it was from my work the agenda of the 2005 G8, climate change and Africa was derived. This was justified by the risk assessment that (sort of) climate change was a greater threat than terrorism. (We were guarded by counter terrorism police at the conference the week before). The Chief Scientist Sir David King gave my work global publicity, but never told the media he wasn’t the original author. Gore has quoted it, but never cited me as source. Sadly with King taking the credit and not disclosing it was someone elses original work, the body of work it was taken from never got the attention it probably deserved. BBC news planning know King wasn’t the author, but continue to run with him for ratings reasons only, as he is a media celeb. I find it sad the cult of celebity and ego was considered more important than exploring workable solutions to the challenge. The climate change/ terrorism risk assessment King ‘gave publicity’ to only really makes sense in the context it was ‘lifted from. To me Gore and King punted a narrow and unexciting ( and therefore unworkable) agenda into the global psyche.

  3. celticlion says:

    Consider me a heretic, but I don’t belive climate change to be the major problem. One reason climate change was forced into the global consciousness was in 2004 Sir David King gave global publicity to a sound bite, “climate change is a greater threat than terrorism”>
    Sir David has been asked in interviews many times how he came up with the assessment, and has always been slightly evasive or vague, in my opinion.
    Firstly, also in my opinion you cannot manage the ecological life support system of the planet ‘by soundbite’.
    This is an extract from a submission, Changing Futures, to a UN Environment and Development report commissioned by the UK Government, 2002. As far as I am aware Sir David was on the committee the submissions went to. This was written in response in dialogue with Michael Saunby, head of supercomputing at the Met Office, I believe, with some responsibility for providing the systems the climate models were run on.
    The actual risk assessment was not ‘Climate Change’ is a greater threat than terrorism, but ‘Economic growth not integrated with its cost burden on social and environmental systems’ This covers loss of bio-diveristy (hence eco system stability), pollution, resource depletion etc. But putting a misplaced only focus on climate change, has contributed to a dangerous belief that “unplugging your mobile phone charger, will save your life”. The worst thing that could have happened for this planet was some over hyped misconception from climate change is a greater threat than terrorism and climate change being an inconvienient truth. Smokescreen.
    The inconvienient truth is economic growth, which is not really going to go down well, unless and until the alternative is understood.

    Extract from Changing Futures 19th December 2002, submission to UN Environment and Development report.

    “………….The news last night was war on terrorism and war on Iraq.

    Even the DEFRA website itself considers SD about UK and the world outside as a “WHOLE”.

    Recently I was invited to look at Guidence for Policy Makers and Regulatory Impact Assessment by the Cabinet Office Regulatory Impact Unit.

    This document is available at the Cabinet Office RIU website.

    Now in the consultation draft Annex 4 under Sustainable Development it says “One purpose of cost-benefit analysis is to ensure that in pursuing any single objective, we should not impose disproportionate costs elsewhere….the needs of the present may also result in costs to the environment or social welfare”.

    Now I understand it is widely acknowledged that CO2 emmisions from industrialised economic growth cause climatic change.

    The principle stated in the Cabinet Office draft also being applicable to the global dynamic. Probably why there was a worldwide response to the US decision not to co-operate on Kyoto.

    National economic policy not integrated with sustainable development analysis and goals imposes costs on the social and environmental systems of the planet.

    A country such as the US as the biggest emitter of greenhouse costs presumably imposes the biggest individual costs on the social and environmental systems of the global dynamic.

    Now a building could be destroyed and 3000 people lose their lives. A nuclear bomb has the the potential to kill a few million in a city.

    Unfortunately these are insignificant compared to the most awesome tool of mass destruction. Economic growth not integrated with its cost burden on social and environmental systems at all levels of its implementation, local, national and international.

    Its effects are indiscriminate drought, famine, flood, destruction of crops, fire. It is not millions, but 10′s and 100′s of millions who pay the price.”……………

    Roger Thomas

  4. celticlion says:

    Though I feel I may appreciate your motive, these are my thoughts on the subject. Asking for a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, may not be the most appropriate association. In view that both these ended up shot. What we need is life and sustainability associated with the ’cause’. Mandela has lived to a ripe old age with his family around him. A good, happy sustainable association. Unfortunately he has also been in prison, accused of being a terrorist. Originally an anti-establishment figure. Part of Mandela’s drive, insight, aura etc comes from being the outsider who ‘came in’. Would our modern media allow such a situation to exist now. Where someone’s past, which though it also includes their experience, is open to more scrutiny, rather than the message or truth they speak. How could someone have such a leadership role if they have been in prison. (No matter how unjust the punishment may have been). An ‘outlaw’ making good casts doubt or shows up the failings of the established system and hence can lead to its downfall. That being good or bad depends on the position and views of the observing individuals concerned within it.

    I think it was Einstein who said, “No problem cannot be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”.

    To me this also means the same overarching paradigm. Now to me both Al Gore and Sir David King, (who I have heard speak at conferences), are both trying to solve the problem within the paradigm or level of consciousness that created it.

    So do we need to solve the problem from within a new evolved paradigm. Then we go full circle, the originators of the new paradigms, at the time, are the outsiders, the outlaws. Galileo, Darwin and to some extent even Einstein. But it is the acceptance of the new ideas that solves existing problems. Without Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo, even if the technology existed, it would be impossible to launch a rocket into space, ‘because it would shatter the crystal spheres’ which supported the celestial bodies.

    To me it is the new paradigm which is important. From the new paradigm, then we can look back and see the problem and so the solutions within the old paradigm.

    From within the new paradigm I would also challenge climate change itself. Not whether it exists or not but rather whether it is a problem or a symptom of something deeper. A fever is not a problem but a symptom of cholera. But its ‘cure’ is by plumbers and ground workers – clean water and better sanitation.

    It is the deeper and underlying cause and control of climate change which needs to emerge from the new paradigm.

  5. celticlion says:

    Please find below Changing Futures. The original html submission can be supplied by emailing me, celticlion23 (at) yahoo (dot) com. In December 2002 I was invited to the set up of the new generation of climate models at the DTI conference centre London. We were guarded by counter terrorism police, a strange juxtaposition considering we were there to ‘save the world’.

    Just over a week before we had had still born twins. When I phoned up my mum she told me my dad was seriously ill in hospital and my uncle had died.

    DEFRA had also asked me to contribute to a UN Environment and Development report. The news was full of the build up to the war on Iraq. If no other better reason I didn’t think it was a good idea to drop bombs on children and make more grieving parents.

    So I wrote an anti war submission for the UN report, in response to a thread with Michael Saunby, head of supercomputing at the Meteorological Office and in an environment of so many other influential contributors. Suggesting climate change and Africa could be examples of foreign policy. Supporting this with a risk assessment of the environmental threat being greater than that of terrorism.

    The rest of the submission related the problems of increasing consumer credit, predictions of flood events, drought etc affecting 10 millions. The Government’s Chief Scientist, who was on the reports committee, gave the risk assessment global publicity. Then it was used by many other world leaders and environmental organisations. Al Gore used it when notified of his Nobel Prize in 2007. The climate models I contributed to were awarded the other Nobel.

    Climate change and Africa became the agenda for the 2005 Perthshire G8. Hence Live 8 and all the rest that followed. Scotland’s largest law firm has independently assessed it as arguably the most influential strategy article of the 21st century. Even more extraordinary if it wasn’t, and just managed to ‘predict’ these things.

    Strangely when Blair and Bush discussed climate change and Africa at the 2005 G8 they probably didn’t realise its source was an argument against and an alternative to the war on Iraq. Not a lot of people know that.

    Thank you for such a fascinating interesting post. I never bought into the Al Gore ideas on climate change. I appreciate his role in bringing it to greater attention, but never felt a better understanding or solution would come from the paradigm he expressed them within.

    In conclusion to me it is not the person but the paradigm.

    Changing Futures as posted, no spell check, first draft.

    Subject: re: re: Changing Futures
    Date posted: 19/12/02 16:13:00
    Author: Roger Thomas
    Message:
    This forum is supposedly directed at UK domestic policy, unfortunately domestic policy now seems international policy. The news last night was war on terrorism and war on Iraq.

    Even the DEFRA website itself considers SD about UK and the world outside as a “WHOLE”.

    Recently I was invited to look at Guidence for Policy Makers and Regulatory Impact Assessment by the Cabinet Office Regulatory Impact Unit.

    This document is available at the Cabinet Office RIU website.

    Now in the consultation draft Annex 4 under Sustainable Development it says “One purpose of cost-benefit analysis is to ensure that in pursuing any single objective, we should not impose disproportionate costs elsewhere….the needs of the present may also result in costs to the environment or social welfare”.

    Now I understand it is widely acknowledged that CO2 emmisions from industrialised economic growth cause climatic change.

    The principle stated in the Cabinet Office draft also being applicable to the global dynamic. Probably why there was a worldwide response to the US decision not to co-operate on Kyoto.

    National economic policy not integrated with sustainable development analysis and goals imposes costs on the social and environmental systems of the planet.

    A country such as the US as the biggest emitter of greenhouse costs presumably imposes the biggest individual costs on the social and environmental systems of the global dynamic.

    Now a building could be destroyed and 3000 people lose their lives. A nuclear bomb has the the potential to kill a few million in a city.

    Unfortunately these are insignificant compared to the most awesome tool of mass destruction. Economic growth not integrated with its cost burden on social and environmental systems at all levels of its implementation, local, national and international.

    Its effects are indiscriminate drought, famine, flood, destruction of crops, fire. Itis not millions, but 10′s and 100′s of millions who pay the price.

    It has just been announced that we have had the 2nd hottest year on record globally, the hottest being 1998.

    Coincidently we now have reports of the impending famine in Ethiopia due to drought. Millions of men, woman, children, families and animals just waiting to die.

    Are these paying the cost of air conditioning in Houston, £158 billion of UK consumer credit, 12 lane interstate highways and congestion on the M6.

    The UN wants US$340 million to deal with this disaster, I am sure somebody will supply the correct figure.

    Now I have the draft UNEP IPCC Third Assessmet Report Summary for Policy Makers Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability (19 Feb 2001). Why it is the draft is another story.

    Now table SPM-2 page 16 on Regional Adaptive Capacity and Key Concerns : Africa.

    1) Adaptive capacity of human systems in Africa is low due to lack of economic resources and technology, and vulnerability high as a result of heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture, frequent droughts and floods and poverty.

    6) Increases in droughts, floods and other extreme events would add to stresses on water resources, food security, human health and infrastructures, and would constrain development in Africa.

    Now off the coast of Africa in the ocean we have one of the biggest deployments of people and resources building up.

    These resources might be going to be used to invade somewhere and kill people. These resources have been paid for out of economic growth which not being related or integrated with its cost burden on social and envirnonmental systems, from the literature I have read, has also killed people or will kill people. Probably those people waiting to die in nearby Ethiopia.

    This is a sytem which appears to be going out of control with self feeding positive feedback mechanisms.

    Now if we are talking war, and the governments want to do this for the reasons they are telling us. What is the best way of dealing with the situation.

    As not many of us are top military strategists, we need to look at the situation how the probably the greatest military strategist in entire human history would have approached it, Alexander the Great.

    Gordon Brown has a “war chest” of £1000 million ring fenced for war. If this situation was presented to Alexander what he probably would do is take 20% of this. £200 million and give it to the relief of Ethiopia.

    Coincidently this is in the ball park of the figure the UN needs. This would be important in his overall strategy for the war on all fronts.

    Tony Blair has also said he wants to do something about the open sore of Africa so this is the chance.

    Use these resources to sort out the Ethiopian situation, start taking the tensions out of the global dynamic.

    Personally I think it is a bit scummy that millions are people are waitng to die as a consequence of western economic policy. We have the resources to do something about the situation. As individuals we cannot have pride or respect for our country or society that lets this happen.

    So what is the perception of the rest of the world to a situation where millions are waitng to die and nearby resources are being brought together to kill more. It just adds to global hatered, tension and escalation and detracts from the crucial fundamental central challenge that we must address, a sustainable future for all people and life on this planet.

    What the greatest military strategist who ever lived earned was respect. Earn that respect give Ethiopia the money and the first battle of the war is won.

    It all comes down to people are dying we can do something about it, so we should. The true message of Christmas is forgiveness, peace on earth and goodwill to ALL. War and killing play no part of the Christain faith, listen to the sermon on the mount. Neither do they play any part of Sustainable Development.

    Roger Thomas

    Applied Planetary Engineering

  6. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez says:

    An Eco-Humynist Manifesto for the 21st Century
    by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

    Whereas human beings have acted in a dominating fashion towards each other and towards other living species on this planet, using the excuse of difference to justify aggressive and destructive behavior;

    Whereas competition has been used as a rationale for economic systems based on hierarchical systems of power;

    Whereas social exclusion and systematic discrimination has been seen as the normative right of dominant groups;

    Whereas privileged groups have felt entitled to take more than their fair share from the environmental commons, and to deprive less powerful groups, whether human or of other species, of the resources necessary for well-being;

    Whereas it is quickly becoming apparent, in the age of climate change, that the dominant paradigm of capitalist patriarchal social relations is resulting in the dangerous destabilization of the entire natural ecosystem;

    The time has come to take action to change this paradigm in the following ways:

    Move from a top-down hierarchical system to a horizontal, egalitarian model of social relations based on inclusivity across all of the traditional boundaries used to keep different groups apart, including race, class, gender, sex, nationality, ethnicity, religion, and also opening up the possibility for cross-species collaboration based on respect and stewardship;

    Shift the worldwide economic system to a model of global cooperation and collaboration, with the focus of human industry and government on providing a baseline of well-being for all life forms on this planet, regardless of geographic origin or antiquated ideas of relative importance (ie, who is to say that a human being is more important than a songbird, or a sardine?);

    Tailor the education system to teaching the history of the destructive cultural practices of homo sapiens up to the 21st century, and opening up constructive conversations across disciplines, where alternatives to these traditions can be envisioned and developed;

    Model egalitarian, collaborative, respectful social relations in the private sphere of the family as well as the public spheres of education, the profession, government and law;

    Shift from a violent conflict and punishment model of resolving disagreements to a peaceful persuasive model, with the goal always being the well-being of the community as a whole first, and secondly each member of it.

    Destroy all weapons of mass destruction, as well as all bio and chemical weapons, and their blueprints.

    No one person’s or minority group’s interests (with rich people and businesses or industries rightly being considered minorities) should be allowed to take precedence over the interests of the majority, including the non-human majority on this planet.

    Develop an appropriate representative global governing council to administer these principles.

    In the name of Mother Earth and ALL of her children, I call on the peoples of the world to act without delay to become the stewards of the planet and the collaborative, respectful individuals we were always meant to be.

    • celticlion says:

      Yes!

      “Whereas it is quickly becoming apparent, in the age of climate change, that the dominant paradigm of capitalist patriarchal social relations is resulting in the dangerous destabilization of the entire natural ecosystem;

      The time has come to take action to change this paradigm …..”

      You have only mentioned climate change once and only in passing. That is about all it deserves. It is only a symptom of everything else you write about. It is the entire paradigm that needs changing. Climate change cannot be resolved within the false, outdated and destructive paradigm which is the dominant one used to (mis)manage this planet.

      The best thing that could have happened regarding the debacle in Durban was for no one to have turned up. It is the “dangerous destabilization of the entire natural ecosystem;” which is the problem.

      Though I no longer know what we can do. The collapse of the ecological life support systems of the planet is imminent. Realistically there is not the time to prevent nearly 7 billion human deaths and loss of most of the species of the planet.

      The climate change industry is a deluded smoke screen obscuring the real dangers we face.

      Had the sensible thing been done and no one turned up at Durban, that would have got the media attention. Then the real challenges could have been presented and there may have been a chance of resolving the issues raised.

      The more people that realise climate change is only a symptom and not the problem the greater chance we have of preserving life on this planet. Climate change is politically acceptable tokenism, which the destructive paradigm allows to be dicussed but not resolved. It is soundbite reductionism, while the truer reality is ignored. Change the entire paradigm of planetary management, or else we are all bound for hell in a handcart.

      Roger Thomas
      Celtic Lion Ltd

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