Last week’s presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore completed not only a remarkable evolution in the career of an American politician, but it also helped to put in a proper, prominent frame what is perhaps the most serious problem we face today.
With the award, Gore became that rarest of animals in American politics – a voice all its own. In the past, we’ve reserved this kind of prominence only for former presidents. Former vice presidents tend to slink away from the public eye once they leave office. Gore, thanks to his Nobel Prize, will forever be someone who gets the ear of the American public.
It is good that America’s loudest voice that never sat in the Oval Office be associated with the issue of global warming, and that it brings not only such depth of understanding but also passion and optimism towards a solution. Even though it appears that Gore will decline the opportunity to run for president, his will be a voice we will need over the next decade.
The two most critical problems that the next American president will inherit is a lack of coherent national energy policy and global warming.
America’s love affair with petroleum will soon come to an end, either because of peak oil or because the rest of the world will simply catch up with how much we consume, thus driving up prices. Sing a dirge for cheap oil, because it’s dead and gone.
Global warming itself is a problem like no other that we’ve faced. That helps explain why it’s taken so long for us to take it seriously – comparatively few people have educated themselves on what it is and what it could mean.
Skeptics like to point to the fact that it is still discussed in terms of probability, which is both predictable and indicative of how serious it is.
Science doesn’t speak the language of absolutes, but of probability and chance. Even if there is less than a 1 percent chance that something will not come true, scientists by nature and training will leave open the possibility that all of our assumptions on something are wrong.
But, we should be concerned about not knowing the precise impacts it will have on our way of life.
The primary component for peace is stability, and the primary component for stability is a set of reliable assumptions. For instance, we can safely assume that we can grow a lot of corn in Iowa.
In the world of global warming, however, Iowa summers are supposed to be as hot as an Arkansas summer, except drier. Then again, depending on how things interact, it might not. If you can’t be sure where you can grow food, how do you expect to keep peace? We can safely assume at least one thing will happen if massive crop failures prevent food from reaching our cities – civil disturbance.
Already, in certain parts of Africa, violence and political unrest have been tied to global warming. Because those hit hardest by global warming are expected to be those who live in the world’s poorest nations (naturally), this was to be expected. Where people live hand-to-mouth, change for the negative guarantees the worst of outcomes.
This is the peace aspect of this particular Nobel Prize. Peace isn’t always kept by separating warring parties or finding compromise between them. Often, it’s found simply by averting problems that would antagonize people with longstanding differences.
This is the reality of global warming. It is too often discussed in purely scientific terms, where the numbers and definitions are traded as talking points rather than matters of serious dialogue. But, in truth, it is a human problem, where the end product of those numbers and talking points is lost stability, which threatens world peace as badly as any power-mad tyrant.
© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.