Our home—Earth—is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.
Earth and Venus are almost exactly the same size, and have almost exactly the same amount of carbon. The difference is that most of the carbon on Earth is in the ground—having been deposited there by various forms of life over the last 600 million years—and most of the carbon on Venus is in the atmosphere.
As a result, while the average temperature on Earth is a pleasant 59 degrees (Fahrenheit), the average temperature on Venus is 867 degrees. True, Venus is closer to the Sun than we are, but the fault is not in our star; Venus is three times hotter on average than Mercury, which is right next to the Sun. It’s the carbon dioxide.
Next Saturday,... the Live Earth concert will ask for the attention of humankind to begin a three-year campaign to make everyone on our planet aware of how we can solve the climate crisis in time to avoid catastrophe. Individuals must be a part of the solution. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?”
Live Earth will offer an answer to this question by asking everyone who attends or listens to the concerts to sign a personal pledge to take specific steps to combat climate change.
But individual action will also have to shape and drive government action. Here Americans have a special responsibility. Throughout most of our short history, the US and the American people have provided moral leadership for the world. Establishing the Bill of Rights, framing democracy in the constitution, defeating fascism in World War II, toppling communism and landing on the moon—all were the result of American leadership.
Once again, Americans must come together and direct our government to take on a global challenge. American leadership is a precondition for success.
To this end, we should demand that the US join an international treaty within the next two years that cuts global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy Earth.
This treaty would mark a new effort. I am proud of my role during the Clinton administration in negotiating the Kyoto protocol. But I believe that the protocol has been so demonized in the US that it probably cannot be ratified here—much in the way the Carter administration was prevented from winning ratification of an expanded strategic arms limitation treaty in 1979. Moreover, the negotiations will soon begin on a tougher climate treaty.
Therefore, just as (Ronald) Reagan renamed and modified the SALT agreement (calling it Start), after belatedly recognizing the need for it, our next president must immediately focus on quickly concluding a new and even tougher climate change pact. We should aim to complete this global treaty by the end of 2009—and not wait until 2012 as currently planned.
If by the beginning of 2009, the US already has in place a domestic regime to reduce global warming pollution, I have no doubt that when we give industry a goal and the tools and flexibility to sharply reduce carbon emissions, we can complete and ratify a new treaty quickly. It is, after all, a planetary emergency.
A new treaty will still have differentiated commitments, of course; countries will be asked to meet different requirements based upon their historical share or contribution to the problem and their relative ability to carry the burden of change. This precedent is well established in international law, and there is no other way to do it.
There are some who will try to pervert this precedent and use xenophobia or nativist arguments to say that every country should be held to the same standard. But should countries with one-fifth our gross domestic product—countries that contributed almost nothing in the past to the creation of this crisis—really carry the same load as the US? Are we so scared of this challenge that we cannot lead?
Our children have a right to hold us to a higher standard when their future—indeed, the future of all human civilization— is hanging in the balance. They deserve better than a government that censors the best scientific evidence and harasses honest scientists who try to warn us about looming catastrophe. They deserve better than politicians who sit on their hands and do nothing to confront the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced.
We should focus instead on the opportunities that are part of this challenge. Certainly, there will be new jobs and new profits as corporations move aggressively to capture the enormous economic opportunities offered by a clean energy future.
But there’s something even more precious to be gained if we do the right thing. The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: A generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge.
Edited excerpts fromInternational Herald Tribune. Al Gore, US vice-president from 1993 to 2001, is the chairman of the Alliance for Climate Protection. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org