Part I …

Posted by: TED Guest Author

One of the
more poignant points that Al Gore made in last night’s powerful speech about
global warming was that a lot of people move directly from a state of
denial about this issue to one of despair.  People in the first state
don’t go out and try to change things because they don’t see a problem.
People in the second state are often no more inclined to act because they think
the situation is hopeless.  The fact that these are the two most stable
cognitive states on this issue probably explains why a lot of people do, in
fact, remain in denial.  It’s human to avoid pain, and therefore perhaps
natural to subconsciously choose a state of denial over the daily trauma of
despairing for the future of humanity. 

The main
body of the speech musters a great sense of alarm about a formidable enemy
(and by the way, I’ll use the present tense in the discussing the speech from
now on because Mr. Gore indicated that it’s an on-going project that he’s
presenting in as many forums as possible).  To convert that alarm into an
energized determination to do something, Mr. Gore needs to be equally
persuasive in arguing that the enemy can actually be defeated.  In light
of this, perhaps the most important part of the speech is the tantalizing
glimpse of hope that he offers at the end.  But does that glimpse create
enough momentum to carry his audience through the state of despair and into one
of cautious, but inspired optimism? 

In my own
case, Gore trampled my few remaining shards of doubt about the immediacy of the
issue, and greatly deepened my general state of alarm about it.  However
the part of the speech that I found most intriguing – that later section in
which he argued that it’s not yet too late to do something about deep
environmental shifts that have had no precedent in at least 600,000
years – was all too short, and the general sense that I emerged with was
one of dread.

This speech
will no doubt evolve as Mr. Gore continues with his campaign to move the public
to action. As this unfolds, I hope that the cause-for-hope/call-to-action
section expands.  For instance, the recent improvements in the ozone layer
that he cited are an electrifying precedent for anyone moving from despair to
action.  To me, this brief but bright flash of hope was every
bit as motivating as the methodical depiction of our current situation.  Back
in the 80’s there was a good deal of despair about the ozone matter, and plenty
of rumblings that we shouldn’t bother doing anything, because nothing could be
done. But then coordinated, aggressive
action turned things around. It could be quite inspiring to learn more
about this noble and analagous success in the context of what’s happening

the slide in which he pointed to several different intitiatives which could
collectively stablize then reverse the build-up of greenhouse gases passed all too quickly.  The thought that we’ve
conjured up a great mess for ourselves through decades of largely unwitting
collective action is plenty agitating.  But people will get really riled
up if they believe that we’re willfully avoiding a clear, concrete, and
achieveable path to recovery.  What are the steps on that path?  What quantitative facts underlie the argument
that they can be effective? Are they as
attainable as the reversal in the ozone problem turned out to be?  And what
self-interested groups are fighting to keep us from taking them?  I have
the feeling that Mr. Gore has succinct, quantitative, and highly visual answers
to these questions, and hope to be in the room someday when he presents them.

Hmm … maybe
that’s what he has planned for his follow-up talk on Saturday…?