For brief minutes at lunchtime today, I was on the other side of a cavernous ballroom from the gray and blue pixels in the center of this photo. It was Al Gore, carrying his message of hope and responsibility to 5,000 scientists who don’t need to hear the dire part of the “Inconvenient Truth” talk.
Gore put the problem as simply and forcefully as it needs to be put: we are witnessing a collision between our planet and our species. At the same time, the free exchange of ideas that Gutenberg invented and our founding fathers built a nation on has been stymied by the one-way information flow of television.
Using Abraham Lincoln’s word, he charged scientists to “disenthrall” the nation from the shared illusions that allow economists, TV programmers, and the rest of us to think only in the short term.
Citing this administration’s infringements on the freedom of government scientists, but stressing that the problem goes beyond Bush and Cheney (and beyond political parties), he asked how we could have become so desensitized to stories like these when they appear on the news.
In a talk that ranged from a brief (but very funny) Clinton impersonation, to tropospheric ozone, to the amygdala, to Mahatma Gandhi, Gore nailed his message. To call them his lines would make the talk seem calculated. And even though it must have been, Gore managed to be funny, friendly, strident, expansive, impassioned, and utterly authentic.
The proof was in the pudding. Speaking to the largest body of earth scientists on the planet, who else could get away with saying that by committing ourselves to the cause, “streams of energy will flow and converge, and they will remove obstacles from your path.”
As Gore finished, the standing ovation seemed spring-loaded. Oceanographers swelled; volcanologists erupted in applause; seismologists beat their hands together with tectonic force; solar physicists radiated enthusiasm; biogeochemists fizzed; I think even those wretched Mars rovers paused for a moment in appreciation. For three glorious minutes of ovation, it had become the Al Gore Union.