Extracts from a speech On Katrina, Global Warming given by Al Gore at the National Sierra Club Convention in San Francisco on September 9, 2005 addressing the challenges and moral imperatives posed by Hurricane Katrina and global warming. Published on Monday, September 12, 2005 by CommonDreams.org. (reference)
A hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding." Here's what I think we here understand about Hurricane Katrina and global warming. Yes, it is true that no single hurricane can be blamed on global warming. Hurricanes have come for a long time, and will continue to come in the future. Yes, it is true that the science does not definitively tell us that global warming increases the frequency of hurricanes - because yes, it is true there is a multi-decadal cycle, twenty to forty years that profoundly affects the number of hurricanes that come in any single hurricane season. But it is also true that the science is extremely clear now, that warmer oceans make the average hurricane stronger, not only makes the winds stronger, but dramatically increases the moisture from the oceans evaporating into the storm - thus magnifying its destructive power - makes the duration, as well as the intensity of the hurricane, stronger.
Last year we had a lot of hurricanes. Last year, Japan set an all-time record for typhoons: ten, the previous record was seven. Last year the science textbooks had to be re-written. They said, "It's impossible to have a hurricane in the south Atlantic." We had the first one last year, in Brazil. We had an all-time record last year for tornadoes in the United States, 1,717 - largely because hurricanes spawned tornadoes. Last year we had record temperatures in many cities. This year 200 cities in the Western United States broke all-time records. Reno, 39 days consecutively above 100 degrees.
The scientists are telling us that what the science tells them is that this - unless we act quickly and dramatically - that Tucson tied its all-time record for consecutive days above 100 degrees. this, in Churchill's phrase, is only the first sip of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year until there is a supreme recover of moral health. We have to rise with this occasion. We have to connect the dots. When the Superfund sites aren't cleaned up, we get a toxic gumbo in a flood. When there is not adequate public transportation for the poor, it is difficult to evacuate a city. When there is no ability to give medical care to poor people, its difficult to get hospital to take refugees in the middle of a crisis. When the wetlands are turned over to the developers then the storm surges from the ocean threaten the coastal cities more. When there is no effort to restrain the global warming pollution gasses then global warming gets worse, with all of the consequences that the scientific community has warned us about.
My friends, the truth is that our circumstances are not only new; they are completely different than they have ever been in all of human history. The relationship between humankind and the earth has been utterly transformed in the last hundred years. We have quadrupled the population of our planet. The population in many ways is a success story. The demographic transition has been occurring more quickly than was hoped for, but the reality of our new relationship with the planet brings with it a moral responsibility to accept our new circumstances and to deal with the consequences of the relationship we have with this planet. And it's not just population. By any means, the power of the technologies now at our disposal vastly magnifies the average impact that individuals can have on the natural world. Multiply that by six and a half billion people, and then stir into that toxic mixture a mindset and an attitude that says its okay to ignore scientific evidence - that we don't have to take responsibility for the future consequences of present actions - and you get a collision between our civilization and the earth. The refugees that we have seen - I don't like that word when applied to American citizens in our own country, but the refugees that we have seen could well be the first sip of that bitter cup because sea-level rise in countries around the world will mobilize millions of environmental refugees. The other problems are known to you, but here is what I want to close with:
This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately it is about who we are as human beings. It is about our capacity to transcend our own limitations. To rise to this new occasion. To see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for. To disenthrall ourselves, to shed the illusions that have been our accomplices in ignoring the warnings that were clearly given, and hearing the ones that are clearly given now.
Where there is no vision, the people perish. And Lincoln said at another moment of supreme challenge that the question facing the people of the United States of America ultimately was whether or not this government, conceived in liberty, dedicated to freedom, of the people, by the people, and for the people - or any government so conceived - would perish from this earth.
There is another side to this moral challenge. Where there is vision, the people prosper and flourish, and the natural world recovers, and our communities recover. The good news is we know what to do. The good news is, we have everything we need now to respond to the challenge of global warming. We have all the technologies we need, more are being developed, and as they become available and become more affordable when produced in scale, they will make it easier to respond. But we should not wait, we cannot wait, we must not wait. We have every thing we need - save perhaps political will. And in our democracy, political will is a renewable resource. [sustained applause]
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