An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It Paperback – May 26, 2006
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Some experiences are so intense while Some experiences are so intense while they are happening that time seems to stop altogether. When it begins again and our lives resume their normal course, those intense experiences remain vivid, refusing to stay in the past, remaining always and forever with us.
Seventeen years ago my youngest child was badly--almost fatally--injured. This is a story I have told before, but its meaning for me continues to change and to deepen.
That is also true of the story I have tried to tell for many years about the global environment. It was during that interlude 17 years ago when I started writing my first book, Earth in the Balance. It was because of my son's accident and the way it abruptly interrupted the flow of my days and hours that I began to rethink everything, especially what my priorities had been. Thankfully, my son has long since recovered completely. But it was during that traumatic period that I made at least two enduring changes: I vowed always to put my family first, and I also vowed to make the climate crisis the top priority of my professional life.
Unfortunately, in the intervening years, time has not stood still for the global environment. The pace of destruction has worsened and the urgent need for a response has grown more acute.
The fundamental outline of the climate crisis story is much the same now as it was then. The relationship between human civilization and the Earth has been utterly transformed by a combination of factors, including the population explosion, the technological revolution, and a willingness to ignore the future consequences of our present actions. The underlying reality is that we are colliding with the planet's ecological system, and its most vulnerable components are crumbling as a result.
I have learned much more about this issue over the years. I have read and listened to the world's leading scientists, who have offered increasingly dire warnings. I have watched with growing concern as the crisis gathers strength even more rapidly than anyone expected.
In every corner of the globe--on land and in water, in melting ice and disappearing snow, during heat waves and droughts, in the eyes of hurricanes and in the tears of refugees--the world is witnessing mounting and undeniable evidence that nature's cycles are profoundly changing.
I have learned that, beyond death and taxes, there is at least one absolutely indisputable fact: Not only does human-caused global warming exist, but it is also growing more and more dangerous, and at a pace that has now made it a planetary emergency.
Part of what I have learned over the last 14 years has resulted from changes in my personal circumstances as well. Since 1992, our children have all grown up, and our two oldest daughters have married. Tipper and I now have two grandchildren. Both of my parents have died, as has Tipper's mother.
And less than a year after Earth in the Balance was published, I was elected vice president--ultimately serving for eight years. I had the opportunity, as a member of the Clinton-Gore administration, to pursue an ambitious agenda of new policies addressing the climate crisis.
At that time I discovered, firsthand, how fiercely Congress would resist the changes we were urging them to make, and I watched with growing dismay as the opposition got much, much worse after the takeover of Congress in 1994 by the Republican party and its newly aggressive conservative leaders.
I organized and held countless events to spread public awareness about the climate crisis, and to build more public support for congressional action. I also learned numerous lessons about the significant changes in recent decades in the nature and quality of America's "conversation of democracy." Specifically, that entertainment values have transformed what we used to call news, and individuals with independent voices are routinely shut out of the public discourse.
In 1997 I helped achieve a breakthrough at the negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, where the world drafted a groundbreaking treaty whose goal is to control global warming pollution. But then I came home and faced an uphill battle to gain support for the treaty in the U.S. Senate.
In 2000 I ran for president. It was a hard-fought campaign that was ended by a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court to halt the counting of votes in the key state of Florida. This was a hard blow.
I then watched George W. Bush get sworn in as president. In his very first week in office, President Bush reversed a campaign pledge to regulate C02 emissions--a pledge that had helped persuade many voters that he was genuinely concerned about matters relating to the environment.
Soon after the election, it became clear that the Bush-Cheney administration was determined to block any policies designed to help limit global-warming pollution. They launched an all-out effort to roll back, weaken, and--wherever possible--completely eliminate existing laws and regulations. Indeed, they even abandoned Bush's pre-election rhetoric about global warming, announcing that, in the president's opinion, global warming wasn't a problem at all.
As the new administration was getting underway, I had to begin making decisions about what I would do in my own life. After all, I was now out of a job. This certainly wasn't an easy time, but it did offer me the chance to make a fresh start--to step back and think about where I should direct my energies.
I began teaching courses at two colleges in Tennessee, and, along with Tipper, published two books about the American family. We moved to Nashville and bought a house less than an hour's drive from our farm in Carthage. I entered the business world and eventually started two new companies. I became an adviser to two already established major high-tech businesses.
I am tremendously excited about these ventures, and feel fortunate to have found ways to make a living while simultaneously moving the world--at least a little--in the right direction.
With my partner Joel Hyatt I started Current TV, a news and information cable and satellite network for young people in their twenties, based on an idea that is, in our present-day society, revolutionary: that viewers themselves can make the programs and in the process participate in the public forum of American democracy. With my partner David Blood I also started Generation Investment Management, a firm devoted to proving that the environment and other sustainability factors can be fully integrated into the mainstream investment process in a way that enhances profitability for our clients, while encouraging businesses to operate more sustainably.
At first, I thought I might run for president again, but over the last several years I have discovered that there are other ways to serve, and that I enjoy them. I have also continued to make speeches on public policy, and--as I have at almost every crossroads moment in my life--to make the global environment my central focus.
Since my childhood summers on our family's farm in Tennessee, when I first learned from my father about taking care of the land, I have been deeply interested in learning more about threats to the environment. I grew up half in the city and half in the country, and the half I loved most was on our farm. Since my mother read to my sister and me from Rachel Carson's classic book, Silent Spring, and especially since I was first introduced to the idea of global warming by my college professor Roger Revelle, I have always tried to deepen my own understanding of the human impact on nature, and in my public service I have tried to implement policies to ameliorate-- and eventually eliminate--that harmful impact.
During the Clinton-Gore years we accomplished a lot in terms of environmental issues, even though, with the hostile Republican Congress, we fell short of all that was needed. Since the change in administrations, I have watched with growing concern as our forward progress has been almost completely reversed.
After the 2000 election, one of the things I decided to do was to start giving my slide show on global warming again. I had first put it together at the same time I began writing Earth in the Balance, and over the years I have added to it and steadily improved it to the point where
I think it makes a compelling case that humans are the cause of most of the global warming that is taking place, and that unless we take quick action the consequences for our planetary home could become irreversible.
For the last six years, I have been traveling around the world, sharing the information I have compiled with anyone who would listen in colleges, small towns, and big cities. More and more, I have begun to feel that I am changing minds, but it is a slow process.
In the spring of 2005, I gave my slide show to a large gathering in Los Angeles organized and hosted by environmental activist (and film producer) Laurie David, without whom the movie never would have been made. Afterward, she and Lawrence Bender, a veteran film producer who was essential to the project's success, first suggested that I ought to consider making a movie out of my presentation. I was skeptical because I couldn't see how my slide show would translate to film. But they kept coming to other slide shows and brought Jeff Skoll, founder and CEO of Participant Productions, who expressed interest in backing the project. And then, Scott Burns brought his unique and crucially important skills to the production team. Lesley Chilcott became the coproducer and legendary "trail boss." Lawrence and Laurie also introduced me to the highly talented director, Davis Guggenheim.
This extraordinary group convinced me that the translation of the slide show into a film wouldn't need to sacrifice the central role of science for entertainment's sake. Davis Guggenheim's creative vision was extraordinary. Moreover, his skills as a documentarian included an ability to ask probing questions during our many lengthy recorded dialogues--questions that forced me to find new ways to articulate ideas and feelings that, in some cases, I had never put into words before. It was in response to one of his questions that I first used the phrase "An Inconvenient Truth," a phrase that Davis later suggested be the title of the movie.
I then chose that same title for this book, but the idea for a book on the climate crisis actually came first. It was Tipper who first suggested that I put together a new kind of book with pictures and graphics to make the whole message easier to follow, combining many elements from my slide show with all of the new original material I have compiled over the last few years.
Tipper and I are, by the way, giving 100% of whatever profits come to us from the book--and from the movie--to a non-profit, bipartisan effort to move public opinion in the United States to support bold action to confront global warming.
After more than thirty years as a student of the climate crisis, I have a lot to share. I have tried to tell this story in a way that will interest all kinds of readers. My hope is that those who read the book and see the film will begin to feel, as I have for a long time, that global warming is not just about science and that it is not just a political issue. It is really a moral issue.
Although it is true that politics at times must play a crucial role in solving this problem, this is the kind of challenge that ought to completely transcend partisanship. So whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you voted for me or not, I very much hope that you will sense that my goal is to share with you both my passion for the Earth and my deep sense of concern for its fate. It is impossible to feel one without the other when you know all the facts.
I also want to convey my strong feeling that what we are facing is not just a cause for alarm, it is paradoxically also a cause for hope. As many know, the Chinese expression for "crisis" consists of two characters side by side . The first is the symbol for "danger," the second the symbol for "opportunity."
The climate crisis is, indeed, extremely dangerous. In fact it is a true planetary emergency. Two thousand scientists, in a hundred countries, working for more than 20 years in the most elaborate and well-organized scientific collaboration in the history of humankind, have forged an exceptionally strong consensus that all the nations on Earth must work together to solve the crisis of global warming.
The voluminous evidence now strongly suggests that unless we act boldly and quickly to deal with the underlying causes of global warming, our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes, including more and stronger storms like Hurricane Katrina, in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
We are melting the North Polar ice cap and virtually all of the mountain glaciers in the world. We are destabilizing the massive mound of ice on Greenland and the equally enormous mass of ice propped up on top of islands in West Antarctica, threatening a worldwide increase in sea levels of as much as 20 feet.
The list of what is now endangered due to global warming also includes the continued stable configuration of ocean and wind currents that has been in place since before the first cities were built almost 10,000 years ago.
We are dumping so much carbon dioxide into the Earth's environment that we have literally changed the relationship between the Earth and the Sun. So much of that CO2 is being absorbed into the oceans that if we continue at the current rate we will increase the saturation of calcium carbonate to levels that will prevent formation of corals and interfere with the making of shells by any sea creature.
Global warming, along with the cutting and burning of forests and other critical habitats, is causing the loss of living species at a level comparable to the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That event was believed to have been caused by a giant asteroid. This time it is not an asteroid colliding with the Earth and wreaking havoc; it is us.
Last year, the national academies of science in the 11 most influential nations came together to jointly call on every nation to "acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear and increasing" and declare that the "scientific understanding of climate changes is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action."
So the message is unmistakably clear. This crisis means "danger!"
Why do our leaders seem not to hear such a clear warning? Is it simply that it is inconvenient for them to hear the truth?
If the truth is unwelcome, it may seem easier just to ignore it.
But we know from bitter experience that the consequences of doing so can be dire.
- Lexile measure : 1070
- Item Weight : 2 pounds
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594865671
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594865671
- Dimensions : 7.5 x 0.87 x 9 inches
- Publisher : Rodale Books; First Printing edition (May 26, 2006)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #514,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Most Interesting: One of the most interesting parts of this book is the side effects that technology has on the Earth. There are also some improvements that technology has made. One of them being that it has improved people’s lives in many ways. “A hundred and fifty years ago, before the invention of the electric lightbulb, the world at night was dark”. However technology hasn’t always been used wisely. The former Soviet Union diverted water from two mighty rivers in Central Asia in order to irrigate cotton fields.
Was It A Good Book: Yes, This book was an interesting book because it was filled with many interesting facts about global warming and the impact humans have made on the planet. Al Gore who was Bill Clintons vice president narrates the book and the movie. He talked about his personal experiences with the change in today’s society and how it affects the world around him and also about his travels and understanding of the changes being made to the atmosphere.
Although the author's book has a clear political message I can find no fault in his basic reasoning. The presentation is sound, though it often relies on anecdotal information. He avoids drastic, unsupportable statements. When describing the danger of diluting the Atlantic and diminishing the Gulf Stream circulation he avoids the conclusion of the movie, "The Day After Tomorrow." Such gloom and doom movies do not supply the grist for serious debate. What Al Gore has done is present basic facts, at a middle school level, for the public to consider. If you can look at a picture of a glacier in the Andres and argue that it's a natural cycle of nature -- good luck.
So, what is lacking? Perhaps it's the scientist in me that wants more statistical analysis. The charts, graphs and photos are very useful but looking at the hard data is often better for number-crunchers.
This is a great book for children and adults a like. The pictures alone make it worthwhile.
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Gore does a wonderful job of presenting the data beside interesting diagrams which really help illustrate his point. Whether you believe global warming is a problem or not, you'll probably find this book interesting.
Towards the end, is a list of things each person can do to help limit their carbon footprint. Simple things like changing lightbulbs to CFL's can significantly reduce the amount of pollution. Or, turning your thormostat up 1 degree. Saves you money, and saves the environment. Buying energy efficient appliances, unplugging electronics when not in use, turning lights off, etc. All little things that help. I've tried to institute as many of these as possible at my home. I can honestly say that swapping out regular lightbuls for CFL's is saving me money. And if it helps the environment, why not? I recommend picking up this book and at least just flipping through it. There is some great time-lapse photography of melting glaciers and other illustrations demonstrating that our planet is indeed warming.
Top reviews from other countries
The book is based on scientific facts and some theories about where we are heading, and therefore there are going to be people who think the world is going to end and the people who think that the theories are all wrong and that nothing could be further than the truth.
The book and show/presentation does paint a bit of a gloomy picture, but you do get a sense of "We better start paying attention to this". The book has not dated and it is still worth a read/view from time to time to remind us why we are recycling and trying to reduce our greenhouse gasses.
The book and show has not had a favourable response from all scientific communities and I think it may have faired better if it hadn't have been so heavy in the "End is nigh" vein. You have to remember that this book came about when the whole global warming theme was becoming a household name and so the majority of us needed to be brought into this gently so the book was a bit of a shock factor. You could argue that that is what was needed, but as my the saying goes "softly, softly, catchee monkey"
Now it is about 6 years on and we are mentally geared up to this and so the shock factor has worn off, but the realities are just the same.
I watched a documentary this week with Prof. Ian Stewart and, paraphrasing him, he said that we don't have to worry about the earth, it will heal, it has recovered after massive climatic disasters in the past. It is the human race that may not survive. I found that comment to be a bit more chilling!