Jack Ohman

Editorial notebook: Al Gore keeps telling us inconvenient truths

Former Vice President Al Gore gave a talk Tuesday at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. It was a spirited extension of his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” the jeremiad about climate change.

Gore is now 65 years old, and it seemed like only yesterday that the nation was dragged through the 2000 Florida election recount that ultimately anointed George W. Bush as president. Gore was, oddly, far more animated than the rather stiff figure who occupies the national consciousness. I kept thinking, why wasn’t this Al Gore running in 2000?

Gore’s presentation reminded me of taking my three children and their friend to a showing of “An Inconvenient Truth” in Ashland, Ore. I made them attend on the condition that they had to watch it before I would spring for more movie tickets to see something less socially useful. My teenagers dutifully gutted it out through the charts and graphs that must have scared the hell out of them. I know it scared me.

After seeing the film, I went home and changed every single light bulb in my house to the more energy-efficient kind, thinking this small gesture was something. And it was. But how did I really change?

Not much.

I drove a Chevy Tahoe. I flew in planes. I consumed energy from coal. I ate food wrapped in wasteful packaging, brought home in paper sacks. In short, I kept living the American consumer life, minus the conscience-saving light bulbs. Honestly, I am not sure how much effect this small alteration of my lifestyle has. Clearly, I need to do more.

Anyone who lives in Sacramento has the nagging knowledge that we are the second-most vulnerable to flooding city in the United States. Watching the coverage of Typhoon Haiyan should leave Sacramentans terrified; our levees, under the right circumstances, could be overwhelmed in a superstorm, which could put much of the city under water.

Gore showed a chart that demonstrated that even a several-degree rise in ocean temperatures on the East Coast (it’s happened already, sorry) will leave that region indefinitely vulnerable to hurricanes of a magnitude to which we aren’t accustomed – yet.

Oil and coal companies, Gore noted, put out anti-climate change memes, happily parroted by their purchased handmaidens in Congress, not unlike the tobacco industry. One particularly telling quote Gore cited was from Exxon Mobil chairman Roy Tillerman, who plaintively and disingenuously asked, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”

I immediately thought of the colonel in Vietnam who said, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

Much of Gore’s lecture was accompanied by projections that ran out to the year 2040, or even 2070. Most of the people in his Sacramento audience probably won’t be around to be able to surf in downtown Manhattan, but their children will, and that’s reason enough to act.

For many Americans, the jury is still out on global warming. The Drudge Report happily runs every story every time it can about record cold snaps in Chicago or New York, while running a headline that usually reads something like, “Oh, there’s Gore’s global warming crock again! And it’s so cold out!”

While Gore didn’t invent the Internet (which he never said, actually), he may well have invented the national and international dialogue about climate change.

He may have lost Florida in 2000 (that’s debatable), but he has certainly won the debate on a subject we all need to continue to hear, and act upon.