As I watch the presidential candidates posture and toy with issues, I can't help but recall a promise that a dark-horse hopeful from Tennessee made to me five campaigns back. We'd all be much safer today if he'd had a chance to keep his pledge.
Al Gore had stumbled into the issue of global warming as a student at Harvard. He grasped the science quickly and, as his political star rose, he never relented in his determination to alert people that we're baking our planet and ourselves with our lust for fossil fuels. More than a few ignoramuses mocked the Congressman, Senator, Vice President and presidential candidate for his scientific insight. Only after Gore left politics did he find a formula for accomplishing his life's work, creating a global media brand around the PowerPoint presentation that became his aptly titled book and documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Fate may have kept Al Gore from the presidency, but his tenacity has created something few politicians achieve: a movement. His Alliance for Climate Protection led to the Live Earth concerts, and on Oct. 12 he was named as joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, together with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for being "probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted" to combat global warming. If Gore joined the throng now running for President unlikely he would be the only candidate for whom the question, "Why are you running?" would already have been asked and answered.
When he ran for President in 1988, Gore promised me that if elected he would fly the nation's top reporters and pundits over the Greenland ice cap and Amazonian rain forest on Air Force One. That would awaken them at last, he thought thereby awakening the public, and eventually maybe even politicians.
The next President won't have to fly reporters over the world's still-shrinking ice caps and still-burning forests. The public has finally grasped the most important issue of 1988, 2008 and 2028. That is due almost entirely to the courage and tireless work of Al Gore.
Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club
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