Al Gore’s oratory electrifies Bali summit

Bali, Dec 13 (IANS) In a speech likely to go down in history as an oratorical milestone in the fight against global warming, Al Gore, former US vice-president and co-winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, electrified the Dec 3-14 UN conference on climate change on its penultimate evening Thursday.

Clearly speaking from his heart, Gore exhorted the nearly 11,000 delegates from 187 countries gathered here for the summit to bypass the US government delegation that is threatening to derail the entire Bali roadmap to start global negotiations that will help fight global warming.

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Pointing out that climate change was already here, that it was no longer a matter that would affect future generations but was affecting the present one, Gore quoted the famous lines from the Nazi era: “First they came for the Jews and I did not do anything; then they came for the gypsies and I did not do anything; then they came for the neighbours and I did not do anything; when they came for me there was nobody to do anything for me.”

Gore said a population growth that had seen world population move from 2 billion to 6.5 billion in a little over a hundred years and would soon become nine billion and a technology so powerful that it overwhelmed everything were the reasons for the state of the earth.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Gore quoted from the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”. “Now it is a tale of two planets,” he said. “Earth and Venus.

“They are identical in every other way. But on the earth, over millions of years plant life has pulled the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and has kept it underground in the form of coal and oil. That is what makes life on earth possible.

“Now we are evaporating our coal mines. It’s the CO2,” Gore said in a line reminiscent of the famous Bill Clinton election slogan – “It’s the economy, stupid”.

In repeated and strong criticism of the Bush administration of the US, Gore said: “the earth’s fever is rising and it won’t heal itself. What do you do when your child has fever and the doctor says he needs treatment? Perhaps you go for a second opinion, then a third and a fourth. When the fourth opinion says the problem is very serious, do we still withhold treatment?”

He was referring to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), the global coalition of scientists that have now proved beyond doubt the seriousness of the climate change challenge.

Gore told the assembled delegates: “My country is not the only one that can move forward. You can do one of two things. You can feel anger and frustration and direct it at the US.

“Or you can move forward and keep a large blank space in your mandate, saying our mandate is incomplete but we’re moving forward in the hope that it will be filled in by the time we have a treaty in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.”

Gore illustrated his point through a quote from a famous ice-hockey player, who had said: “I pass the puck not where they are but where they are going to be.”

Drawing repeated applause from his audience, Gore assured the delegates that the US would move forward once the next government was in power, and offered the many steps taken by the Congress, state governments and local governments as well as the stated positions of all major Democratic and two Republican presidential candidates as reason for his confidence.

In this situation, Gore said: “If you show anger, the entire world could lose momentum.” Speaking of major issues at stake in the fight against climate change – the adaptation fund and technology transfer to help developing countries, ways to combat deforestation, he told the delegates: “We can get this done.”

Gore wanted a stronger target for reduction in emission of greenhouse gases that warm the atmosphere, and wanted the new treaty on it to come into force from 2010, not 2012 as the delegates have been planning.

“We can’t afford to talk for the next five years,” he said, “when the scientists are telling us we have to take action within the next 10 years.”

According to Gore, people everywhere were already up in arms against climate change. He described it as the “first global people power movement.” Quoting Martin Luther King Junior’s famous statement that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, Gore said: “Global warming anywhere is a threat to the world everywhere.

“We must leave Bali with a strong mandate. It’s not a political issue, it’s not a diplomatic issue. It’s a moral issue.”

Gore told the delegates: “Our capacity to strip away disguises is necessary now. We are one people on one planet, we’ve one future and one destiny.

“What we need now is capacity building in developed countries for political leadership.”

Gore referred to the Satyagraha movement of Mahatma Gandhi, calling it a “truth force”, to say: “Truth has a power to set us free, to unite us.”

He also referred to an African proverb to say: “If you want to go far, you go together. For that, we need a mandate here.”

Warning delegates about the price of failure at the conference, Gore said: “Our children will ask us – what were you thinking? Didn’t you hear the IPCC? Didn’t you see the glaciers and the north polar ice cap melt? Didn’t you see the many more droughts and storms and floods? Didn’t you see the sea level rise? Didn’t you care?

“Or they can ask us – how did you find the moral courage to successfully confront the biggest challenge that faces the earth?

“Relatively few people have a chance to change the shape of the world. We have that chance now. We ought to feel joy that we’re alive at such a moment in history.

“We have all we need except political will. And that’s a renewable resource.”

Gore received a standing applause at the end of his speech, just as he had done when he had walked in and then when he embraced IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri, whose organisation shared the Nobel Prize with him this year, on stage.

But the ministers who were discussing the Bali roadmap were still in negotiating rooms and probably did not hear him at all.