Photo credit: World Economic Forum via Flickr/CC BY
Every time I watch Al Gore speak, I'm perplexed anew: how is this mild-mannered, Southern-drawling former Vice President still one of the most polarizing figures in politics? How does this man still rile up hordes of haters simply by making uber-innocuous statements? (I found that out the hard way, when I uploaded a YouTube clip of Al Gore discussing how women's empowerment could help fight climate change, and it sparked a right-wing frenzy) But, like clockwork, his logical, soft-spoken ruminations on climate change are again stirring up the hornet's nest.
After an interview with FearLess TV, the headlines and blog links were blazing: Gore: Global warming skeptics are this generation's racists! "Al Gore: Denial=Racism!" As usual, however, the content of his message was hardly worth the outraged bluster. Gore was describing the mechanism by which change began to stir in the national consciousness on civil rights issues, when he described the following scene. (Via the Daily Caller):
"I remember, again going back to my early years in the South, when the Civil Rights revolution was unfolding, there were two things that really made an impression on me," Gore said. "My generation watched Bull Connor turning the hose on civil rights demonstrators and we went, 'Whoa! How gross and evil is that?' My generation asked old people, 'Explain to me again why it is okay to discriminate against people because their skin color is different?' And when they couldn't really answer that question with integrity, the change really started."
Gore is discussing how such a change may need to be stirred in the public consciousness now, how we need to "win the conversation" regarding climate issues. How a youth movement or civil disobedience could expose the fact that there are powerful interests working to sow doubt about what is otherwise a roundly accepted, well-established scientific theory. He's discussing how we might pass the tipping point to where public opinion aligns more with the climate scientists than with the politicians and industry interests. To where denying climate change becomes an embarrassing practice.
Something needs to get America to wake up on the issue, he's saying, and it will likely be young people. And those young people, who are already better educated on climate issues and more concerned about global warming, will start initiating a cultural paradigm shift on the topic:
"Secondly, back to this phrase 'win the conversation,'" [Gore] continued. "There came a time ... when racist comments would come up in the course of the conversation and in years past they were just natural. Then there came a time when people would say, 'Hey, man why do you talk that way, I mean that is wrong. I don't go for that so don't talk that way around me. I just don't believe that.' That happened in millions of conversations and slowly the conversation was won."
Gore is not saying that climate skeptics are as morally deplorable as the racists of yesteryear -- just that time and demonstration will render their ideas as obsolete and relegate them to the fringe. The comparison was to the mechanism that brought change, not to the individuals who prescribed to each viewpoint -- social scientists and writers have been comparing climate to civil rights for years.. But that would have been much less fun of an angle for the conservative blogs (and much too heady), so they went with the "If you're a climate skeptic, Al Gore is calling you racist" slander that was sure to piss off the Tea Partying right. Here's the Daily Caller's own clip -- watch for yourself and see how 'controversial' it is:
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