"I have to say the situation has not improved since I made the movie in 2006. Sure, awareness has grown and more people are concerned since scientists said we had just ten years to take action to halt rising sea levels. But the situation has got worse. The entire North Polar ice cap is melting and could be gone in some areas in as little as five years," he told The Sun's Clodagh Hartley. The onus will be placed on the next U.S. president to act, Gore said, pointing to the (obvious) lack of progress made by the current administration in moving beyond the Kyoto Protocol. Only when the next president starts moving the U.S. in the right direction will countries like China and India begin assuming responsibility for their large emissions growth - and not a moment too soon, given that the former has now surpassed the U.S in emissions production.
Though he claimed to still be "hopeful for a happy ending," he did acknowledge that, while helpful, individual efforts would hardly put a dent in current or future emissions growth. What these actions could accomplish collectively, however, is put enough pressure on governments to act. The current credit crunch, for example, presented opportunities for world leaders to invest in green-collar jobs and clean energy technologies; this dual approach to the crisis would help both alleviate job losses and slash emissions production.
With Earth Day upon us, it may be instructive to look at the results of a (sobering) new Gallup poll assessing Americans' opinions of global warming. Not surprisingly, it finds that only 37% of respondents worry about it a "great deal" - though a solid majority, 61%, do acknowledge its effects have likely already begun. As the Center for Global Development's Kevin Ummel noted in his post on the subject, the former figure has remained relatively static for the past 2 decades. He points out that - even when compared with other environmental issues - global warming doesn't exactly stand out: urban sprawl and acid rain are the only two other issues Americans are less concerned about.
What does this mean for the U.S. - and, to a larger extent, the global community - moving forward? It seems now that only a combination of technological innovation and robust incentives-based policies will do the trick; on an individual level, it is perfectly understandable that people are still more concerned about their health, families and financial outlooks. While we could all make an effort to be smarter about our waste and energy consumption, it would be exceedingly difficult (and unfair) to stand in the way of the millions of middle-class Indians and Chinese who only wish to partake of our profligate lifestyles. Indeed, though it is imperative that we bring India, China and other developing nations on board, fostering their continued economic development and promoting emissions reductions should not be mutually exclusive.
As Gore keeps on telling us, the choice really is ours to make: whether we care enough about our children, grandchildren and future generations to take serious action now to avert a full-blown climate crisis.
Image courtesy of the World Economic Forum