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Seth Borenstein, Lisa Leff13 Oct 2007 09:23
For years, former United States vice-president Al Gore and a host of climate scientists were belittled and, worst of all, ignored for their message about how dire global warming is.
On Friday, they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their warnings about what Gore calls “a planetary emergency”.
Gore shared the prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations network of scientists. This scientific panel has explained the dry details of global warming in thousands of pages of footnoted reports every six years or so since 1990.
Gore, fresh from a near miss at winning the US presidency in 2000, translated the numbers and jargon-laden reports into something people could understand.
He made a slide show and went Hollywood. An Inconvenient Truth won two Academy Awards and has been credited with changing the debate in the US about global warming.
For Gore it was all about the message. “This is a chance to elevate global consciousness about the challenges that we face now,” he said on Friday at the offices of the Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit organisation he founded. “The alarm bells are going off in the scientific community.”
Despite a live global stage, Gore did not take questions from reporters, avoiding the issue of a potential 2008 presidential run. His aides have repeatedly said he will not enter the race. Gore donated his share of the $1,5-million prize to the alliance.
“For my part, I will be doing everything I can to try to understand how to best use the honour and the recognition from this award as a way of speeding up the change in awareness and the change in urgency,” Gore said in brief remarks. “It is a planetary emergency and we have to act quickly.”
In announcing the award earlier in the day in Oslo, Norway, Nobel committee chairperson Ole Danbolt Mjoes said the prize was not a slap at the Bush administration’s current policies. Instead, he said, it was about encouraging all countries “to think again and to say what can they do to conquer global warming”.
President George Bush, to whom Gore lost in the 2000 election, had no plans to call Gore to congratulate him. But spokesperson Tony Fratto called it “an important recognition” for both Gore and the scientific panel.
Gore is the first former-vice president to win the Nobel Peace Prize since 1906 when Theodore Roosevelt, who by that time had become president, was awarded. Sitting vice-president Charles Gates Dawes won the prize in 1925. Former presidents Jimmy Carter won it in 2002 and Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
Gore, who learned of his award from watching the live TV announcement—hearing his name amid the Norwegian—was not celebratory on Friday. His tone was sombre. He spoke beside his wife, Tipper, and four Stanford University climate scientists who were co-authors of the international climate report. Outside the building, schoolchildren held a sign saying: “Thank you, Al.” For years, there was little thanks.
From the late 1980s with his book Earth in the Balance, Gore championed the issue of global warming. He had monthly science seminars on it while vice-president and helped negotiate the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that called for cuts in greenhouse gases.
“When he first started really working on the climate-change issue, I remember he was ridiculed in the press and certainly by political opponents as some kind of kook out there in la-la land,” said federal climate scientist Tom Peterson, an IPCC co-author. “It’s delightful that he’s sharing this and he deserves it well. And it’s nice to have his work being vindicated.”
From slide show to documentary
Since his loss in the US presidential race seven years ago, Gore put aside political aspirations and become a global-warming evangelical. He travelled to more than 50 countries. He presented his slide show on global warming more than 1 000 times.
He turned that slide show into An Inconvenient Truth.
The film won praise but also generated controversy. On Wednesday, a British judge ruled in a lawsuit that it was OK to show the movie to students in school. High Court Judge Michael Burton said it was “substantially founded upon scientific research and fact” but presented in a “context of alarmism and exaggeration”. He said teachers must be given a written document explaining that.
More than 20 top climate scientists said last year that the film was generally accurate in its presentation of the science, although some were bothered by what they thought were a couple of exaggerations.
Gore’s movie was deeply personal. It was about him after losing the 2000 election and about his travels, and he talked about the changing climate in a personal way.
“He has honed that message in a way that many scientists are jealous of,” said University of Michigan Dean Rosina Birnbaum. She was a top White House science aide to Gore and president Bill Clinton. “He is a master communicator.”
Climate scientists said their work is cautious and rock-solid, confirmed with constant peer review, but it does not grab people’s attention. “We need an advocate such as Al Gore to help present the work of scientists across the world,” said Bob Watson, former chairperson of the IPCC and a top federal climate science adviser to the Clinton-Gore administration.
Scientists and Nobel committee members said it was not a stretch to award the prize to Gore and the scientists. Studies by national security experts say a hotter world with changes in water and food supply can lead to wars and terrorism.
“We’re already seeing the first climate wars, in the Sahel belt of Africa,” said Jan Egeland, a Norwegian peace mediator.
Some in the shrinking community of global-warming sceptics and those downplaying the issue were dubious, however.
“I think it cheapens the Nobel Prize,” said William O’Keefe, CEO of the conservative science-oriented think tank the Marshall Institute. O’Keefe, a former oil-industry executive and current consultant to fossil-fuel firms, called Gore’s work “rife with errors”.
As he was leaving the alliance’s office, Gore was asked whether the Nobel would quiet climate nay-sayers. He said the award would help the cause of fighting global warming overall: “I hope we have a chance to really kick into high gear.”—Sapa-AP
Science Writer Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report
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