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“A challenge to our moral imagination”

Isabel Hilton

Al Gore

Readinch

Former US vice president Al Gore is still campaigning – for urgent action to reverse the effects of global warming. chinadialogue editor Isabel Hilton interviews the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
article image
 

[This article was first published on September 29, 2006]

Isabel Hilton: In your film, you say that climate change is not a political but a moral issue. What do you mean?

Al Gore: It’s a moral issue because it affects the survival of human civilisation. It’s a challenge to our moral imagination to understand that we could actually be affecting the entire planet. The planet will survive, of course, but its habitability for us is what we are now putting into question, and since it is the present generation delivering consequences suffered by those generations yet to come, that raises a profoundly moral challenge: do we have the right? And, of course, we do not.

We’re capable of being sufficiently entranced by the present, and by a focus on short-term gratification, to ignore our responsibility to those who come after us. If there’s one reason why people are beginning to change, it may be because the consequences are now beginning to be felt in our lifetime. 

IH: You have obviously held very powerful positions. You were vice president of the United States, a senator, and yet you say in your political career you were unable to get this message across. Why?

AG: Well, I’m sure some of it has to do with a lack of skill. I’ve gained more skills as I’ve gotten older. It has not been for lack of trying. A lot of it has to do with the unusual strength of the resistance to this message. CO² is the exhaling breath of industrial civilisation, interwoven with all aspects of our lives. Large and powerful polluters have been spending millions of dollars to confuse people intentionally and [to] try to interfere with the delivery of this message. Of course, in our modern lives there are all manner of distractions that fractionate our attention to everything else, and holding this crisis in mind for a long period of time is just inherently difficult, it’s complex.

But it is by far the most serious challenge we have ever faced. It is now beginning to capture the attention of people. I have an ally in this effort – reality. Mother Nature is delivering very powerful messages in heat waves and killer hurricanes and other consequences that have long been predicted. I think every day we get closer to a critical mass of public opinion that will require politicians in all parties to act.

IH: Part of the moral case around Kyoto is that those who have most benefited from emissions should pay the most towards the mitigation, or the addressing of the issue.  Is that a case with which you agree, and does it extend to a kind of indemnity for those who are suffering now, and who will suffer immediately on the frontline of climate change?

AG: Well, every international agreement since the end of World War Two has had the same basic architecture. The wealthier industrial countries have taken upon themselves the first obligations because they can. They’re best positioned to lead and to begin making the changes. And then the poorer nations, with less wherewithal and less of an ability to make the changes, are obligated to join in after the wealthier nations have begun the task. That’s been true of trade; it’s been true of every agreement. The Kyoto agreement is no exception and, yes, I support that architecture. It’s a practical necessity.

Now, on the question of indemnity, I think that’s more than the political traffic will bear. And the industrial countries. There are moral questions raised concerning our responsibility for what we do, now that we are on notice and have constructive knowledge of what the consequences are. But those are questions we can’t afford to entertain. We need to focus on putting together a practical solution.

IH: There are people, of course, who say, “What’s the point of acting, as long as China and India are not constrained to act?”

AG: Well, the truth is that China and India will have to be a part of the solution. But the way to get them to join in solving the crisis is for us to go first and to take the actions that the UK is beginning to take and that I hope the United States will begin to take. Secondly, China and India are sometimes stereotyped unfairly. The truth is they know, or many of their leaders and scientists know full well, how much they have to lose if this climate crisis is not checked.

Twenty million people around Beijing would have to relocate, 40 million people around Shanghai, 60 million people around Calcutta, millions more in other coastal cities. The Yellow River is now sometimes without water, partly because the source of the Yellow -- and the Yangtze and the other great rivers of Asia -- is in the ice fields of the Tibetan plateau. And they’re melting, more rapidly than the rest of the glaciers. These and other consequences have caught their attention. They have their own equities involved here. So I don’t think it’s right to just assume that they’re not going to care about solving this crisis.

IH: If it is a moral question, and as president of the United States you would be in a better position than any man on the planet to address it, is it not a moral obligation to run again next time?

AG: Well, I appreciate the question. I don’t think I have to apologise for devoting my time to trying to rally a response worldwide to this crisis. I am under no illusion that there is any position with as much influence as that of president of the United States. I ran for president twice. I did not get the office. I haven’t ruled out possibly getting into politics again at some point. But frankly I don’t expect to, and I have no intention of doing it, because I find the whole process rather toxic.

I also found during my years as vice president how important it is to have enough receptivity in the Congress and among the people to the bold changes that are necessary. Boldness and vision from leaders is one thing, but the body politic has to be prepared to change and to act. It may be that the highest and best use of whatever talents and experiences I’ve had along the way is used in trying to change the minds of the people in the United States and elsewhere. I’m certainly trying to.

 

Isabel Hilton is the editor of chinadialogue.

Al Gore served as the 45th vice president of the United States in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001.

Homepage photo by Steve Jurvetson

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非常有意思

多么有趣的文章,多么新颖的网站!继续这种有益的工作吧! CHM

very interesting

what an interesting article and new site in general. Keep up the good work!

CHM


我们是否需要以一种新的方式来达成协议?

我认为戈尔对希尔顿的采访中的最关键部分正如标题所示的那样,我们是否需要以一种新的方式来达成协议?“二战以来所有国际协定的基本构架都是一样的。富裕的工业国家首先主动承担义务,因为他们有这个能力;他们处于最佳地位,可以起到领导作用,带头进行改变。 但是贫困国家缺乏进行改变的相应资源和能力,只能在富裕国家展开行动后被动地加入进程。贸易是这样的,所有的国际协定都是如此。《京都议定书》也不例外。 没错,我支持这样的构架,这是因为出于实际需要。”
这个协议的任务是确保达成一个有关于温室效应气体排放控制的全球性共识,而科学研究已经证明,如今的地球的温室气体排放量已经非常接近极限值(400ppmv)了。假设如今的排放量为380ppmv,那么这就意味着仅剩下5%的大气层未遭破坏。因此,我们必须让所有国家认清这个形势。
《京都议定书》应当成为一个对人类的警告和一个重要的起点,但很明显它没有发挥作用。造成这样的结果有两个原因:一是如果中国不加入,美国也不会签订该协议;另外就是该协议不是旨在与寻求一种可行的对“共享大气层”的合理分配。按照能源消耗比计算,发达国家更应该减少排放。问题的关键就在于如今能源消耗模式并不均衡,它是受“国内生产总值”所限制的。至今为止,还没有能源消耗均衡的现象出现。事实上,强大的政治力量正是造成这种不均衡结果的首要因素。尽管人类对于气候变化有了一定的认知,但是却不知道气候变化同时也可以造成政治力量的变更。权力已经不再起作用,未来需要进一步的协商。每个国家都必须同意减少排放量。如果有一个国家拒绝,人来将会面临着全球变暖的危险,这样的恶梦将会使地球不能在适合人类的生存——换句话说就是人类的相互毁灭——一种为了顾全自身的冷战形式。
当人类开始寻求全球性共识,在共同分享仅剩下约为5%的大气层上达成一致意见的时候,只有一种可行途径:必须从整个人类的利益出发。而不是采用一些反资本主义和反市场化的手段,尽管事实已经证明,一个根深蒂固的资本主义体系的形成往往会导致大量碳交易的产生。这个共识应该是采用一种框架式的,人类在此范围之内不断出台新规则。这样的行为被称为“缩减和集中”,详情可查看www.gci.org.uk。

We need a new type of agreement?

I think this is the key part of the Gore / Hilton interview

"Well, every international agreement since the end of World War Two has had the same basic architecture. The wealthier industrial countries have taken upon themselves the first obligations because they can. They’re best positioned to lead and to begin making the changes. And then the poorer nations, with less wherewithal and less of an ability to make the changes, are obligated to join in after the wealthier nations have begun the task. That’s been true of trade; it’s been true of every agreement. The Kyoto agreement is no exception and, yes, I support that architecture. It’s a practical necessity.

The task is surely to agree a global basis for stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at a safe level and the science is completely clear that this is as close to 400ppmv as we can make it. If we are currently at 380 ppmv it means we have, in effect, ‘5%’ of atmosphere left. We thus need a basis for sharing this allocation across all countries.

Kyoto may have been a wake-up call and thus an important first step but it is clearly not working, not only because America will not sign up because it does not include China but because it does not seek to alter the distribution of ‘atmospheric shares’. Developed nations are required to reduce emissions in proportion to their current consumption. The point that is the current consumption pattern is not equitable. It is a ‘gdp’ allocation. Up until now there has been no assumption that things have to be equitable. Power politics, in fact, is all about ensuring that they are not. The point about climate change however and the point we seem to be missing is that it changes the power politics. Might is no longer right, the future needs to be negotiated. Every nation has to agree to reduce emissions. If one nation stands aloof, then we all risk run away global warming, the nightmare scenario where rising temperatures make the planet uninhabitable – in other words mutually assured destruction – a cold war phrase chosen for the potency of its acronym.

When one begins to look for a basis for the whole world signing up to agree to a basis for sharing out the 5% or so of atmosphere that remains, there can only be one answer: it has to be done on the basis of population. Rather than being an anti-capitalist, anti-market solution as some have chosen to see it, it is a profoundly capitalist system since massive carbon trading will surely follow. It is a framework solution. We set new rules and continue much as before within them. This position is called Contraction and Convergence and details are available at www.gci.org.uk


中国将起什么样的作用?

今后10年中国仍将保持高速发展,这种发展必定和资源的高速消耗,污染的高速产生相伴随。

那么中国在节能减排上似乎不会有任何的起色,我们所做的一切是否也会徒劳无功?

What role will China play?

In the next 10 years, rapid comsumption of resources and fast discharge of pollutants will accompany the rapid development of China. China's efforts on energy saving and pollutants reduction seem to be inefficient. So everything we have done proves to be in vain?


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