Al Gore's midnight ride

The former vice president sounds the alarm on global warming.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Published June 6, 2005 4:38PM (EDT)

The former vice president of the United States has found a new calling as the Paul Revere of global warming, criss-crossing the nation -- and the globe -- to try to awaken the slumbering masses.

Al Gore's "like our very own Paul Revere to sound the alarm on this issue" Hollywood enviro Laurie David told a crowd of several hundred assembled at San Francisco's Union Square under a gigantic green tent as part of the city's U.N. World Environment Day festivities.

Taking the stage, Gore seemed to know the very subject of global warming is a hard sell even to the well-heeled environmentalists gathered to hear him speak before a gala dinner with visiting mayors and dignitaries from around the globe: "Thank you for being willing to listen. I ask you to open your hearts and see this in a new way. Our civilization is now at risk," he said.

The former vice-president then trotted out images and facts, which should be familiar by now, yet somehow remain almost too gigantic in their implications to fully take in. The 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the last 14 years. Already trees in the Arctic, now known as drunken trees, are listing because the permafrost under them is melting. In 15 years, there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro. And in 20 years, get psyched to visit "the park formerly known as Glacier" on your summer vacation.

"Is it only terrorists that are worth fighting? Is that the only threat to the future that's worth organizing to respond to?" Gore asked. Lest the crowd despair that with the climate change nay-sayers in power in Washington D.C. nothing can be done in the U.S., Gore reminded them that 158 U.S. mayors have pledged to meet Kyoto-like goals in their own cities. And only days before, California's Republican governor Schwarzenegger had announced his state's own plans to fight climate change.

But to really take on the problem in the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, there's going to have to be a lot more bi-partisan political will where that came from. "In our democracy, political will is a renewable resource. And that's the essence of our challenge," Gore said. Whether the warning of his midnight ride will be heard remains to be seen.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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