Vice President Al Gore meets backstage with Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough before the IMPACT lecture.
College students must play an active role in the growing movement to save the planet from environmental disaster, said Vice President Al Gore during his April 18 lecture in Georgia Tech College of Management's IMPACT Speaker Series.
Other morality-based movements like civil rights and ending apartheid largely began on college campuses, noted Gore, who considers global warming the greatest moral challenge facing civilization. "This is your moment….," said Gore, whose lecture was held in partnership with Georgia Tech's Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship. "I urge you to learn as much as you can about this movement."
After imploring the Georgia Tech students who packed the Ferst Center to follow the example set by their grandparents in repairing societies after World War II, Gore asked: "Will this become known as the selfish, self-destructive generation or the next great generation?....We have adopted a short-term way of thinking far more than our grandparents would have thought wise."
Gore's lecture, titled "Thinking Green: Economic Strategies for the 21st Century," made the case that climate change is real – the result of treating our vulnerable atmosphere like an "open sewer" for carbon dioxide emissions. "We're doing damage in an almost casual way," he said.
Citing four recent international scientific studies that unanimously verified the reality of global warming, Gore expressed surprise that consensus on the issue is taking so long and being treated like a "political football."
Gore explained that his passion for saving the environment erupted in 1989 after his son nearly died in a traffic accident. Just as he could have lost his son, he realized that humanity could lose the world's "God-given beauty." Gore, then a U.S. senator, began writing his first book on the environment, the bestselling Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, in his son's hospital room.
Published in 1992, the book addressed the need to protect the ozone layer and clean up toxic waste dumps. His latest bestseller on the environment, An Inconvenient Truth, was turned into an Academy Award-winning documentary last year.
In his lecture, sponsored by Assurant Specialty Property, Gore listed factors that have contributed to global warming, from tremendous population growth to the technology revolution that has led to "bull-in-a-china shop syndrome." Short-attention spans, more focused on celebrity gossip about Britney Spears than important issues, haven't helped either, he said.
The result, Gore explained, is melting glaciers, and an inevitable explosion in "climate refugees" fleeing spoiled areas. Based on the environmental damage already done, the number of refugees will certainly be in the tens of millions, but the total could reach well into the hundreds of millions if aggressive action isn't taken, Gore said. For this reason, he said he agrees with the group of retired military generals and Pentagon advisors who recently identified global warming as a serious national security issue.
The good news, Gore said, is that there's still time to turn around rising temperatures. "Don't let anybody tell you it's too late," he emphasized. "We have time…. We can project ourselves into the future we want to create because it is up to us."
He said he's heartened that a green revolution is spreading through business, with corporate giants like Wal-Mart and ConocoPhillips recognizing the need to clean up their acts. Gore, who is chairman of an investment management firm aiming to create environmentally-friendly portfolios, believes today's students can prepare themselves for many future job opportunities by learning about sustainable business practices.
Pricing carbon through environmental taxes or emission trading programs is Gore's key policy recommendation for solving global warming. "The market assigns zero value to pollution," he says. "Market signals say it's fine to use the atmosphere as an open sewer."
Gore highlighted the recent example set by New Zealand's prime minister with her goal to make the country carbon neutral with its greenhouse gas emissions. Seeing Gore's film of An Inconvenient Truth reportedly inspired her.
In his lecture, Gore wasn't all serious business, joking about the controversial outcome of the 2000 presidential election. "There are winners, and there are losers, and then there's that little-known third category," said Gore, who was the country's 45th vice president under Bill Clinton.
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