Saturday, October 13, 2007

Everything gone green

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome if you will, the new King of All Media and co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize – Al Gore! Yes, you heard right, the man who once would have been president has bagged the Big One, bigger than the presidency, in many ways. With the announcement from the Nobel committee in Stockholm, the former vice president has completed the latest phase of a recycling process started years earlier, elevating the issues of environmental protection and global warming to a truly global stage.

Speaking in Palo Alto on Friday, Gore, who shares the prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said he will donate all of his portion of the cash prize – about $1.5 million -- to the Alliance for Climate Protection, which he established in California. Taking the high road, Gore said “alarm bells are going off in the scientific community” over the issue of global warming, characterizing it as “a planetary emergency we have to respond to quickly.”

“It is the most dangerous challenge we have ever faced, but it is also the greatest opportunity we have ever had to make changes that we should be making,” he said.

“The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.”

The press gathered to hear Gore make his first comments wanted none of it. The moment he stopped speaking and strode out of the room without answering question one, the reporters went into full Pavlovian mode, shouting the obvious (and obviously ridiculous) question: ”Are you gonna run for president?”

Notwithstanding their obligation to ask that question, the answer should have been fairly obvious. Gore’s ascension to the world stage underscores just how unnecessary the presidency is for his résumé.

If there was ever a time Gore didn’t need to be president, this is it. As the author of several best-selling books, founder of a social-responsibility investment fund, the prime mover behind the Current viewer-participatory cable television channel (which got him an Emmy award), on-screen narrator of the film “An Inconvenient Truth” (which won an Oscar for best documentary feature this year), infrequent guest on “Saturday Night Live” and a pivotal figure in mainstreaming the Internet, Gore handily displaces Howard Stern as King of All Media (something Stern never really was in the first place).

But the Democrats’ political reflexes kicked in anyway. Draft Gore, one of at least two ad hoc organizations bent on enlisting Gore to be a candidate, posted an ad in The New York Times all but begging him to throw his hat in the ring. Its companion Web site claimed to have amassed 190,000 signatures seeking his candidacy (as if the field weren’t crowded enough already).

The commentariat weighed in too. On MSNBC cable on Friday, Tim Russert had reasons why Gore wouldn’t seek the presidency. “We’re only 12 weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. Caucusgoers put a premium on someone who’s spent a lot of time and invested a lot of energy in getting to know them in their state.”

Bob Schieffer of CBS News broke down the political logic for staying out of the 2008 presidential campaign. “The core of his support would have to come from that side of the Democratic Party that Hillary Clinton seems to have sewed up,” Schieffer told CBS anchor Katie Couric. “The other part of his support would have to come from kind of the idealistic wing – that would be those voters who are for Barack Obama. I simply don’t see him peeling off very much support from either of those two candidates.”

As a purely political calculus, Schieffer’s is no doubt correct. But it ignores a more basic reason to avoid the presidential race. Gore’s status today – as a public figure who’s shown an ability to reach across the generational aisle, to tap into popular culture at every meaningful level in the service of a cause most people still haven’t fully factored into their daily lives – is bigger, wider than the presidency of the United States.

Al Gore matters on a global level right now, considerably more than he would as a politician. He’s the beneficiary of the public perception of his being part of the solution, rather than just another part of the problem. He’s not about to trade that in to spend a year eating rubber chicken at every Holiday Inn on the campaign trail.

Russert spoke of another practical reason for Gore staying out of the race: Frankly, he’s doing too well where it counts.

“He was at Google at the very beginning, and Google is now $600 a share,” Russert said. “Even I can figure out that math.” (Actually, the day Russert spoke Google closed at $637.39 a share. But when you’re in on the ground floor on the day of the IPO at $85 a share, as Gore almost certainly was as a company senior adviser… well, who’s counting the crumbs?)

Russert mentioned another possibly tantalizing role for the former vice president. “I also think that the next president could really take advantage of Al Gore’s talents, and use him as an ambassador, especially if there is a worldwide effort on global warming. I think he’ll continue to play a very active role as a citizen activist,” Russert said, seeming to align Gore’s possible world-fixer role with that of Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now embracing his new role as ambassador without portfolio, pursuing a solution to the intractable problems in the Middle East.

(On the day Gore won the Nobel, MSNBC.com prominently featured a timely story on the emerging phenomenon of “cradle to cradle” consumer products, goods with a fully-extended recyclable life cycle, their componenrts turned into new materials after their previous use.)

Everything’s gone green. Scientists and environmentalists have been saying it for generations – arguably since Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” certainly since the first Earth Day in 1970. Al Gore is the irresistibly visible champion of a cause that’s finally achieved a top-of-mind recognition not so much deserved as required. The new inconvenient truth is, we dare not ignore it anymore.

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Image: Copyright 2006 Brett Wilson > licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 > Wikipedia

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