Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore poses at the premiere of the film “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” at the Eccles Theater during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Park City, Utah.
In 1992, Al Gore was elected vice president under Bill Clinton and, as such, presided over the U.S. Senate. In this role, he cast the tie-breaking vote adopting the Tax Reform Act of 1993, whose actions helped produce, in 1998, the first budget surplus since 1969.
Gore then famously became involved in environmental initiatives, launching, on Earth Day ‘94, the GLOBE program, an educational activity that used the internet to increase student awareness of the environment. In 1998, Gore began promoting the Deep Space Climate Observatory (a NASA satellite), which allowed people to view the Earth and its shrinking glaciers and rising seas. He then helped negotiate the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gasses, which, in a circuitous way, led to the 2015 Paris Agreement.
In 2000, Gore ran for president. The election was one of the closest presidential races in history. Gore and running mate Joe Lieberman won the popular vote but, after a controversial election dispute over a Florida recount settled by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision, he lost the Electoral College vote to George Bush. Without delay, Gore gave a memorable concession speech, stating in part:
“While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it … and for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new president-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together….”
Imagine how different our world might be had the outcome been different. A President Al Gore would most certainly have worked to avert the most pressing problem of our time: climate change. Yet his defeat didn’t alter his determination. He raised awareness as a layperson.
His “Hockey Stick” slide show he presented more than 1,000 times was turned into “An Inconvenient Truth,” a 2006 documentary that brought the conversation about climate change to the public’s attention.
Another close election in 2016 resulted in a narrow victory for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Trump captured the electoral vote despite Clinton winning the popular vote. Not surprisingly, the “inconvenient truths” about climate change were characterized by the Trump administration as “myths,” as Trump worked to cast doubt on climate scientists and to portray warnings as “fake news.”
Well, warnings and observations based on carefully crafted scientific inquiry have a way of proving themselves valid over time. Today we see far more environmental carnage that even the most pessimistic climate scientists forecasted for this decade. Fires, floods and record heat triggering extreme weather events are in the news almost daily, including right here in Utah.
Witness July’s record-breaking heat, the desiccated Great Salt Lake with its exposed toxic dust, the rapidly dropping water levels of Lake Powell. These events are not one-offs, nor are they curiosities. They are the “new normal,” and they have serious ramifications for our health, personal well-being and our state, national and global economy.
But there is good news. Almost 20 years after Gore’s “hockey stick” presentations, Democrats have found a way to pass the “The Inflation Reduction Act,” which includes significant provisions to address climate change and its existential threat.
Is it enough to turn back the relentless global warming clock? No, but it is an important first step, a breakthrough for our country. Would this have been possible under Donald Trump. Never.
In November, you have an opportunity to cast your ballot in the mid-term elections. You may think of mid-terms as ho-hum, not worth your time. But when a nation is in crisis, every vote counts. We have the power to bring officials to our state and U.S. governments who will work to combat climate change, regardless of party affiliation. But only if we vote.
Because elections matter, and have impactful results.
Jim Wightman, Bountiful, and Marjorie McCloy, Salt Lake City, are longtime volunteer advocates for the Salt Lake Branch of Citizens Climate Lobby.