Level of climate change 'without precedent' - Gore

 

Former US vice president Al Gore exhorted scientists to "get involved" in warning the public about the dangers posed by climate change. "This is a task for all of us. This is no time to sit back, this is a historic struggle," he told an audience in Chicago.

Mr Gore was speaking last night during a special address to an invited audience at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. The current level of climatic change is "without precedent", he stated. The capacity to do something was there, all that was required was the political will to make it happen.

Mr Gore made a number of historical references to past heroes of science, noting the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 400th year since Galileo first turned his first telescope towards the heavens.

He also invoked the great Irish scientist John Tyndall, remarking that it was 140 years since he discovered that the earth's atmosphere was kept warm because of its carbon dioxide content. There was no controversy about this, he said. "It is rather like gravity. It is well established."

He said it was timely that he addressed the audience on the day that President Obama's economic stimulus plan was moving through Congress. The House had passed it while the Senate was poised to do so, he said.

While the current economic woes were triggered by the sub-prime lending conducted by the banks, it was supplemented by other factors. "The economic crisis and the environmental crisis were intertwined," he said.

And added to this was the concern over security. "All three of these crises, the economic, security and climate all have a common thread, our dependence on imported oil." What was needed was a "global synchronised stimulus" that would help lift the world economy out of recession.

A key part of this would be to move away from carbon-based fuels towards renewables. It would take the same kind of commitment made by President John Kennedy who promised that the US would put a man on the moon in 10 years. In the end it only took eight years and two months.

There was a need for urgent action given the dangers faced by low-lying regions as sea level rises, he said. "For every one metre of sea level rise 100 million climate refugees are put on the move."

The world faced other dangers including flooding and loss of ice-based water supplies as in California and the Himalayas. Up to 40 per cent of the world's population get half of their water from the Himalayan ice field, he added.

Scientists had a key role in reversing the situation, informing the public and policy makers of the risk. Failure to act would see a sharp rise in the number of natural disasters. "This has a huge economic impact," he stated.