By Jacqueline Hyman, opinion editor, @jacqbh58
As former Vice President Al Gore faced a crowd at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, ending his Tuesday night speech about climate change by asking, “Will we change?” a loud “YES!” from audience members embodied the motivation he seemingly instilled into them.
“Here is why I think the answer is yes,” said Gore, wearing a blue suit against a backsplash of green lights. “Whenever a great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a binary choice between right and wrong, the outcome is foreordained.”
Gore spoke in the Dekelboum Concert Hall March 1 to celebrate the launch of this university’s Center for Global Sustainability, which “is positioned to emerge as a U.S. and international hub for providing solutions for climate, energy and sustainability policy, and to provide support for policy implementation within the framework of the Paris Agreement,” according to UMD Right Now. Gore also participated in a question and answer session following the speech, which was moderated by School of Public Policy Dean Robert Orr.
The 970-seat venue was nearly packed as Gore explored issues such as extreme weather events and possible extinction of many species. The evidence of climate change is undeniable, said Gore in his speech.
Last year was the hottest year ever measured, and January 2016 broke the record for the first time a month has been two degrees Fahrenheit above average, Gore said. Additionally, ocean-based storms have become stronger and more destructive, which Gore illustrated with videos of historic rainstorms in Florida and pictures of destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
“There are still some people in positions of authority there who are sloshing through the water saying, ‘I don’t notice anything, do you notice anything?’” said Gore. “But it’s not a partisan issue. The mayor of Miami speaks for many when he says it’s way past time to look at this as a partisan issue, this is a crisis that’s growing worse day by day.”
Gore added that in the last six years, seven “once-in-a-thousand-years events” have occurred, including a historic drought that destroyed 60 percent of Syrian farms and killed 80 percent of Syrian livestock.
“The political disruption associated with the climate crisis is an extremely serious dimension of the crisis that is sometimes glossed over,” Gore said.
Freshman aerospace engineering major Gregorio Zimerman said he believes that currently, presidential candidates are more interested in highlighting issues they think will get them more votes, regardless of whether or not they care about climate change.
Because of higher temperatures, tropical diseases are spreading more easily and quickly, and there is an accelerated melt rate in some glacier masses in Antarctica, said Gore. He added that there is now a risk of losing 50 percent of all animal species in existence.
However, although these unpromising facts are related to the state of global climate change, he assured the audience that change is possible.
“Don’t fall into the pit of despair,” Gore said. “This is an optimistic talk, and there’s much more good news.”
Gore said use and production of renewable resources such as wind and solar energy are increasing rapidly, a solution that will help reduce the amount of burned fossil fuels. Enough solar energy reaches Earth every hour, said Gore, to fulfill the entire world’s energy needs for a year.
“We are seeing the unleashing of a breakthrough revolution,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner said. “What’s happened in the last decade is absolutely stunning and the cost has been coming down 10 percent per year for 30 years. This is now beginning to change everything.”
“Let me remind you that the will to change is itself a renewable resource,” he said.
Alex Krefatz, a 2014 environmental science and policy graduate, said most of the information in Gore’s speech was familiar to him, but “it was exciting to see it delivered from such a talented orator.”
Among several things, Gore suggested that a carbon tax would help regulate carbon dioxide emissions. In 2012, Gore supported the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life’s Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign (COEJL), an initiative which advocated energy independence and security.
“I am so happy to see that this initiative will draw upon the new leadership of younger men and women who see in the legacy of Judaism’s teachings on stewardship a source of renewal of their Jewish faith as well as, through their environmentalism, a service to civilization universally,” Gore wrote on COEJL’s website.
Gore said climate change is an international concern that affects the global economy.
“All of us have a moral responsibility to mitigate the crisis,” he said. “But the wealthy nations, because of their means to do so, have an enhanced responsibility to help, particularly with adaptation.
Krefatz said he also believes there are many necessary solutions to the problem.
“There’s a whole grouping of different political, economic, regulatory options that can be done and I personally think it’s going to take using every single one of them,” said Krefatz, who now works at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s not going to be a Band-Aid to put over the whole problem, you’re going to have to use a lot of different, and sometimes smaller, solutions.”
Zimerman said Gore’s speech was very positive and that he learned a lot, which was his goal in attending.
“I really came to understand better what really is going on and how it’s affecting everybody,” said Zimerman, “and … even though I tend to be sort of pessimistic on issues like this, he did bring an optimist light upon it, saying that we’re on the right path to solving the problem and it’s a revolution that won’t stop.”
“Don’t give up hope,” Gore said. “Bring the change that’s necessary. It’s hard, but the stakes could hardly be higher.”