Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore called on Princeton University graduates this morning to help create a low-carbon world by changing public discourse about global warming.
“We are talking about the future of human civilization,” Gore said. “I am asking you to help us win that conversation.”
Gore was selected by the Princeton University class of 2014 as the keynote speaker for Class Day, an upbeat, spirited school tradition held the day before graduation and organized by the students.
The former vice president made a few jokes during his speech, telling graduates he understands all about grade deflation at Princeton University and knows how they feel when a paper that was scored a 93 is downgraded to a B.
“I won the presidential election and I got second place,” he said of his loss to George W. Bush in 2000.
Gore also joked about his reputation for being boring, saying the Secret Service nickname for him was “Al Gore” and that he could always be spotted in a group of Secret Service men because he was the stiff one.
Then Gore’s talk turned serious as he discussed climate change. He praised the Obama administration for the announcement today that the U.S. government plans to fight climate change with a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation that would cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
“But today something else happened that has not been as noticed,” Gore said. “We as a human civilization have put another 98 million tons of globe-warming pollution into the atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it is an open sewer. That pollution is trapping a lot of heat — as much in 24 hours as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs every day. It is raising temperatures, giving the earth a fever, and putting more water vapor into the air.”
Gore compared the tactics of the power plant industry and and other corporations that oppose environmental regulations to the tobacco industry four decades ago. The tobacco industry hired actors 40 years ago who were put in front of cameras with scripts saying that cigarette smoking is not harmful.
“We need to resist the special interests that hire merchants of doubt in an effort to confuse people to the point where they can’t recognize the truth,” he said.
Gore said there is good news though. In 79 countries, the cost of electricity from solar panels is equal to or cheaper than the cost from all other sources.
“This is truly a revolution in the making,” he said, adding that the difference in cost is not trivial.
It is easy to despair in the fight against global warming, Gore said, but some movements that did not look like revolutions at the outset have caused dramatic changes in the world.
“We are in a race, and we need to accelerate the pace,” he said. “I urge you to be a part of this struggle…We are winning the conversation.”
Gore called on Princeton University to support the divestment movement and not invest in stocks for carbon-intensive companies. He said Princeton graduates, with their skills and leadership, can be at the forefront of the movement to stop global warming and change the world, even though the world has resisted so far.
“After the last no, comes a yes,” Gore said. “On that yes, the future of the world depends. When people gather here decades from now and hear that the graduating class that year is the greatest ever — depending on the world they grow into, they will look back at us this day and time and ask one of two questions.”
“If they are struggling with the kinds of horrific consequences scientists have been warming us about, they will look back and ask `What were you thinking? Why didn’t you act?’,” Gore said. “But if we live in a world where renewable energy…and all of the other new technology accomplish a low-carbon world, where we are creating hope and a rise in standards of living…people will look back and ask `How did you shake off the lethargy and find the moral courage to rise up and make the changes that were so essential?’ I want part of that answer to be that the class of 2014 found the will to act — itself is a renewable resource.”