There is depressing news for progressives and Democrats like me who want Al Gore to run for President. It looks like Al Gore is really, sincerely not going to run for President in 2008. How do we know this? It could be from Al’s periodic statements that he has no “current plans” to run for President. Hope springs eternal in the heart of his supporters though until, at last, events crush them. With many crucial filing deadlines for the 2008 presidential primary past and with Al Gore taking no action he is giving us another inconvenient truth: whoever wins the presidency a year from now will not be him.
Many of us ask why? Why Al? You are on top of the world! A movie on your quest to bring attention to global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar. You have won a Webby Award (for interactive technology) and Quill awards in two consecutive years, one for your latest global warming book. You are also sharing this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for your strident advocacy on addressing global warming. You have set an example of how to live a carbon neutral life. You are opening an environmentally friendly investment firm. You are likely to be Time magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year. The American public, recently skeptical of your global warming hypothesis, now ranks global warming as one of its most important and urgent issues. Al, your time is right to claim the mantle that was denied you in 2000. Yet you are not interested in being president, at least not this time around, despite the fact that as president you could probably do far more to solve the global warming problem than you ever will with your movie, your books, your public speaking and your Nobel Peace Prize.
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Al Gore asked those like me who are clamoring for his candidacy to be patient and to trust his judgment. By deferring on the presidency, is Al Gore smarter than we think? Why would someone whose personal approval rating is likely close to where President Bush’s was after 9/11 not leverage his sound insight, foresight, wisdom and considerable political skills while he has the most leverage and his country desperately needs him?
The more I think of Al Gore’s remark, the more I am starting to grasp why he said what he did to Rolling Stone. For as much as many of us would embrace him now, Al understands that this country is just waking up to the magnitude of sacrifices required to address global warming. Most Americans, if they have given global warming any thought at all, think that maybe it can be solved by switching their incandescent lights to fluorescent lights and driving a hybrid.
In fact, these are just baby steps that more than anything show that we just don’t get it. Americans do not yet appreciate the degree of sacrifice that is really required to address global warming. Until we feel its magnitude, Al Gore realizes that rather than helping the cause he is libel to end up hurting it. Moreover, we would eventually despise him for what we perceive to be his obsessiveness on the issue. I think that is why he is not running for president.
For if Al Gore were elected president, we would soon see him as Bad News Al. President Bush’s current approval ratings would soon look good in contrast. Gore would encourage us to make changes to our lifestyle that we simply are not yet willing to make. To win the global climate challenge, if it can be done at all, America and the world will have to fundamentally reinvent itself. We will have to halt destructive generational patterns that have never been halted before. Moreover, because this is America and it is the land of the free, we must convince ourselves that it is in our best interest to do this. To make this change, we first need to experience more and stronger negative effects from global warming. It has to seer into our consciences. Many of us are still living in the Ronald Reagan mindset that if we smile enough and think enough happy thoughts, it will always be Morning in America. To address global warming though we need to grasp the reality that we must make the sun set on our lifestyles. We have to develop the mindset of sustained personal and community sacrifice lasting generations. We have to embrace consuming less, smaller families and get comfortable with the notion that our days of living large are behind us.
For Americans, freedom is demonstrated through rampant consumerism and easy mobility. We want more money so we can buy more things and live ever more opulent lifestyles. We want the freedom to go where we want when we want, and that means having a car, not taking the Greyhound. While we can and must take important steps like develop more fuel-efficient cars, they mean little as long as we keep indulging in our selfish habits. Principally we have to stop breeding so much. Zero population growth is just one step in addressing global warming. Today there are about 6.5 billion people on the planet. Even if we could achieve zero population growth, we would still be in for an environmental catastrophe. Unfortunately, we need negative population growth, sustained for many generations, combined with smart technologies, less consumption and a smaller footprint on the planet. If we can do this then perhaps the planet has a chance of recovering.
We have many lessons to learn, but it will be devilishly hard to both take these to heart and make these efforts work globally. If we can do it, no achievement in the history of humanity will be more important or speak as highly for our species. If we fail, and all trends suggest that we will fail, we will eventually be the source of our own undoing, as well as the undoing of much of the known life on this planet. Our adventures in Iraq will seem like child’s play compared to the ugly, overpopulated, resource constrained and increasingly war-torn world ahead of us.
I think Al Gore quietly understands all of this but does not want to scare us by stating this openly. Nonetheless, I think he remains hopeful. The first part in addressing any large problem is to get beyond denial. In this country, I think we are mostly beyond that phase. The harder part will be moving toward the resolution phase. When we are ready culturally and mentally to make these tough choices, I think Al will be ready to be the leader we need. This process must play out. If it can play out quickly enough before Al ages too much then as our president, he will be a natural fit. He is probably ready to be that president. The problem is we are not yet ready for him.