Whether or not Al Gore invented the internet, he did write one of the finest blog entries ever, decades before the word “blog” was even in our lexicon. In a 1988 issue of The New Republic, the Former Vice President penned a postcard from Antarctica called “Unbearable Whiteness,” a compelling record of his trip to Earth’s icy blue bottom, in which he revealed his love for the environment through his gentle tone and concern, and unveiled the science of our times—which clearly indicated humanity’s impact on the climate. This letter home from Mr. Gore was one of many early attempts to inspire and enroll us in a way of being kind, conscious, and considerate to the very place from which we sprang.
I’m writing this today on board the National Geographic Explorer, a Lindblad Expedition Ship anchored among icebergs in the Antarctic Peninsula. For the first time since 1988, Al Gore has come back to this region, this time not as a Senator, but as a recovering politician. And this time he’s writing more than just a postcard. Enter: The Climate Reality Project, whose mission is to uncover the complete truth about the climate crisis in a way that ignites the moral courage in each of us. Founded by Gore and longtime environmentalist Maggie Fox, The Climate Reality Project is a rethinking, re-branding, and retelling of the reality of global warming—an issue once thought to be a problem of the future. But now, with more than enough data from scientists, and experiential evidence from global citizens, it is obvious that climate change has arrived.
The Climate Reality Project teaches us how to manage and adapt to these stark realities. What are the stark realities? All the proof we need is in our own backyard. Since last year’s SXSW festival, Austin has continued to experience the worst drought ever recorded in Texas. Add that to devastating flooding in Tennessee; tornados in cities that didn’t have tornados before; Hurricane Irene; the 100th closure of the Thames barrier in London; the worst flood in Bangkok’s history, and so on. And all of this in the wake of Katrina, from which the Gulf is still trying to recover. Storms that are supposed to happen once in a hundred years have happened multiple times in the last decade. And unfortunately, uncomfortable climate activity is just the beginning. So why am I here in Antarctica with Al Gore? I mean, really, what’s a bike-riding, avocado-picking, pot-eating, surf-boarding songwriter with a high school education doing at the bottom of the globe with a former vice president, top scientists, National Geographic researchers and photographers, heads of major movements, TED-Prize winners, and founders of some of the largest foundations on the planet? For starters, I’m a YES when it comes to fieldtrips of this caliber. Who doesn’t love penguins?
And since I was invited by Mr. Gore to entertain and participate, there really was no question about attending. I already support his work on global warming and was more than delighted by his invitation. On the surface, I’m just a musician, though as a musician I often have the opportunity to amplify my voice and reach many people. But also as a musician, I often travel more than half of the year, increasing my carbon footprint, making my personal impact on the planet much greater than the average stoner.
So on that count, it is in the best interest of the whole planet for me to be concerned and, in turn, learning how to adapt and how to radically transform my behavior. We all know that the climate is influenced most dramatically by greenhouse gas emission, which summarily, is measured in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping atmospheric gases. Greenhouse gases are emitted through transport, land clearance, the production and consumption of foods, fuels, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, and services. Global warming is real, and I’m sure every reader of this magazine already understands that. I didn’t come here to preach to the choir, but let’s make sure we have our facts straight.
We release 90 million tons of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere every day. That destroys the health of the planet, the health of the people, and the health of the plants and wildlife. It melts ice. It raises sea levels. It sinks islands and floods cities. It wreaks havoc on the soil, which diminishes our food and water supply, and contributes heavily to acid rain, droughts, and major climate catastrophes. It may be a hundred-year battle to turn around our industries and finally get everyone living on sustainable energy with technology that can keep our lives comfortable. If that’s the case, the first 20 years of the shift have actually done a lot to support that. But there’s still a long way to go, and judging by the state of the environment, we don’t have that kind of time. The power of the masses can influence any government in the world. The power of the masses can elect an official, start a revolution, and drive history. Nelson Mandela did it alone from his prison cell. Ghandi did it lying down. Egypt did it singing songs.
Al Gore is doing it with unwavering passion and a twitter handle. I believe we can manage this situation easily through the powerful use of our language, and the actions of our increasing consciousness on the issue. But how does Al Gore do it? Where does he get his renewable energy—his personal strength to keep solving this issue? After 30 years of resistance on the topic, what keeps his fire burning? I asked him this question as The Explorer pushed its way through the surface ice in possibly the most breathtaking canyon I may ever see in my lifetime: Lemaire Channel. “I do Yoga,” he said. “And I meditate. Not as much as I’d like to…” which seems the norm for many people I know, especially people as busy as Al, which only reminds me that he’s human. He went on to tell me of the serendipitous people and events that shaped his life. Being the son of a senator, Al always believed in the power of the democratic system. And it was his college professor, Roger Revelle, the first man to measure carbon levels in the atmosphere, who opened his eyes to the threat we posed on the environment. When Al, only 29 years old, entered politics, the first thing he addressed was the climate crisis based on the testimonial of his professor’s groundbreaking work. An excited Al thought it was going to be easy. But Washington was asleep. And then on April 3rd, 1989, Al took his son to see the Baltimore Orioles. It was opening day. Leaving the game his son let go of Al’s hand, darted across the street to chase a friend, and was hit by a car. Al paused in his retelling of this experience and took a deep breath, panning toward the bow of the boat with water collecting in his eyes. Looking at him, I knew that the image of his eyes reflecting the passing blue icebergs in contrast to his rosy cheeks is an image that will stay with me long after this trip.
After the accident, Al spent the next 30 days in the hospital reviewing his priorities and trying to understand his life purpose. All the big, concrete speeches and meetings that he’d so proudly piled onto his schedule that month disappeared as if none of it mattered. He couldn’t shake the horrible feeling of his son’s hand leaving his. And he blamed himself for letting go. After his son’s miraculous recovery, Al returned to the list of priorities he’d created for himself. Nothing seemed to matter anymore, except the climate issue. Having let go of his son’s hand had given him a taste of what it might feel like to lose something you love. So Al became determined to not let go again. And now, we are the hand he’s holding. “It’s a bitch, Jason. I wish I could’ve chosen something else, because it’s a bitch. But we will solve it. We have to! We have to.” We took another moment to enjoy the otherworldly view our ship was steering through.
It was Al who broke the ice again as if he’d been reading my mind. “The resistance! My god, the resistance! For all the negative things people can say, all the things I’ve heard, I wear them as a badge of honor.” The science might be challenged, but the lie that global warming doesn’t exist can’t survive forever. If not Al Gore, or me, the Earth itself is going to keep speaking up on everyone’s behalf until we get it. How many more catastrophic natural disasters will it take to move skeptics away from coal and oil and into cleaner green technologies like wind power, solar power; and local and organic farming? When we all truly understand how dramatically humans do impact the changing climate, then we will see through the bullshit of Big Oil—their political ads, their greenwashing, their lobbying—and we will also cut through the smog of our paralyzed government, which has been sitting idly by with a handbrake on the issue while our beautiful Rome burns. Action will be easy, once we truly understand what is at stake. Al Gore continues to fight this fight, taking opposition and criticism with grace—never faltering from his view that something can be done.
When asked how we solve the climate crisis, he said—almost comically, but damn seriously, with a raised voice and a upswing fist in the air—“By continuing to solve the climate crisis!” If you found a corked bottle on the beach that had a message in it that read, “This is a matter of life or death. Please deliver x message to y person,” it would be up to you and your morals whether or not to deliver that message. Would you do it? Al Gore got the message in college when he learned of the crisis. And he understands the weight of losing something so dear. “We’ve got to solve it. We have to,” Al affirmed, delivering his message once again, to me. And now I know why I came all the way down here to this isolated, frozen continent: to get the message. I sing. I type. I take pictures. I tell my friends and family what’s up. I share my stoke—and ask you to do the same. Just as we once collectively educated people on the dangers of smoking, until Big Tobacco no longer had an argument, we will educate others on the danger of carbon emissions until we radically redesign our industrial and transportation systems, allowing humanity to thrive, instead of passively melting away into extinction. How do we do this? We act now. We break our carbon habit and manage our resources wisely. We act together. We demand and develop new technologies, and continue to vote with our dollars. We act differently. We change our policies, SHARE a vision, and prepare. We ARE headed there, but much more action is still needed.
We’ve got to solve this. And we will.
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