Is Al Gore Smarter than You?

If your answer is “no” then you don’t have to read any further this week in the Kudzu Telegraph. This column may not appeal to you. You could be one of those discerning readers who at the mention of Al Gore begins composing a well-practiced tirade against the author, former vice president, almost successful presidential candidate, climate change activist, Oscar winner, and last week, recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s OK. I could list a few public figures I feel the same way about.

But if your answer, like mine, is yes, Al Gore is smarter than me, then you might find it interesting to read on as I survey what I think has happened to the world in the last few years. Al Gore’s Nobel Prize might just be a confirmation of something much bigger than Al Gore. Al Gore’s prize is for those of us who examine our economies, our households, and our actions and try to make changes when it comes to resources and consumption. The prize is an outward sign that we might finally be coming to terms intellectually with our human impact on the planet.

In the marketplace of ideas, sustainability is a now a concept that sells. It has moved into the mainstream. It’s no longer something you hear about simply on college campuses or at Sierra Club meetings. It’s found display space in the shop window of what we should think and act upon. Because it’s out there, technologies, lifestyles, education, and governance are being painted a deepening green.

Al Gore didn’t invent the paintbrush, but his focus over decades on climate change issues has been one of the primary reasons that sustainability is an idea with the power to paint the world.

Al Gore won the Nobel Prize because he understood sustainability early on-unlike most of his colleagues in politics. On national and local levels we don’t often look to politicians for vision, and that’s one of the reasons Al Gore is hated so much-because he’s interested in the imagined future, not simply the observable present and the documented past.

Al Gore’s smart in this way. He’s always seen things in the dark, at dawn, below the horizon. He might not have invented the Internet, but he saw its importance a long time before I did. The sea level might not rise 21 feet, but Gore is essentially right on climate change and he saw sea level will rise, nay, IS rising, before I did. That’s why Gore won the Nobel Prize and I never will.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Al Gore is Einstein smart. He’s more like Henry Ford smart. He’s found a way to assemble an idea and roll it out there and sell it. I admire him for that since I (along with most of the planet) have now bought the idea.

I don’t admire all Al Gore’s contradictions-I know he lives in too big a house, and leans too heavily on voodoo accounting for his carbon footprint by buying carbon credits, and drives around way too much in big black SUV spiked with telecommunications antennas, but to be human is to live in such contradictions. We could all do better, especially those like Al Gore with lots of resources to squander. We could all leave a lighter footprint. But I don’t hate Al Gore for his contradictions. I admire him for his vision and tenacity that, last week, gained him the highest prize on the planet.

So what’s next for Al Gore? Let’s hope he’s smart enough not to run for president. I’d rather see him keep chipping away at the problem of climate change than take on Iraq.

What’s next for sustainability? It would be nice if our sitting politicians, from the U.S. president right on down to the county council, would get some vision and see what Al Gore saw thirty years ago: We live on a planet with limited resources and it’s possible to really mess up the whole big blue ball if we don’t pay attention to what we are doing.

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