'On speaking before Al Gore'
ON SPEAKING BEFORE AL GORE
Tom Goreau, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance
November 24 2007
On November 20 2007 I spoke before Al Gore at the Global Warming Conference organized by the Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands. “Before” in the temporal sense of being the speaker scheduled just prior to Al Gore, not before in the spatial sense of being physically in the same room. Al Gore arrived a minute before his speech and left seconds after. He briefly met the Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment, the Governor, their wives, and the deputy head of the World Tourism Organization, but none of the other speakers. (In the interests of full disclosure, I was the first person to show data conclusively establishing the link between global warming and large-scale coral bleaching, to Al Gore’s Senate Panel in 1990, which was vilified and then ignored, but which led directly to the International Coral Reef Initiative when he became Vice President in 1993. Both his name and mine come from an old French word for a little pig.)
Al Gore gave a nearly hour-long speech that was gracious, charming, and packed full of homilies that “the future was in our hands”, and that “young people should learn about the environment”. But it contained absolutely no specific information, analysis, or strategy about climate change whatsoever. It was a rote feel-good speech, lacking any visual props, typical of political and religious exhortations, to which he added an opening sentence about how beautiful the Turks and Caicos were and how he would be back (rousing applause), and an ending sentence for local color that the “Caribbean should unite in the face of climate change” (covered in the press worldwide), although no specific suggestions were offered. The only practical tactical response to climate change he made was that he hoped young people would lie down in front of trucks building new coal-fired power plants.
My 20 minute speech “before” Al Gore showed that the last time that global temperatures were 1 degree C above today’s levels 125,000 years ago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, and Jamaica were swept by waves of a magnitude that we have never experienced, that sea levels were 25 feet higher, and that crocodiles and hippopotamuses lived in London, England.
It pointed out that since CO2 was one third lower then than it already is now, those conditions underestimate what will happen if we add absolutely no further CO2 to the atmosphere. It showed how and why IPCC projections seriously and systematically underestimate future climate change sensitivity, which the past climate record clearly shows, by failing to account for either the major positive feedback mechanisms or the full time scale of climate system responses.
It emphasized that adaptation is only a stopgap measure, but for long-term climate stability the CO2 already in the atmosphere must be reduced by at least a third, not allowed to rise further as it would if the Kyoto Protocol was enforced. It summarized the history of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and how the original draft prepared by the UN (which I had a hand in writing) was turned by governments into scientific nonsense, promotes carbon accounting fraud, rewards bogus carbon sinks and penalizes the real ones, was incapable of meeting its own goals to protect the most climatically sensitive ecosystems, and therefore is a death sentence for coral reefs and low lying island nations.
It demonstrated why coral reefs could take no further warming, how the global coral reef satellite sea surface temperature data base I developed had predicted coral bleaching accurately for decades, showed global trends that indicate much worse is imminent, and revealed for the first time that changes in ocean circulation are already underway worldwide and destroying fisheries from the bottom up. It showed photos of how we had kept coral reefs alive in places where they would have died from heat stroke by giving the corals 3-5 times faster growth rates and 16-50 times higher survival, how we restored coral reefs and fisheries in a few years in places in the Caribbean, Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia where they could not recover naturally, and how we turned beaches in the Maldives that were being severely eroded by sea level rise into growing ones.
It explained how CO2 could be removed from the atmosphere and stored in ways that greatly increased soil fertility by improving ancient, but until recently lost, methods of Amazonian Indians. It discussed the need for small island developing states to adopt new, proven, but currently unutilized technologies to tap tidal energy to prevent CO2 emissions and to recycle wastes and renewable biomass into clean water, fertilizer, and gaseous and liquid fuels. It argued the need to build large-scale ecosystem restoration into climate change treaties as critical to stabilizing climate, soil, water, fisheries, and biodiversity resources. It outlined tactics and strategy that Small Island States could pursue in the UN Climate Summit in Bali to turn it into a scientifically sound tool for effective action. It summarized many unexpected findings from our extensive survey of the health of Turks and Caicos reefs last year, and the implications for their management.
Later, many people kindly told me that they learned more from my speech than all the rest put together. The Turks and Caicos Government paid Al Gore [what is reported to be a six figure sum] for his celebrity photo-op advice. They paid me precisely nothing. The publicity was directly proportional to the money paid. Gored again!
The handwriting is now undeniably on the wall, in both planetary and personal senses. Without unimaginably radical changes in the next weeks, right after the UN Climate Change Summit in Bali I’ll be forced to quit my quixotic endeavours, and take a job asking the public if their hamburger is to go and if they want ketchup on their fries.