The nation’s 45th vice president was on campus to present “Health Threats and the Climate Crisis,” an address that is part of the College of Public Health’s Leading Voices in Public Lecture Series and the 27th annual Lamb Lecture at the university.
As the title indicates, Gore spoke on global warming and the dangers it poses to the public’s health. In his approximately one-hour address, Gore began by discussing the threat it presents.
“It is the largest and most serious challenge human civilization has ever confronted, and yet we have not reached a point where the world’s political systems are ready and willing to really do what’s necessary to solve this crisis,” Gore said.
Gore said providing a full awareness of the severity of global warming is essential, but the world has been slow to appreciate the scale of the crisis because he said nothing like it has ever happened before and that people have “an ingrained rule that causes us to confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.”
“If something never happened before, we’re usually safe in assuming it’s not gonna happen in the future,” he said. “Usually, that rule works, but it’s the exceptions that can kill you. This is one of the exceptions.”
The relationship between the human species and the ecosystem has been radically changed in the last 100 years, Gore said, saying the Earth’s population has quadrupled in that period of time, but he said the population is starting to stabilize because of public health, the education of girls, empowerment of women, the availability of culturally acceptable methods of fertilization control and higher child survival rates.
He also said the science and technology revolution has had a more dramatic impact on the Earth’s climate.
“As a consequence, technologically enhanced power in hands of the average person on Earth has now been magnified a millionfold.”
The use of chemicals and the burning of oil-based fuels has led to high emissions of carbon dioxide, which Gore said is the largest contributor to the climate crisis because it traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, he said tackling it would be difficult because the machines that emit it greatly improve the quality of life.
“CO2 is the exhaling breath of industrial civilization so it’s not an easy matter to confront, but we have to confront it,” he said.
Dangers caused by global warming include deeper and more widespread droughts due to soil moisture evaporation, larger floods because of ocean evaporation, larger and more severe storms coming off oceans and the melting of snow packs and glaciers, Gore said.
Aside from these, Gore said warmer temperatures cause disease-spreading parasites, such as ticks and mosquitoes, to be more widespread. He also said humans have four advantages over germs – colder winters, colder nights, stable climates and rich biodiversity – all of which are hindered by global warming.
Gore said climate changes have led to more deaths from heat waves, shellfish poisoning and an increase in cholera and kidney stones.
“At present, the world is not equipped now, either in developed or developing countries, for the emergence or re-emergence of these diseases that are spreading because of the new conditions global warming has put into play,” he said.
Gore said the United States must take the lead in addressing the climate crisis and commended President Barack Obama’s environmental efforts but stated the environmental crisis is not a partisan issue.
“I don’t understand why bipartisanship gets into it,” he said. “I don’t get that.”
Gore asked the students in attendance to do their parts and said action was necessary now for not only this generation, but future generations.
“Your generation is the one that needs to apply pressure and give the ingenuity and the can-do spirit that our country needs to take this on and solve it,” he said.