Global Warming, Sustainability & the Nobel Prize

October 22, 2007 at 6:02 pm Leave a comment

Awarding the Nobel Prize to Al Gore and the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has once again highlighted the global crisis we now face.  While the prize raises awareness, it falls short of informing people about the big picture issue of sustainability.  So, the question I’m asking today is: what is the relationship between Global Warming and sustainability, and why is it important to understand?

The topic for this entry surfaced when I heard Lou Dobbs questioning the choice of Al Gore’s Global Warming campaign as worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Dobbs commented that he believed competition for resources will constitute a greater source of conflict than Global Warming.  The truth is both are symptoms of unsustainable practices – the root cause of many of humanity’s woes.  I believe it’s important to understand because our response will be framed by our understanding of the problem.  So, if our goal is only to combat Global Warming, we will still fail the challenge and continue to face consequences of the sort Lou Dobbs refers.

Obviously we urgently need to elevate the public dialogue to include sustainability, but we face an inherent conflict in the argument because it involves changing how people see the world and live in it.  I think it’s natural for people to fear change, especially the economics, because what is unknown is perceived as a threat to their personal ability to survive.  This is why informing people about the issues, as well as articulating and demonstrating our response to the challenge, is so important – to dispel fear and engage people to change their behavior for all our benefit.

Does Gore’s new celebrity status or the popularity of his film diminish the validity of his argument?  This notion becomes particularly fierce during presidential elections.  However, if we as a democratically organized society believe what we preach, then their opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.  Democracy includes everyone, but is most effective when people are informed about the issues.  To dismiss anyone’s opinion is to denigrate democracy itself and I would challenge whether or not those espousing such opinions are interested in maintaining our democratic system.  Maybe they like the name “democracy”, but names are meaningless – it’s our actions that count.  In fact, it’s arguably a moral obligation of celebrities to utilize their fame to focus public attention in our “megaphone-based” version of democracy.  And, while it may be inefficient, it’s what we got.

I believe the Nobel Prize award to Gore is important for several reasons.  It serves as advertising for an important issue and significantly contributes to raising global awareness to create the critical mass needed for change.  Also, the fact that the Nobel committee is relating global warming with peace is significant in educating the public about the complexity of the connections involved, and hints at the integrated nature of truly sustainable solutions.  So, as someone with no megaphone, I’d like to thank the Nobel committee for using theirs to advance the cause.


Entry filed under: Consumerism, Design, Leadership, Philosophy, Sustainability.

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