Former Vice President Al Gore ’69 spoke to a massive crowd in Harvard Yard yesterday about both the dire risks facing the planet and the responsibility of universities, particularly Harvard, to assume moral leadership on the issue.
“This is a unique moment in which we have to do something unprecedented in favor of the survival of our human civilization,” Gore said. “If we are to accept that goal, we must find ways to make better use of the knowledge produced in universities...and supply their best and most recent conclusions as a basis for decision making.”
University President Drew G. Faust set the stage for Gore’s talk, with a call to action of her own. She highlighted Harvard’s leadership on climate change research over the past decades and appealed to the audience to raise the bar for Harvard’s commitment to pursuing solutions.
“Our focus today is on the responsibility of universities to build on our research and teachings—to embrace our obligations as a community of learning that lives the values implicit in its pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of the world,” Faust said.
Faust’s speech was a bold statement of Harvard’s priorities in addressing climate change, said William C. Clark, a member of the task force whose recommendations precipitated the University’s Greenhouse Gas emissions reduction scheme and the creation of the Harvard Office for Sustainability.
Clark credited Faust’s “visionary” leadership on the issue with driving Harvard’s implementation of aggressive new policies.
“[Faust] was being pushed by budget implications, that we might not make it, that we might fail,” but still adopted the task force’s recommendations, Clark said. “This commitment puts us out on a limb and Heaven knows the world will be watching.”
Gore spoke about the University’s importance in generating not only scientific, but also moral and political leadership.
He celebrated education as the origin of reason and knowledge, as well as the foundation of any potential solution to climate change. He criticized political agendas as “waylaying” progress.
“Too many of our decisions in this country are now made on the basis of information supplied not from universities, not from processes governed by the rule of reason, but instead by self-interested institutions, corporations, and groups that want to make questions of fact questions of power,” Gore said.
Gore’s speech, which roused the crowd to loud applause on several occasions, tied themes of political and economic uncertainty to the environmental crisis and to “our absurd overdependence on carbon based fuels.”
“All [current] crises—debt, war, climate–have the same thread running through them,” Gore said. ”When you pull that thread, all those threats begin to unravel.”
He posited renewable energy as the definitive answer, citing a national proposal he had been working on with various Harvard faculty and staff over the past day and a half to shift America to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years.
Daniel P. Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, affirmed Gore’s statement that universities—especially Harvard—will play a critical role in addressing climate change.
“The most important thing is for Harvard researchers to figure out how to solve this problem,” Schrag said.
Harvard students also need to learn about the problem and go out and solve it, he added.
“As Harvard faculty, we have the responsibility to teach them. That’s the biggest impact Harvard can have.”
In her introduction, Faust outlined the various steps that Harvard is taking to tackle this problem on both the institutional and individual levels of University life—from the formation of the Harvard Office of Sustainability to the 8,000 Harvard affiliates who signed a personal pledge last year to reduce their environmental impact.
Students, faculty, and staff said they found Gore’s speech “energizing.”
“His presence is a rallying point, and we will keep the momentum alive,” Punit N. Shah ’12.
Gore’s final appeal to the audience members was that they make their voices heard.
“With American leadership, we can galvanize the global commitment to solve the climate crisis,” Gore said. “We have everything we need with the possible exception of political will. But political will is a renewable resource.”
—Staff writer Cora K. Currier can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Natasha S. Whitney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.