U.S. Vice-President Al Gore - Keynote Address, Society of Environmental Journalists Fifth Annual Conference
ROPEIK: If that's a thank you for having this evening happen, you're welcome. Distinguished guests, members of the Society of Environmental Journalists, my friends and colleagues, and our colleagues from around the world, members of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists joining our activity here, and, of course, members and friends of the MIT community-- and I'm pleased to count some of them among my friends-- I'm honored, really thrilled.
It's an exciting moment to welcome you all on behalf of the Society of Environmental Journalists. We're here at MIT this weekend conducting our fifth annual conference. As the vice president will learn, as he's here and has a little bit already in our conversation, over the course of the past few days, we journalists had discussed how it's a difficult time to be an environmental journalist these days.
A true revolution, in fact, is really underway in this country in how our government handles environmental protection and regulation. But even as that revolution is taking place, many believe in the news industry that the news media are reducing our attention to those issues. Just as the public needs more information, we seem to be giving them less. Without information, of course, people are not empowered to act, be their action in support of that revolution or in opposition.
That's a political question, and not ours. We don't care. It's not our role to prompt them to act. It is our role as journalists, regardless of what we cover, to inform so that people will know what they need to know to act as they choose. And it is specifically the purpose of the Society of Environmental Journalists to enhance the quality, quantity, and visibility and accuracy of environmental journalism so that people know what they need to know about environmental issues and, empowered by that information, can act on those issues as they see fit.
That's what our organization is about. That's what our conference is about. That's what this evening is about. And we are thrilled that Vice President Gore has come tonight. Because by his appearance here, he helps us and empowers us to do that informing. Simply by his presence, he recognizes the importance of environmental journalism, and for that, we're grateful.
Before I introduce MIT president Charles Vest, who will introduce the vice president, let me explain briefly the outline for the evening. The vice president will offer his thoughts for a while and then take our questions. The questioning will be limited to members of the Society of Environmental Journalists, members of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists, and a preselected member of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies of MIT.
Those wishing to ask a question are asked to come to the microphones. There are four in the aisles. I'm sure you've spotted them already. Please do wait until the vice president has finished his remarks and is taking questions. There would be a tendency otherwise to rush the mics now.
Please identify yourself as you ask your question, and you are asked to remember that lots of people will want to ask lots of questions, and there's only so much time, so be brief. With that, it's a privilege to introduce MIT President Charles Vest.
And if I may, before he comes out-- or you can come out now if you like, President Vest-- I would like to take a word to note the fact that his commitment to our conference here is one measure of his recognition of the importance of environmental issues and science and research. May I say on behalf of the society and this company, President Vest, that we've had a rewarding conference here in no small measure due to the intellectual richness of our host. Thank you.
VEST: Thank you, David. And good evening. I am extremely pleased that Vice President Al Gore has come to participate in your conference and to answer some of the many questions that are on your minds regarding environmental issues. We at MIT are particularly happy to have the vice president here this evening because we feel a very strong affinity with his environmental commitment over many years of public service.
He is a man who clearly understands that many actions, including those with scientific, technological, and entrepreneurial dimensions, will be required to build a clean and sustainable future. You know, of course, about his work to bring environmental problems and opportunities to the urgent attention of the public. But he has been working on many other fronts as well.
One of these is developing the national commitment to science and technology that will be needed to create jobs and to build the economy as our industries and institutions enter the 21st century. His efforts to shape and call attention to the information infrastructure have been tireless. He has displayed a lively appreciation for the role that research universities, including this one, play in educating problem solvers and in developing a rational basis for environmental action.
I've had the pleasure of working with Vice President Gore through my service on PCAST, the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. And I can tell you firsthand that he is committed to strengthening the synergy among industry, academia, and government that is necessary to develop effective strategies to meet the critical problems of our age.
He also has a great sense of humor and an amazing breadth of intellectual interests. I'm quite confident that Vice President Gore is the only politician on the face of the Earth who can recite Tom Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by heart. Ladies and gentlemen, the vice president of the United States, the honorable Al Gore.
GORE: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And Dr. Chuck Vest, thank you for your very kind words. Thank you for your participation in the PCAST committee, advising the president on science and technology, and for your leadership in science and education generally.
I'd like to thank David Ropeik, the conference chair, for his outstanding reporting on the environment and his leadership of this conference. Also to Emilia Askari, the president of this society. My sincere congratulations to her and all who have helped her make this meeting such a success. I'd like to thank Provost Joel Moses for the hospitality, and through him and Chuck Vest, all of the people at MIT who have made us all so welcome here and so comfortable here.
I want to acknowledge State Representative Paul DeMarco and other distinguished guests who are present. There are some distinguished guests who aren't here, but because I'm talking about the environment, I want to acknowledge Senator John Kerry, my longtime ally on environmental issues. And, of course, his wife Teresa has been an ally of mine on environmental issues as well.
And we've had many successful battles together, as I have with Ted Kennedy, of course, who has been a champion of environmental protection for many years and is an extremely capable advocate. I'm really glad to be here. And MIT is one of the places I can go to make a public speech where people might think I'm exciting.
The last time I was on campus briefly was almost a year ago, and I was still on crutches. And I had a basketball injury. I'm now out of the cast, although the doctors tell me I'll have to wear the old full body cast for several more years.
It's okay. I got used to those jokes when I first ran for national office. It's no secret I ran for president in 1988, although it seemed like one at the time.
I learned a lot of new jokes. How can you tell Al Gore from a roomful of Secret Service agents? He's the stiff one.
If you use a strobe light, it looks like Al Gore is moving.
Al Gore is so boring his Secret Service code name is Al Gore. I've heard most of them by now. Every time I hear a new one, I always have the same reaction. Very funny, Tipper. It was in order to escape that demeaning ridicule and reclaim my dignity that I decided to run for vice president of the United States of America. I've enjoyed the experience.
As a matter of fact, not too long ago, I went on the David Letterman Show, and I was asked to give a list of the top 10 best things about being vice president. I won't go through the whole list, but I remember number five on the list, which has to do with the Great Seal of the Vice President. If you close your left eye and turn your head just right, it says President of the United States of America.
Well, it really is a great pleasure to speak with this group because many members of this group have shared some experiences that I have in common with you-- seeing a development that is extremely important because it has a huge impact on the air we breathe or the water we drink or the Earth that we hope will be in as good shape for our grandchildren as for us.
And yet when I have tried to communicate the importance of that particular story or event, I've sometimes encountered an audience that doesn't see the environment the same way I do or doesn't feel its importance in exactly the same way I do. I dare say that many of you have had that experience when you have gone to managing editors or city editors or the news editors in the television newsroom.
But slowly, you are getting your point across that regardless of your political point of view or ideological posture, news about the environment is extremely important to the American people. They want more of it. They want better analysis. They want more information. They want more reporting.
222 years ago, in 1773, there was a protest in this city that would become one of the defining moments of America's fight for independence. I'm talking about the Boston Tea Party when Sam Adams and other members of the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves and threw boxes and boxes of tea off a British trading ship. Now I'm not telling you about this because it's a story of careless dumping in the Boston Harbor.
That would come 200 years later. And incidentally, the cleanup that followed is one of our nation's great unfolding success stories of safeguarding public health and protecting our environment. And let me pause to take this opportunity to commend this city for the wonderful job that has been done and continues to be done.
In 1984, harmful metals were entering the harbor at a rate of 3,000 pounds per day. And in 1993, that level was down to 500 pounds per day. The number of Boston Harbor beach closings has been reduced by 70% over the past four years. What changed?
Well, people, both from the private and public sector, decided that it was time for them to work together and turn Boston Harbor from one of the dirtiest harbors in America into a healthy and clean environment that could once again be a source of recreation and a source of pride for this city and state. I could say more about this unfolding success story, but let me get back to that Boston Tea Party.
Because back then the issue was taxation without representation. Today, what we're seeing in Washington in the Republican Congress is devastation with misrepresentation. Devastation first because the budget being put forward by the Republican leadership would reverse 25 years of bipartisan progress. It would dismantle virtually everything we do to protect public health and the environment.
This Congress is the most anti-environment Congress in the entire history of the United States of America. And its agenda on the environment is an extremist agenda. It is a radical and reckless agenda. It is a harmful agenda. And it is an agenda that is completely out of tune with the desires and wishes and opinions of the American people.
Misrepresentation along with devastation because time and time again, the American people have spoken out and said plainly, we Americans support the protection of the environment. We Americans, Democrats, Republicans, and independents, liberals, moderates, and conservatives-- we Americans support protecting the environment. But when that message is delivered, it falls on deaf ears and on closed doors in this Congress.
The word environment was never mentioned in the so-called contract with America. It wasn't mentioned because when that document was put together, they consulted pollsters extensively. And the pollsters told them, no. There is nothing that your backers and your coalition want with respect to the environment that has any chance of support with the American people. And so they left it out of their contract with America.
But as soon as they seized control of the Congress, they launched an all out attack on America's ability to protect the environment for two reasons. First, because many of their most powerful backers want to dump a lot more pollution into the environment and don't want to comply with the laws which protect the environment.
And second, they have talked themselves into an extremist ideological position which has convinced them that we don't need to protect the environment because somehow, it can protect itself, healing itself from any insult, producing incentives for the marketplace to clean it up without any particular attention to harm that is being done on a daily basis.
The American people don't believe those things. The American people support environmental protection overwhelmingly. Even Newt Gingrich's own pollster, Mr. Frank Luntz, reported that 62% of the American public-- Republicans as well as Democrats-- choose protecting the environment over cutting regulations.
Now as I will say in a few moments, we can cut unnecessary regulations and improve protection of the environment. But given the choice, almost 2/3 of the American people in both political parties say, if that's the choice, we choose protecting the environment. I know that yesterday with Administrator Browner you discussed the Time's mirror poll.
That showed almost 70% of Americans strongly believe that environmental protection and economic progress can go hand in hand. That's three times as many as those who believe we have to make what is really a false choice between the two. And the American people are right. It's a fact that hasn't escaped all in the Republican Party.
Some, like Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, Wayne Gilchrest, and other Republican moderates, took this message to heart. I commend Congressman Boehlert for the stand that he took on the anti-environmental measures included in the budget reconciliation bill and his courageous vote. And the president and I publicly commended Congressman Gilchrest in his own district for the stands that he has taken in favor of protecting the environment.
And I was proud to stand next to Senator Mark Hatfield and some other members of the Northwest Congressional Delegation, including Senator Patty Murray and Senator Max Baucus, this past Monday as we announced an historic bipartisan agreement to allow the Bonneville Power Administration to maintain its ability to protect salmon runs while simultaneously remaining competitive in the region.
All this proves that economic concerns can be addressed without compromising public health and the environment. We said no to the people who would override environmental protections. And in this case, by doing so, we said yes to the environment and the economy of the Pacific Northwest.
So we are anxious to work in a bipartisan way where it is possible. And as I mentioned, protection of the environment has historically been a bipartisan activity. But unfortunately, that is now the exception. Many members of Congress recognize that their constituents support environmental protection.
But instead of doing something about it, the Republican leadership is looking for ways around it. What better example than the Republican conference message document passed around by the extremist leadership that now controls that party? I hope that all of you get a copy of this document. It came out just within the last two weeks when their pollsters began flashing red lights and sounding alarm bells and telling them that they were about to fall off the edge of an electoral cliff on environmental issues.
The memo, though, falls under the category-- if I didn't see it with my own eyes, I would have never believed it. It literally acknowledges that the environment is an important issue and then makes not a single recommendation for a substantive response to this issue of such concern to the American people.
Instead, it urges Republican members of Congress, quote, "in order to build their credibility," quote, "engage this agenda before your opponents can label your efforts craven election year gimmicks." It then proceeds to list a menu full of craven election year gimmicks.
Not about sound policy. They suggest plant a tree. Clean a park. Start a task force. Release a statement. And my personal favorite, establish a Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award.
It's true that Teddy Roosevelt cared deeply about the environment. He once said, "The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value." Teddy Roosevelt left an important legacy for Republicans and Democrats.
And yet on the anniversary of his birthday-- yesterday actually, October 27-- he must have been turning over in his grave as members of his political party, very different in tone and character from what it was when he led it, were reading this list of craven gimmicks to try to posture themselves as not being against environmental protection while at the same time pursuing this extremist agenda.
The Senate followed the example of their counterparts in the House and passed another part of their extremist budget, which, when all totaled, will eliminate our ability, in Roosevelt's words, "to behave well and to treat natural resources as assets." This document and the approach it represents is breeding ground for cynicism.
It describes in some detail how elected officials can hoodwink their constituents, to pretend that they're in sync with public concerns for safe and clean water, fresh air, and sustainable lands. And once again, this document shows why this is without any doubt whatsoever the most anti-environment Congress in history.
Because they can plant a tree, adopt a highway, or even give out a Teddy Roosevelt award. But they cannot escape the wisdom articulated in the famous words of another Republican president, Abe Lincoln, when he said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." They may think they can, but they cannot.
They will not fool President Clinton. They will not fool environmental journalists. And they will not fool the American people. They will not fool their own moderates, including the few among them who have demonstrated the courage to stand up to this extremist agenda.
The fact remains, regardless of their attempts at deceit, the Republican leadership in the name of a balanced budget supports sweeping cuts in everything that affects the environment and their cuts written by special interests in the backrooms of Congress without debate.
Some investigative journalists among your ranks have ferreted out the incredible story of how the lobbyists for the biggest polluters in America were invited to walk right into the halls of Congress, given their own room just off the floor of the Congress. They literally held the chairs for them, so to speak, gave them the pen, and invited them to rewrite the environmental laws.
And these lobbyists and lawyers are paid large sums of money by companies that want to reduce their costs associated with cleaning up pollution. Why would they be given the power to change our laws governing the very pollution that their employers are dumping? Aren't the laws supposed to be written by elected officials and those directly accountable to them and through them to the American people?
Isn't it a disgrace in this land of the free and home of the brave to have polluters given the authority to change the laws that affect them? Have we become so numb to the basic standards of decency and ethics and public service that prevailed in Teddy Roosevelt's time, in Abraham Lincoln's time, in Samuel Adams' time, that this is a one day story?
Who were these lobbyists? What are each of the changes they made? How much money is involved? How much pollution is involved? It is a disgrace. It is the auctioning off of self-government. It's the selling of democracy to the highest bidder, covered by public relations and gimmicks that they hope will be rolled out soon enough so that you won't see them as gimmicks.
The Clean Water Act was rewritten in this manner. The Superfund proposal now being debated was rewritten in this manner. And the legal briefs by companies that dump the pollution show up in the actual legislative proposals word for word. Whole sections completely unchanged.
I think that these extremists really have convinced themselves that there is a way for them to pretend that it's ethical. I think they have convinced themselves that those with more money and power know more about the economy and have superior knowledge about the subject matter that's being dealt with.
Because after all, in their view, any assertion of the public interest is suspect-- probably designed, in their view, just to add to the power and size of the hated government. And so since there is no credible counter force within the confines of this extremist philosophy, they're justified in turning to the people who know the subject matter the best, the polluters.
They would eliminate all state loan funds that help local drinking water facilities treat contaminants. Thousands of tons of industrial toxics would be allowed to pour into our rivers, lakes, and streams. We would not be able to enforce environmental laws that keep raw sewage off beaches and out of our waterways. Our air would be dirtier, too.
Special interests worked with Congress to block health protections that would control toxic air pollutants emitted by oil refineries and hazardous waste incinerators, both of which emit chemicals that can cause cancer, respiratory illness, and reproductive damage. They would cut funds for enforcement of environmental laws by 50% while simultaneously requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to jump through a lot of new hoops held up by the same lawyers and lobbyists who take them to court at the drop of a dime under the new provisions they would put into the law.
So while they have 50% less resources to enforce the law, they have a doubled workload to answer interrogatories and satisfy special tests devised by the polluters themselves. The clean up of toxic waste dumps would be slowed and, in many cases, stopped altogether. They want to cut cleanup funds by one third, even though one out of every four Americans now lives within four miles of a Superfund site.
They would take away our community's right to know. Now there's an interesting one. Why do they want to take away the community's right to know-- the ability of environmental journalists to get information about how much pollution is being dumped from particular facilities in the community where you live?
There's a list, as you know, of toxic pollutants that now have to be reported under the Right to Know Act. Well, they want to kill that because they have learned from painful experience that when people know about the pollution that's being dumped into their air and water, they become active in demanding that it stop.
If they can be kept ignorant, deprived of the information, then that pesky activism may come to a stop. They know from experience that communities of people who live around polluters can be pushed around and kept under their thumb if they are deprived of any information about the pollution that's affecting them.
The Congress plans also to virtually eliminate funds that now help businesses develop cleaner, cost effective technology to help clean up pollution. This is, by the way, a booming industry, creating high wage jobs and allowing our businesses in America to dominate one of the fastest growing sectors of the world economy.
And, of course, if all this isn't enough, they've also attached 17 writers to the EPA's appropriations bill. These writers give special deals to the special interests at the expense of the American people. They would mean more air pollution and more toxic waste in our water.
They would mean less safety and a dirtier environment. Because they, too, were written by the lobbyists. There, too, the exact language in many of these writers has been traced back to the identical wording from law firms hired by the polluters.
The vote on these writers incidentally has been put off. The tide is beginning to turn a little bit as these efforts are being unmasked. Republican leaders know that they don't have the votes they need to keep these special interests writers in the appropriations bill. They need more time to pressure their own moderates to protect these loopholes. They know that they are far outside the mainstream on these issues, and so they're putting off the day of reckoning.
I want to formally urge Speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Dole to go forward with a vote on these issues-- first of all, in the House of Representatives. It's time for them to vote. They owe it to the American people. I dare them to vote on it. I want to see the names next to the green and red lights in the chamber.
I don't think they can keep these writers in their bill. I only wish that their unprecedented assault had ended with EPA's budget, however. In a measure that has already passed through the Congress, the extremists got their way on sham mining reform, mining reform that does very little to correct the problems of the 1872 mining act and could actually make it worse.
Recently, Secretary Babbitt was forced to sign over more than $1 billion worth of minerals for $275. We might have used that $1 billion to help avoid Medicare withering on the vine, to help avoid some of the other extremist items on their agenda. But they wanted to give it to a special interest.
They've also adopted a plan to drastically increase logging in the Tongass and to do it without regard for environmental laws. And, of course, there is the drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a unique ecosystem that is home to hundreds of plant and animal species. President Clinton has stated many times that we should prohibit oil drilling in this biologically rich wilderness and work instead to protect its coastal plain while ensuring that Native Americans can use these lands for traditional hunting and fishing.
Yesterday, Senator Baucus' amendment to take ANWR out was defeated on a close vote, 51 to 48. The closeness is itself another sign that many Republicans are just beginning to realize that people don't approve of what they're doing. Incidentally, the most optimistic estimates of how much oil would be found in ANWR is significantly less than what they have just eliminated in the form of energy conservation and efficiency measures.
Well, this agenda shows us that the leadership has not gotten the message. And on this particular item, President Clinton's message is clear. Any reconciliation bill that opens ANWR to drilling he will veto, period. Doesn't matter what else is in the bill. If they satisfied us on 100% of every single-- of every other item in that bill and they opened ANWR more to drilling, he will veto it. It's just that clear.
I know you're visiting Walden Pond tomorrow. And when I think of the devastating consequences to both public health and the environment that this extremist agenda will bring, I'm reminded of something that Thoreau once wrote. "Thank God they cannot cut down the clouds." Which brings me to the global issues like ozone depletion and climate change.
Some people just aren't getting the point. Two weeks ago, a distinguished scientist and personal friend who is in the audience here this evening, Mario Molina, won a Nobel Prize along with Sherwood Rowland and a Dutch colleague, Paul Crutzen, for their historic work on ozone depletion.
Soon after the award, an international panel of scientists found on the issue of climate change what many are calling a smoking gun, proof that human activity has already been responsible for increasing global temperatures. There's long been no doubt that it will increase temperatures and little doubt that it has probably already done so.
But the remaining uncertainty that it has already done so has been seized upon by some skeptics as an argument that we really don't know enough to act. But now they have said we do know enough to act. That didn't stop Tom DeLay, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, from saying that the phase out of ozone depleting CFCs was the result of, quote, "a media scare." I guess he's talking about you.
And they've not only cut the programs to fight global climate change. They've cut the research, too. It's a two step process. Stop the remedy and claim that we don't know enough to act, and then say we don't want to know anymore. Keep us ignorant.
It echoes back to the community right to know debate. It's the scientific equivalent of book burning. What we don't know can hurt us, and they're making a huge mistake because protecting the world we live in should not be a political issue. We want a balanced budget. There's a right way and a wrong way, though. And as the debate over the balanced budget continues, my message is very simple.
We should keep our eyes on the prize and not forget why we're working to balance the budget in the first place. We want to do it in order to improve the quality of life for all Americans and to prepare for the future. If we destroy the environment in the process or destroy our ability to protect it in the future, then that's counterproductive. That's why President Clinton from the very first day of his presidency has shown a deep commitment to environmental protection and the promotion of public health.
And that's true of efforts to cut toxic emissions and keep our water clean, to pursue sustainable development and invest in environmental technologies, to lead the world in Cairo at the United Nations Population conference to establish a new consensus on how to stabilize world population. It's true of executive order after executive order.
But at the same time, the president realizes that we not only need to protect our resources. We need to make environmental protection work better and cost less. And we've improved the protection of everything from water and air to meat standards and home ownership. We've made common sense reforms to ensure that the vast majority of homeowners never again have to worry about wetlands or endangered species laws-- improving the protection while eliminating the unnecessary hassle.
In March, we released a report entitled "Reinventing Environmental Regulation" with 25 new initiatives designed to improve the current system of environmental protection and to chart the course for a new generation of environmental policy-- reducing paperwork, for example. And, of course, there's Project XL, under which companies that can achieve better environmental results under their own management system will be allowed to do just that. Give us a way to monitor the progress and a commitment to make it, and we'll throw away the rule book.
Also, I want to applaud EPA New England and Regional Administrator John DeVillars for the work in pushing through common sense reform. And these are just a few examples of how we can improve the protection of the environment while at the same time holding fast to our commitment to make it better.
Now in closing, earlier I mentioned Teddy Roosevelt. He once said that "the first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight." In other words, as President Clinton has said, personal responsibility and citizenship go hand in hand. That can't be just the province of citizens. It must also be the province of governments.
We will respond to this challenge. You have our pledge that this administration will stand and fight for the legislation that has meant so much for our country and at the same time, strive to make it work better and cost less. From you, we just ask that you keep doing what you have always done. Continue to work hard to improving the quality, accuracy, and visibility of environmental reporting.
Continue to let people know what will come from this unprecedented assault that the extremists are waging on our environment. Continue to report on those who misrepresent their views to their constituents. Together with the American people, we can make a difference, regardless of party or ideology, not only in creating a balanced budget that reflects our common values, but in safeguarding public health and creating a clean and sustainable environment.
When Sam Adams tossed that box of tea into the Boston Harbor, he wasn't violating the Clean Water Act. Back then, there wasn't one nor did we really need one. But today, our challenges are different. Our goal, however, remains the same-- making sure that we all do our part in making certain that America's best interest is served. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Thank you. Thanks. Thank you. Want me to start the questions?
VEST: [INAUDIBLE] No, no, I can do it.
GORE: Do you want to alternate?
VEST: Yes, and if you don't mind starting with the [INAUDIBLE].
GORE: Thank you.
VEST: Would you like me to stay seated?
GORE: That's fine.
VEST: Want some water?
GORE: Yeah, that'd be good. Thank you very much. We'll start over here on this side, and then I'll alternate.
AUDIENCE: Okay, sir. Sorry, my name is Frank McDonald. I'm the environment correspondent of The Irish Times in Dublin in Ireland. And you won't remember this, Mr. Vice President, but we met at Rio at the Earth Summit, and I introduced you to our then prime minister, Albert Reynolds--
AUDIENCE: --whom you've met quite a lot since then.
GORE: Yes, indeed
AUDIENCE: What I want to concentrate on tonight is the global issue of climate change and what the US stance is on it. And what I wanted to ask you was, in view of the fact-- the inescapable fact-- that this country contains only 4% of the world's population and yet contributes about 25% of CO2 emissions, what concrete steps is the US administration taking in the context of the global or the Framework Convention for Climate Change?
And in particular, what chances do you see of a stronger protocol that commits the US and other industrialized countries to real reductions being approved by this US Congress in view of the shocking catalog of chicanery that you've revealed tonight?
GORE: Could you repeat that last phase?
I liked the way you said that.
Thank you very much.
VEST: You're welcome. I'll stand here.
GORE: Okay. Thank you. The administration has put forward a climate action plan that has been attacked by this Congress. And it is apparent that if their cuts went into effect, the climate action plan would be devastated.
When that plan was put forward, we said at the time that as circumstances changed, we would modify it to set more ambitious goals. We still intend to do that. This Congress obviously is not going to pass it. But Congresses to come will.
And let me draw an analogy between the world's response to global climate change and the world's response to the work of Mario Molina and Sherry Roland and others on stratospheric ozone depletion. The Montreal Protocol is often cited as a landmark world agreement to phase out the chemicals responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion.
But it was not an event. It was a process and still is a process. And in the early years of that process, it was impossible to pass legislation in the United States or in any other country to phase out these chemicals in very common use.
But as the scientific consensus grew firmer and firmer and as the scientific community found ways to communicate with the society at large about the extremely dangerous consequences of stratospheric ozone depletion, it became possible to take more aggressive action.
That same process is now underway with regard to global climate change. It will be harder. Because where chlorofluorocarbons and the other chemicals that deplete the stratospheric ozone were important parts of the economy, they were not interwoven with the sinews of industrial society as carbon dioxide is.
Nevertheless, the evidence is now so compelling and will become even more compelling that soon we will pass a threshold beyond which what seems impossible now will seem imperative. I realize we're not there yet. But change often comes according to this pattern-- not slowly and gradually, but threshold to threshold, new reality to new reality.
In 1988, the extremely hot temperatures and the hypodermic needles on the beaches and the dead seals in the North Sea beaches and other phenomena created a new plateau of awareness. And Mount Pinatubo and a variety of other factors caused a few years of diminished concern. 1995 may well turn out to be the hottest year in recorded history when the calculations are finalized at the end of the year. The first 9 and 1/2 months make it almost certain that that will be the case.
And in Germany, the connection in the public mind between the historic flooding of the Rhine and the strange weather phenomena with global climate change has already produced a new political reality in Germany. In Australia, we're seeing a similar phenomenon. And the day is not far off when we shall see it in the United States as well. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Yes. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I am Mr. [INAUDIBLE] translator. So I'll make this question on his behalf. So Mr. Vice President, what do you think of the continuation of the French nuclear tests in Moruroa?
GORE: I thought I gave you the hard news already.
We have committed ourselves in the Clinton-Gore administration and in our country to a comprehensive test ban. No more tests. Many other countries have done the same thing.
I understand the outrage that has been expressed over the continuation of French testing. But to those who feel so angry about it, I would point to the statements about an end soon after the current series.
And in the long view, if next year or the year after we can establish a worldwide comprehensive test ban, then this latest series will be seen as part of the last test before that occurred. And I will try to avoid an international incident with that formulation.
VEST: One of the things we wanted to do is make sure the MIT community was represented in the questioning. And knowing that they're not as experienced as journalists in muscling to the front, I'm going to take the chairman's prerogative and call Mary-- right behind you, sir-- to the microphone to let her ask her question. Excuse me.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. My name is Marybeth Long. I'm a graduate student here at MIT. And Mr. Vice President, given that the use of technology is tightly linked to both environmental protection and degradation, what are your views on the recent closing of the Office of Technology Assessment? And what is the administration doing to ensure an alternate non-partisan source of technology policy analysis for Congress?
GORE: Well, I referred earlier in two different contexts to the seeming imperative of the Republican majority in Congress eliminating the community right to know, for example, eliminating much research on issues like climate change. This is another example.
The Office of Technology Assessment was set up-- Ted Kennedy was one of the original authors of it. It was always bipartisan, and the board is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. And visitors from foreign countries on every continent regularly come to our Congress to see this model of excellence in assessing new technologies. It's known around the world as the best of its kind.
Why do they want to just eliminate it? It's peculiar. The only way I can explain it is that they fear the knowledge which comes from it. A quasi survival of the fittest philosophy is threatened by intelligence and new information. And so they just wanted to eliminate it.
Now you say, will we propose something for them to replace it? Well, we have the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House, ably led by Jack Gibbons who was the director of OTA and the Congress before that. And he's doing an outstanding job. We're certainly in favor of keeping OTA. But if the majority there is bound to eliminate it, then there's not much we can do to save them from themselves.
VEST: We have time for two more questions.
GORE: All right.
VEST: Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Vice President, my name is David Swofford. I'm an associate member of the society and a freelance business writer in Miami. And my question is this. Today, this afternoon, we heard from three CEOs of very important American companies here.
And according to them, American business realizes the good that comes from environmental protection and is, in effect, positioning itself to continue working on the problems for the good of the country. If that is so, then would it seem that the Republican Congress is out of touch with their traditional constituents? Or, in your opinion, are these CEOs in effect misleading us journalists here?
GORE: I would doubt that the latter is true. I don't know the individuals you're referring to. But I do know that there are lots and lots of CEOs who understand this very clearly and who understand as well that there are profits to be made by doing the right thing. And many of them have been helpful to us in trying to stop this extremist agenda.
But a great many others-- probably not the ones who came to speak with you-- but a great many others who would like to be moderate and understand why they should be reasonable felt as if they were put in a peculiar position by the Republican takeover of Congress.
Because many in their industries that wanted to cut corners were being given the green light to do so. And if they were not part of that general movement in their industry, then they felt like they were at some risk.
I have this mental image of 60 days into the Newt Gingrich Congress. I have this mental image of lobbyists gathered at a local watering hole after work near the capitol. And a lobbyist for a company that's not at the trough getting it while the getting is good is ridiculed and derided.
What's wrong with you? This is the historic chance to exploit and ravage-- pillage. And at such a time, it takes a rare CEO indeed to stand up and say, no. This is the time to stand on principle. Some of them have. More of them are about to. I mean, I hear from more of them now who want to take a different approach.
One quick example of this. At the end of 1994, in August and September, we had completed a reform of the Superfund law that every environmental group supported and almost every industry group supported. Senator Dole filibustered it and prevented it from passing.
After the election in January, we went back to some of the very same companies that had signed on to the bill in '94 and told them, we're ready to go. Will you still support us? And they said, no, I'm sorry, because we would incur the wrath of the Republican leadership if we supported an administration initiative like this.
Now that they're putting out this list of gimmicks and backpedaling and trying to bob and weave to escape the political fallout from their extremism, some of these companies are coming back and saying, okay, now we're ready to play ball and try to get a good bill. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Yes, Mr. President.
GORE: I'm president of the Senate.
AUDIENCE: Yes, I--
I close my left eye, and then I see it.
AUDIENCE: So now with both eyes, Mr. Vice President, my name is Muhammad [INAUDIBLE]. I'm a freelance journalist and chairman of Bangladesh Environment Council, as well as secretary-general of Bureau of Human Rights Bangladesh. Well, I'd like to [INAUDIBLE] your attention as well as whole audience-- well, we know that environment is good. Environment is God [INAUDIBLE] things. But we people, we the human beings, make pollution out of it.
So you often heard [INAUDIBLE] and our Bangladesh is almost every year is flood. Of course you know. But you know as US people, as well as the US government having the highest regards to a united declaration of human rights and UN charter, and you know that everyone has the right to equal share of the natural things.
But we the Bangladeshi people are [INAUDIBLE] people in the northern part of our country. During the dry season, we are not given water, and our northern part getting desert. And during the rainy season, we are getting over water. So flood occurs every time. And [INAUDIBLE] people getting homeless.
And for one month, two months, they are just living on the street, having no food and no shelter. And just this is created by our neighboring country, you know India. So I would like to know what this community-- as it is your government and you-- can play the role out of it so that this problem can be solved? Because we have the equal right to the natural things.
GORE: In Rio at the Earth Summit, nations around the world committed themselves in principle to the idea of sustainable development. That is a commitment to provide more opportunities for people around the world in ways that don't diminish the quality of future opportunities.
Putting that principle into practice requires cooperation between the developed countries and the developing countries-- north and south, east and west. We are attempting to do our part. But the world as a whole has not yet grasped the urgency of moving forward aggressively to deal with this challenge.
In Cairo, we made progress toward dealing with one aspect of the challenge. That is stabilizing world population. It'll take a lot of time. We need to develop a new generation of technologies that will allow increased productivity without the harsh effect on the environment. Most importantly, we need to change our way of thinking about this challenge.
The interconnection between your country and the rest of the world is far from unique. You talked about--
AUDIENCE: Farakka Barrage.
GORE: Excuse me?
AUDIENCE: Farakka Barrage. It's the Farakka Barrage. I talked about the Farakka, yeah.
GORE: I'm sorry. I didn't hear.
VEST: I understand the word, but I'm ignorant on the culture.
AUDIENCE: I talked about the Farakka Barrage with India, yeah. Farakka Barrage, you heard about it.
AUDIENCE: The Barrage.
AUDIENCE: The Barrage Farakka.
AUDIENCE: The dam.
GORE: Oh, oh, I'm sorry. Oh, I'm sorry. All right, fine. Well, I'm not going to get into an issue between you and India. But I think that many of the large dams proposed around the world, of course, were planned in an era before environmental analysis had matured. The Three Gorges Dam, for example-- we just withdrew our support for that in China, even though it's a very high priority for China.
Your floodplain, of course, is a place where millions have recurrent nightmares. But let me draw that connection to local communities that are within the coverage areas of many of the American journalists who are here. I wonder how many of the American journalists here have covered in the last decade a 100 year flood and then the following year covered another 100 year flood. Has anybody had that experience? Quite a few hands are going up.
One of the latest findings that will be reported in the IPCC report in February shows that one consequence of global climate change is increased drought and increased flooding. Because the percentage of total precipitation which comes in extreme events measured as-- what, Mario-- over 1 inch per 24 hour period? Something like that.
The percentage of precipitation that comes in extreme events has been going up steadily, as the models predict. So you get more drought and more flooding. Of course, the denuding of the foothills of the Himalayas and the watershed of the great rivers which drain through Bangladesh has also brought silt down the mountainsides and raise the bed of your rivers so that the carrying capacity has greatly diminished. So the tendency to come over the banks and flood the areas where people live is much greater now.
When you look at the combined impact of deforestation, soil erosion, climate change, and population growth, the combined effect is much worse than the effects of either of these-- of any of these separately. And then when you talk about solving the problem, it's a long term project. And it has to be a worldwide effort.
I wrote a whole book about exactly what I think ought to be done, and I'm not going to try to go into all of the details here. But I really believe that it's something that must dominate the decades to come in the world debate about this. Let me just take one more. Just one more.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, Mr. President.
AUDIENCE: My name is Julie Adelson. I work for the trade journal Inside EPA and also freelance for The New York Times. I wanted to ask you sort of a twofold question-- first about the supercar initiative, which has been criticized for not really moving fast enough or going anywhere-- this idea of developing this really fuel efficient car.
And also if you believe in light of these aggressive efforts by Republicans if there's any chance that the CAFE standards are going to increase, especially for trucks which are being purchased by a larger amount of population, and if not, what the implications of that are going to be.
GORE: Well on the second question, you know the Congress just voted to prevent any CAFE increase. But on the first question, the partnership for a new generation of vehicles is designed not to just get a tenth of a gallon increase or 2/10 of a gallon but a three times increase in fuel efficiency. A car, in other words, at today's prices and today's standards of performance and comfort and marketability and price that gets three times the mileage of current cars.
We consciously set a goal to be reached in 10 years' time-- we've got eight years to go-- a goal beyond what can be reached with current technology in order to push out of the current technologies and identify new ones. You say that we're behind schedule. I don't know where that comes from. We're actually-- I would argue that we're ahead of schedule.
We have a different group of technologists and scientists and engineers coming into the White House every month dealing-- my wife and I just had a reception at our home for the battery scientists and capacitor scientists. And they're making great progress.
But we're really very excited about this initiative, and I think it's going to work. Let me close, ladies and gentlemen, by thanking you very much for your hospitality and the invitation to speak here. Thank you very much.