Whether you think global warming is a hoax or an impending catastrophe, the fact is you do think about it. You have an opinion; you've debated it with friends and family. Maybe you've stopped driving a gas guzzler, dialed back the thermostat or adjusted your lifestyle in countless other ways to save energy. And chances are, that is happening largely because of Al Gore. Whether you peg him as a visionary or a scaremonger, he has introduced the potential dangers of global warming to mainstream America, via his writing, speeches and an Academy Award-winning movie. On Friday, Gore's mantel gained another award: the Nobel Peace Prize.
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He and the U.N.'s climate change panel won the 2007 award for spreading awareness of man-made climate change. In its citation, the committee said that Gore "is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted" to fight global warming.
We agree. The committee chose wisely. Gore deserves this honor. Not because he's right in every detail of the science he has espoused. He still has critics. And we won't know if every prediction is right for decades, maybe centuries.
But that doesn't detract from his supreme accomplishment: moving people to think and act when the danger is hard to discern day to day.
Getting people's attention for something as abstract as global warming is hard. Because the potential catastrophe in question moves at a glacially (begging your pardon) slow pace, it's highly technical. And scientific opinion has been sharply divided.
Gore's voice has risen above the chattering din to send a vital message about the health of the planet. It is warming, and part of the reason is the burning of fossil fuels by people. How bad things will get and how fast are open questions.
The Nobel isn't awarded for most stirring comebacks from agonizing defeats. But if it were, Gore would be a shoo-in by that standard too. After his devastating loss in the 2000 presidential election, Gore could have hunkered down to become a terminally cranky loser or a perennial also-ran candidate.
He didn't do that. Instead, he rose up, dusted himself off and recommitted himself to a profoundly important cause he had long espoused. Here's what he said after conceding in 2000: "As for the battle that ends tonight, I do believe, as my father once said, that no matter how hard the loss, defeat might serve as well as victory to shape the soul and let the glory out."
Gore has now proved his father's words.
The former vice president joins an admirable line of maverick environmental thinkers who have set a shoulder against public ignorance and complacency, and moved opinion by marshaling facts in a way too compelling to ignore.
In the 1960s, it was the naturalist Rachel Carson, whose landmark book "Silent Spring" is credited with launching the global environmental movement and halting the indiscriminate use of pesticides in the U.S. Then there was another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Norman Borlaug, who punctured predictions that population growth would outstrip the food supply and create a humanitarian disaster. In short, he showed us one path to combating hunger.
Let the debate continue on global warming. Debate refines notions, tests them, makes them stand against the rigors of time. A generation or an eon from now, the world may conclude that Gore's predictions of rising sea levels and other sordid results of warming were wrong.
But tomorrow's judgments can't possibly diminish the achievement for which Gore has earned his Nobel. He moved a mountain.