Monday, December 31, 2007

This Blog's Person-of-the-Year Is Al Gore

This was an unstructured year. No remarkable success stands out, there has been no conclusion to a great enterprise, and the choice of a Person-of-the-Year is not therefore an obvious one. The War on Terror went on, with some improvement in Iraq, perhaps some deterioration in Afghanistan, and Pakistan veered toward the abyss. The Burmese people rose against their military oppressors, but they were crushed. The American election of 2008, upon which so much focuses, begins three days into the New Year, but no one candidate has established any kind of commanding presence yet, and the ultimate choice remains a mystery. President Bush muddled on through the year, avoiding defeat in the Middle East, but not winning confidence as an able leader. The subprime crisis caused consternation, but the economy has not so far slipped into a recession.

Given these circumstances, I thought long and hard about a choice for Person-of-the-Year, and I'm not really satisfied with the choice I've made. But it is Al Gore, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his emergence as the world's leading exponent for taking action to stem global warming, who gets the nod.

It can easily be argued that Gore has not been successful yet. The United Nations' global warming conference in Bali was mostly a bust. Global warming has not emerged as an important issue in the developing U.S. election campaign.

But millions of people have become more aware of the issue in the last year, there is more talk about global warming, people are watching the weather pages of newspapers more, and the television networks are paying more attention to the weather. The man identified most with the issue is clearly Gore.

He commands admiration for other things. Many persons who had won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote and failed to become President (in part because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision) would have become embittered and retired into private life. But Gore did not. He went on to new things. He made a lot of money lecturing. He made a well-regarded movie on the issue that preoccupied him. He remained a vital force in national and international life, and, in fact, his advocacy has been stronger since the 2000 election than before it. His may not be the most exciting personality, but he is gaining more of our attention.

Mainly, it is the coming to the fore of the global warming problem that has allowed Gore to begin to strike a chord. As Time magazine reported last week, a three-foot rise of the world's oceans would displace 100 million people, and a rise of 20 feet would displace 400 million.

And perhaps this is an understatement of what could happen. The melting of the glaciers alone could easily cause a world crisis, but there would be other effects, drought, changes in crop yields, perhaps more violent storms. Within the next century, unless something is done, this could become an utter catastrophe for mankind.

Perhaps technological innovation may deal with it. Perhaps nuclear power and other forms of generating power will reduce it. Perhaps, people will even seriously adopt conservation, as the L.A. Times and other editorial pages want them to. But, at this point, the overall outlook is not a bright one.

Gore is identified with the issue. When the Bali conference began to crumble, he flew there, blamed the stalling bluntly on the United States, and, to a small extent, the U.S. had to give ground.

Since it is the great controversies that ultimately move electoral politics, it is not even foreclosed that the former vice president could become president (although not in 2008). Even if he thinks now this is unlikely, he could be swept to political power by an inexorable tide. Stranger things have happened.

The important thing for now is that this is important, and Gore and the majority of scientists are probably right about it. I'm not saying they understand everything they need to learn about the climate, and about the consequences of global warming. But they understand enough for most of the rest of us to be sure they are on the right track.

So, 2007 was an unstructured year. But with his efforts, Al Gore was trying mightily to give it some structure. He was looking forward when so many leaders were preoccupied with petty political concerns. His good will, his humanitarian spirit, could not be denied, at a time when religious fanatics continued to dominate the news. For these reasons, and I'm feeling better about the choice as I write, Gore is my Person-of-the-Year.

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For sheer great reporting, it is hard to beat Somini Sengupta's article that led the New York Times today, on the choice of the slain Benazir Bhutto's party of Bhutto's 19-year-old Bilawal, as its new leader. When attempts to question the young Oxford student were cut off as soon as they started, Sengupta somehow managed to collar him for an interview anyway. Her story shows how lucky the NYT is to have Sengupta covering the subcontinent during one of the most turbulent periods in its history.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea what you mean in claiming that 2007 was an "unstructured year." Perhaps you haven't noticed, but Life beyond your artificial media world is fluid and unscripted.

1/01/2008 10:37 AM  

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