Nobel Peace Prize: IPCC – Yes, Gore – No

October 19, 2007

Congratulations to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for their receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. Having worked closely with some of the lead scientists from this group at the May 2007 Hong Kong-based International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC 2007), I can attest to both the quality and diligence of the organization’s efforts to develop a rigorous and balanced scientific consensus on this issue. From an IR perspective, the organization represents a fantastic example of the positive influence of non-state actors in global politics. (The IPCC’s only problem is its completely forgettable name. I challenge you to find someone who can recall the acronym accurately.)

That said, I am much less impressed with Al Gore as a choice for the Nobel.

While I don’t doubt the enormous and largely successful personal effort that he has devoted to sensitizing the general public on the seriousness of the climate challenge, I have a serious problems with his “good vs bad guys” politics on this issue.

Who are the bad guys? Gore lays the blame for US inaction at the feet of the Bush/Cheney administration, a cabal of multinational corporations with vested interests in fossil fuels, and the lack of objective media outlets in the US (see “The Politicization of Global Warming” chapter in his 2006 An Inconvenient Truth book). While these parties certainly share a large part of the blame, simply getting rid of these “bad guys” is not going to help us solve the problem of global warming.

Gore’s good (ex., Democratic environmentalists) vs. bad (ex., gas guzzling Republicans) guys analysis misrepresents the political problems associated with developing effective policies to mitigate green house gases. If electing the good guys was all it took, why did the Senate vote 95-0 in favor of a resolution opposed to Kyoto ratification under the Clinton administration or why did Gore dumb down his own environmental credentials in his 2000 bid for the US presidency? (For a provocative discussion of the failure of the US environmental movement vis-a-vis global warming, read M. Shellenberger and T. Nordhaus, “The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post Environmental World”) Addressing this challenge requires the US to move beyond Gore’s polarizing us vs. them political analysis in order to forge workable alliances across the spectrum of US political communities, a task that Gore hasn’t shown himself capable of undertaking.

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