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Gore's Climate Change Poem Muddles The Debate

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The Huffington Post's William Petrocelli recently recounted meeting Al Gore at a signing for Gore's new book on climate change, Our Choice. The two men discussed why Gore had written and included a poem in the book. Apparently, when Gore's editor said no to a chapter of doom and gloom predictions, the dogged former VP decided, instead, to distill the potentially disastrous repercussions of global warming into verse.

Gore reportedly first joked to his editor that William Butler Yeats had written the resulting poem, and the choice is fitting. Yeats' best known work might be the apocalyptic lyric "The Second Coming," which ends with the Antichrist slouching "towards Bethlehem to be born." And Gore, too, tries to conjure an apocalypse. As you can see in the poem below, the four horsemen are literally readying their stirrups.

One thin September soon
A floating continent disappears
In midnight sun

Vapors rise as
Fever settles on an acid sea
Neptune's bones dissolve

Snow glides from the mountain
Ice fathers floods for a season
A hard rain comes quickly

Then dirt is parched
Kindling is placed in the forest
For the lightning's celebration

Unknown creatures
Take their leave, unmourned
Horsemen ready their stirrups

Passion seeks heroes and friends
The bell of the city
On the hill is rung

The shepherd cries
The hour of choosing has arrived
Here are your tools

Gore's poem has been picked up by a number of media outlets. The UK's Telegraph ran it as part of its coverage of the Copenhagen summit. It caught Rush Limbaugh's eye (he called the poem "stupid"). And Vanity Fair's Mark Hertsgaard dubbed Gore "the Poet Laureate of Climate Change," lauding the poem as "equal parts beautiful, evocative, and disturbing."

The poem does have some good moments. I like the understated flourishes "thin September soon" and "Ice fathers floods." But while Hertsgaard sees Gore's images as "visually specific and emotionally arresting even as they are scientifically accurate," I don't. There's nothing specific about "unknown creatures," and continents (if we're being accurate) don't float.

I'm picking on Gore, who humbly said "I'm not a poet, but I did my best," but the poem's dramatically-set apocalyptic imaginings (Neptune dissolving in an acid sea!) will surely turn off those predisposed not to believe the polarizing figurehead. Worse, it's hard not to see hubris in the last stanza, wherein Gore apparently means himself to be the "shepherd" and believes his new book to contain the necessary "tools" to avert catastrophe. It's a bit cringe-worthy. Is it any wonder that skeptics would be looking for Gore's foil?

So it should be no surprise to see who came floating on the wash of ill-informed and irresponsible journalism spilling from the so called "climate gate" emails. Sarah Palin--apparently now bringing her charm and frightening ignorance to bear for America's anti-science movement--is claiming that unprecedented spikes in CO2 levels are just "natural, cyclical environmental trends." Now that's cringe-worthy.

If you step away from the cable news arguments and read a credible opinion on climate change, it's clear that--this "climate gate" nonsense aside--scientists overwhelmingly agree that global warming is real and that it could have a catastrophic impact on the planet. Gore just needs to stick to facts (and he has so often been effective doing just that). Poetic flourishes aren't going to help skeptics see reason in an already murky debate.

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