Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." Here's the press release.
Over the past week, all the U.S. media could talk about was how winning might affect Gore"s chances in the U.S. presidential race. To me this demonstrates just how badly our media is misjudging the race, Gore's significance, and our current historical moment.
There's no reason to think that winning the prize would have any positive effect on Gore's chances if he did run. Does the American public care about the Nobel, a prize awarded by a bunch of ... foreigners? Wouldn't winning a "peace" prize brand Gore as weak on national security? Doesn't it show that he thinks he's better than us? Who would want to get a beer with a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Wait, did he just sigh?
If he entered the race, Gore would run headlong into the same dim-bulb, theatrics-obsessed political press that did him so much harm in the 2000 race. He'd also run into Hillary Clinton's political machine. He would own the climate change issue, so other candidates would have to start attacking him on it and distancing themselves from it. He'd be forced to spend his time discussing one piece of frenzied ephemera after another, instead of focusing on his animating passion. He'd end up in a bruising, demeaning battle, and winning some peace prize wouldn't shield him. The process of electing a president, like so many things in the U.S. today, has become small and petty. It shrinks, cheapens, simplifies, and plasticizes those who take part in it, and Gore has already learned.
No, it would be a disaster for Gore to enter the race at this point -- not because he might lose, but because he has transcended U.S. partisan politics. He has become a figure of global stature, one of a tiny fraternity of private individuals in the world capable of driving historical change from outside the confines of any institution. What many Americans don't realize is that the rest of the world is not obsessed with the serial, lurid distractions that compose our political dialogue. Our national conversation is dominated by the resentful bile of core of nationalist, reactionary, authoritarian ding-dongs, but it's not like that when Gore goes overseas. In other countries, they don't care about his electrical bills or his waist size or his clothing choices or his lack of that most important qualification for leader of the free world, the ability to act like a regular guy.
Gore can't act like a regular guy. He's smart, and he talks like a smart person. He's earnest and committed. He cares. He wants to help save the world. Inside the glorified high school of U.S. politics, those qualities make him a square, an easy subject of mockery. But outside the U.S. they are assets. Gore can help bring governments together; he can get powerful financiers, corporate titans, rock stars, and energy scholars in the same room. He can help shape policy and public opinion across globe, not just in the U.S.
We are at an inflection point in history. These are times of immense consequence. The world will either unite around the problem of climate change and start pulling as one in the direction of survival and sustainable development, or grim years lay ahead for all of us. We must learn, as a species, how to share our collective resources more equitably and how to become happier without using more stuff and creating more waste. We must decouple our health and fulfillment from our ecological impact.
That's the project Gore's involved in now. He is called to higher things than running for president.