03/05/2013 08:42 am ET Updated May 05, 2013

The Way Forward

In 2005, I saw Al Gore present his climate change slide show for the first time. It was then that I had the inspiration to make the movie, and by the next year we released An Inconvenient Truth, the full-length documentary based on his presentation. The following year, the film was honored with an Oscar, Grammy and the Nobel Prize. Six years after that and America still hasn't passed meaningful climate legislation and the international community has not agreed to a global framework for addressing this crisis.

Some would see this unfolding sequence of events and see failure, disappointment. To be sure, there is cause for dejection in the refusal of governments to step up to the defining challenge of the age.

But this downbeat view reflects too limited a field of vision. Al Gore knows better. And when I have the chance to publicly thank him and fellow environmental leader Lyn Lear who created the Environmental Media Association at an event this evening hosted by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES), I will be saluting two people who have helped change the world, even if the progress they have instigated isn't always clear cut.

Look around. The world's posture on climate change is fundamentally different than it was back in 2004 when Al began globe-trotting with his slide show. States like California have passed meaningful legislation like AB-32 our greenhouse gas reduction law. Innovative academic centers have sprung up like UCLA's IoES, where scientists are performing groundbreaking environmental research and training the next generation of environmental scientists and leaders. The market is changing with more and more companies investing in the next generation of clean energy solutions. Individuals are adjusting their behaviors on everything from carpooling to recycling to solar panel installation. And most importantly, President Obama himself in his State of the Union pledged that even if Congress remains stalled he will leverage his executive authority to push through what changes he can.

While it doesn't have the headline-grabbing power of a big global treaty or act of Congress, the fact is that we are living in the midst of massive, decentralized, grassroots-up problem solving on climate.

That doesn't mean we don't need the treaty or the national legislation. We do. Desperately. But the message of An Inconvenient Truth and the even deeper truth that Al has preached his whole life is that change doesn't always move in a straight-line. Sometimes it needs to zig and zag, twist and turn, get creative.

Speeches, editorials and scientific reports weren't changing public opinion. So a former Vice President makes a highly personal full-length documentary based on a Power Point presentation and touches tens of millions of citizens. The federal government is gridlocked. So the state of California with voter affirmation presses ahead with AB-32. The policy arena isn't delivering action. So academia springs forward with innovations at institutions like UCLA IoES. Collective action is stalled. So individual action proliferates. Congress is stuck in place. So a President acts.

Steve Jobs told us to Think Different. Al Gore and the recent history of the environmental movement are teaching us to Act Different. Progress on this issue isn't like a train moving down fixed tracks. It is like a moving river - when it hits an obstacle it doesn't stop, but flows around it and finds another way to move inexorably forward.

Tonight, guests will gather to salute Al and Lyn and raise over $1 million for UCLA IoES research, education and outreach efforts. They will be celebrating these individuals' leadership and commitment toward a world where we are finally rid of our carbon fuel addiction. We should use the moment to also celebrate the larger message they offer us all: the way forward isn't always straight and clear, but that doesn't absolve us from the responsibility to always strive to push ahead.