Al Gore: Earth is in 'Full-Scale Planetary Emergency'
Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President, highlighted use of space to help problem-solve Earth environmental challenges at Wirefly X Prize Cup Executive Summit 2006.
Credit: Judy McShannon/NMSU


LAS CRUCES, New Mexico-Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has called for better use of the "space resource" to battle Earth's climate crisis, enlisting entrepreneurial muscle to help solve global issues that threaten the planet's habitability.

Gore said he has long been a fan of faster, cheaper, better approaches that allow the private sector to exploit the space resource "in a responsible and creative, and cost-efficient way."

As an example, Gore spotlighted the competitive and dynamic forces unleashed by the entrepreneurial growth of the Internet.

"We ought to learn that lesson and apply it to space," Gore said. "Because of the environmental climate crisis, we need to speed up the introduction of private companies into the creative exploitation of the space resource."

Gore spoke as part of a Wirefly X Prize Cup Executive Summit 2006 [image], held here Oct. 19, attended by a range of executives, visionaries and space and high-tech leaders.

Serious mistake

Labeling himself as a "recovering politician", the former U.S. Vice President under the Clinton Administration rebuked the recently released space policy by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Gore called the newly issued Bush space policy "a move in the wrong direction" and "a very serious mistake," and urged Summit listeners to analyze the policy "very carefully."

"It has the potential, down the road, to create the kind of fuzzy thinking and chaos in our efforts to exploit the space resource as the fuzzy thinking and chaos that the Iraq policy has created for us in Iraq," Gore explained.

"We need to avoid putting in place a set of policies that end up creating chaos and new obstacles for the creative exploitation of the space resource," he added.

Gore said that the new space policy, in his view, ignores international law and consensus.

"If one nation takes it upon itself to assert its own unilateral definition of what world law should be -- without respect to what the rest of the world thinks about it-that's usually a mistake," Gore told Summit attendees. "Policy matters. Law matters. International law matters."

Humankind's actions

Earth's climate pattern is now being put at risk by humankind's actions, Gore said. "We face what I think should be described as a full-scale planetary emergency."

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While aware such a phrase sounds shrill to many ears, Gore added that "unfortunately, I believe it is exactly dead-on accurate."

Gore cited increases in carbon dioxide, the thickening of the atmospheric blanket enveloping Earth, rising sea levels and the increased acidification of the world's oceans that could completely disrupt the marine food chain.

"We have a climate crisis," Gore said. Humans first became aware of this fact while in space, he said, pointing to the 1968 flight of Apollo 8, when astronaut snapped a photograph showing a distant Earth, in all its beauty and fragility, rising beyond the Moon's barren horizon. The image, one of the most famous in history, caused a dramatic change in the consciousness of humankind, Gore said.

It was also the scientific study of near-Earth planetary neighbors-including Mars and Venus-that spurred the start of the earth sciences, Gore said. "It's still shocking to me that we have more detailed information in some fields about Mars and Venus than we have about Earth."

"Getting a perspective that can give us the ability to really understand and then effectively deal with the climate crisis is from the perspective of space," he said. "And government is not doing it, unfortunately. The private sector can."

Earth: like a business in liquidation

Gore said he expects there to be a "complete reexamination and re-imagining of what space policy should be" after the 2008 election.

Earlier this year, NASA removed the mention of Earth from its mission statement to better match up with the current administration's goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

"[Earth] used to be right up there as one of our most important priorities," Gore said. "I think that if there were a change in administrations and party control...maybe even a new Republican President would reexamine that point and others connected to it."

Gore referenced the view of Herman Daly, an expert on ecological economics, who once said that the planet is being operated like a business in liquidation.

Centuries-old technologies, like the internal combustion engine, are "ridiculously inefficient", Gore pointed out. Global energy use, architecture and design, and transportation systems need rethinking.

Use of giant sunshades in space to help counteract global climate change-among several space projects dubbed as "geoengineering"-are not favored by Gore.

"In a word, I think it is nuts," Gore told SPACE.com. "If we don't know enough to stop putting 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, how in god's name can we know enough to precisely counteract that."

Evacuation route

Pressed on the colonization of space, Gore said that in some future century-maybe sooner-that could be a practical possibility. But he questions the ability of the human race to evacuate the planet, even with ample notice.

"We didn't do a really good job of evacuating the city of New Orleans [due to the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina]," he said.

There's only one Earth, Gore said. "We don't have a spare...we don't have an operating manual."

Our planet has a rising fever, Gore said. "If the crib catches fire you don't say: 'Hmmm, how fast is that crib going to burn? Has it ever burned before? Is my baby flame retardant?'"

The former U.S. Vice President said his personal cause is to change the public's mind about "this planet crisis" to make it a top priority. The term "crisis" in Chinese is represented by two symbols together, he advised.

"The first means danger...the second means opportunity," Gore said.