The issue of climate change was thrust back into the limelight this week when former US Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore visited Iceland to give a lecture on the topic.
I attended Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” lecture, which he presented to a 900-strong audience in the packed University of Iceland cinema on Tuesday morning. Though he has no doubt given the lecture, or some variation of it, on countless occasions, his conviction seems as strong as ever.
Earlier this week, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson hosted a dinner and series of lectures for Gore by leading Icelandic scientists at his residence Bessastadir (just outside Reykjavík) where Grímsson and Gore also held a press conference, attended by a small group of Icelandic media representatives, including myself. Grímsson and Gore were quick to praise each other’s leadership during the ten-minute conference.
Al Gore attended a joint-press conference with Icelandic Prime Minister Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson at his residence outside Reykjavík on April 7.
“The fact that you have joined the league of few individuals and become one of the most influential modern world leaders bears witness to your leading ability,” Grímsson told Gore during the press conference. “It bears witness to your braveness, intelligence and statesmanship. Your story is a good example of how much one person can achieve,” Grímsson said, describing climate change as the most important issue that humans have ever faced.
Gore replied by expressing his admiration for Iceland’s leadership in renewable energy and climate change issues and pointed out that Iceland was attracting a new kind of tourism, “alternative energy tourism,” referring to those visiting the country to inspect its renewable energy production facilities.
Grímsson invited Gore to his residence for a press conference and an official dinner which was also attended by leading Icelandic scientists.
The Nobel Prize winner, however, also acknowledged that not everyone in Iceland is thrilled about the increased focus on environmental issues in their country. Although Gore did not elaborate, I suspect he may be referring to the building of aluminum smelters. He also jokingly commented that Grímsson was probably the only president in the world who would hold so many (six) scientific lectures on the environment during an official dinner.
Grímsson described Gore as a man who always sought the truth, though despite his scientifically-backed arguments, Gore certainly has his critics. Some argue that he has exaggerated some of the scientific facts that he often refers to in his presentations.
Grímsson and Gore have cooperated on several projects during their friendship of 25 years. All three photos were taken by Zoë Robert.
Icelandic journalist Audunn Arnórsson wrote an opinion piece on news website visir.is, in reference to Al Gore’s efforts, that alarmism should be avoided and that a balanced approach to climate issues should rather be applied.
Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Secretary of the Treasury) and fierce climate-change-theory critic Nigel Lawson is also skeptical of Gore’s message.
In an interview with state-run television station RÚV, following Gore’s lecture in Iceland, Lawson said that he does not believe that the issue of climate change is being “sufficiently, rationally discussed and argued about” and that environmentalism had become “almost a new religion.”
“Al Gore is preaching a gospel which is false—worse—damaging,” Lawson told RÚV, adding that a High Court judge in the UK found “eleven major errors” in Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Although the finer details of global warming can be debated, one thing is for certain, that Iceland’s hydro-electric and geothermal energy production has made it among the most successful nations at harnessing renewable resources.
According to icenews.is, Iceland has joined Norway, New Zealand and Costa Rica in the race to become the first country in the world to be carbon neutral. All four countries have vowed to aim for carbon neutrality within the next few decades.
While Iceland has a reputation for leading the way in renewable energy, Environment Minister Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir recently said that Icelanders have the highest number of cars per capita – many of which are jeeps and utility vehicles which require heavy-fuel consumption. As far as Gore is concerned, all countries should continue to thrive for an improvement in their environmental record.
Regardless of his critics, and the alleged inaccuracies in his presentation, Gore brings a powerful message about our place in the world and our indisputable responsibility to protect our planet. A message which should be acted upon, whether we genuinely care about the future of our environment, or not and whether we agree 100 percent with Gore’s data, or not. His message has no doubt, inspired many.
But, as Gore warns, changing our ways is “always going to be inconvenient.”