That's not an exact quote from Al Gore's address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting this evening, but that's the take-home message I'm distilling from his remarks.
This will be a short post, as I'm meeting friends for dinner in half an hour, but I'll either come back and update it later or do another one. I'm going to make one brief remark about politics and history, and then it's on to Gore's address. That remark is this: If he had been able to display the level of conviction and engagement during the 2000 presidential campaign that he displayed in front of this audience tonight, the last eight years would have looked considerably different. Quel dommage!
The gist of Gore's remarks is that we are facing a historic moment: not just for our nation, not just for a coalition of allies, but rather for the whole human race. We have three interconnected and interrelated crises going on at the moment: one is economic, one involves national security, and one involves the environment. That's the bad news. The good news is, we have three interconnected and interrelated crises going on at the moment: economic, national security, and environment.
(Again, those weren't Gore's exact words, that's my spin on them.) We have, to quote The American President, serious problems and we need serious people to solve them. But the magnitude of the crises facing us, and the literally global consequences of the decisions we make in response to those crises, are rapidly moving toward a critical mass such that we can find the political and social will to do the very hard things that need to be done very quickly if there is, literally, to be a tomorrow.
And that's where the "Go and make disciples" quote popped into my head, as Gore started his concluding remarks. The facts are known, by and large, and the science behind them is, again by and large, irreproachable and conclusive. What we need now is for scientists, and people who work with scientists, to blend their working lives and their social lives more effectively and completely. There can't be an "office mentality" and a "home" or "cocktail party mentality" that are virtually wholly separate and distinct from one another. Gore quoted an African proverb that says if you want to go quickly, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together. And the problem, as Gore himself pointed out, is that we have to go very far very quickly. So all of us who work in or around science have got to do our part to get the word out and to help combat the propaganda (my word) coming from those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo.
An interesting tidbit from Gore's remarks, made as he was showing a slide of one of the Apollo 11 astronauts standing on the surface of the moon facing an American flag. Cheers went up, he said, in Mission Control in Houston when that image was beamed back from the moon's surface. But the average age of the engineers in that control room in Houston in 1969 was 26. That means that when President Kennedy issued his call to put a man in that very position within a decade, the average age of those engineers was 18. That's a hell of a lot of talent developed and deployed in not a long period of time. Surely we can do it again, even given that the world is a far more complex place, and the state of knowledge is both greater and far more complex and interconnected than it was in 1961.
I think we can. And I'm going to do what I can to help that happen.