Former US Vice-President Al Gore spoke at Oxford in 2016 and again last month, our MBA student Minahil Amin shares her perspective on the change in tone.
When Al Gore spoke in the opening plenary of the 2016 Skoll World Forum, he posed three simple questions about climate change: (1) do we have to change? (2) can we change? (3) will we change? He spent 30 minutes - two-thirds of his speaking time - on the first question, impressing upon the audience the realness of climate change and the graveness of its consequences. Just seven years ago, even among the most forward thinking leaders in social change, Al Gore felt the need to persuade the crowd that, yes, we do have to change, and change urgently.
The tone at this year’s forum was quite different. In a world that has seen a pandemic that has revealed our deep interdependence, increasingly definitive and damning IPCC reports, and the rise of youth climate activists like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate, the need for urgent and immense climate action is no longer a question. In his remarks this year, which took place two days before the start of World Earth Week, Al Gore spent only a few minutes speaking to climate change before moving on to other topics. He spoke of the immense potential of the Inflation Reduction Act in the US, which may unlock up to $1 trillion dollars for climate, and expressed his hope that we are at the beginning of a race to the top. He also, however, warned of the enduring strength of the fossil fuel industry, saying that we face a continuing struggle. The fact that Al Gore, who is synonymous with An Inconvenient Truth and climate change for many, spent so little time speaking to climate at the forum, and spent the time he did have primarily highlighting the progress we’ve made, is perhaps a good sign. The world gets it - climate change is real, and we know we have to change.