Gore at Duke: Making climate change a “moral issue.”

Al Gore spoke here at Duke last week to a packed house. As usual he peppered his talk with plenty of facts and figures designed to show that the science was “irrefutable.” But his punch line was that climate change is a moral issue.

Why “moral”? Because no matter how much you believe his scientific claims, even if you think the worst will happen, it is not any one person’s interest to act, narrowly speaking. It is an (inconvenient?) truth that we will have to bear the costs of fighting change now, while others far in the future will enjoy most of the benefits of our sacrifices. What’s more, even if all of us decide we really do care about the welfare of future generations, it’s still logical for each of us to “free ride” on the sacrifices of others, whether my personal actions will make so little difference.

Gore is often criticized for being overly dramatic. But it is only by dramatizing the issue that he can enlist his listeners in the great cause, and make acting a moral imperative.