Al Gore speech at Omega Institute

From reader Melanie:

Al Gore spoke at the Omega Institute conference in Manhattan last night, and the speech wasn’t recorded, nor was the press allowed to be present. I think it’s okay for you to post my comments about it

The theme of the conference was “fearlessness,” so Al spoke quite a bit about fear. He said that politicians and corporations are ignoring the long-term effects of their actions more now than ever, and he believes the root of this is fear that became more intense as a result of the threat of nuclear war. Then, it was, of course, intensified after 9/11. There was a poll taken recently of CEO’s and CFO’s where they were asked if they would invest in something that was sure to bring high returns, but not in 90 days, and it might mean they wouldn’t meet their quarterly projections in the next quarter. Virtually all of them said they wouldn’t invest, and Al said this is “functionally insane.”

He evoked the Chinese character that stands for both “crisis” and “opportunity,” saying that the danger part of crisis induces fear which can lead to denial to deception to despair and finally, paralysis. The opportunity part can inspire hope and lead to people working together toward grace. He said it’s a struggle to perceive clearly and fully in the present, and fear is an obstruction in our ability to see how to walk through the danger and seize the opportunity. He said that today’s politicians often can’t distinguish between illusory fears and legitimate fears.

Then, he spoke about brain studies which show that the portion of the brain where fear resides actually does communicate with the reasoning portion of the brain. The problem is they believe this communication is asymmetrical. While the fear portion (the survival-based portion of the brain) communicates endlessly with the reasoning portion, the reasoning portion only communicates slightly with the fear portion. So, he said it’s very difficult for us to respond to fear with reason â┚¬â€œ especially when we’re afraid of something perceived rather than actual, like a snake or a gun pointed at us right in the moment. He said he also believes that when we view something on a television or computer screen, the information is generally not mediated by the reasoning centers of the brain. Therefore, it becomes impossible for the majority of people to distinguish between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

He started talking about Mars and Venus, and made a joke on John Gray saying that he believes both men and women are from earth. However, he said that Mars is very cold, while Venus, which is about the same size as earth, is about 855 degrees Fahrenheit, and it rains sulfuric acid there. Earth’s carbon is primarily in the ground, while Venus’ carbon is in the atmosphere. As we release more carbon into the earth’s atmosphere, it’s essentially giving the planet a fever. Politicians argue that it’s “only 5 degrees,” but he said if your child has a fever of 103.6, you don’t say to the doctor, “A science fiction writer convinced me that it’s okay for my child to have a fever 5 degrees above normal.” He said if your baby’s crib is on fire, these politicians would try to convince you that the baby is flame retardant. Most all of the scientific community has agreed that there’s a 98% chance that global warming is taking place, while China decided there was only a 90% chance. He likened this to not doing anything just because the doctor says you have a 90% chance of a heart attack, as opposed to a 98% chance. What’s the diff?

A study in Toronto showed that our neurons respond in the exact same way when we are personally poked with a needle as when someone near us is poked with a needle. The scientist conducting the study calls these neurons “Dalai Lama cells” because they show that we’re hard-wired for empathy and compassion. He said this also shows that our fears are intensified because we have such an intense response when someone else goes through something, as much as when we ourselves go through something. We’re actually neurologically connected to one another.

He spoke about trauma and how it continues from one generation to another through the stories that are told by the elders to the younger generation. In the summer of 2001, he went to Greece when the Pope was there for the first time in a very long time. There were angry demonstrations over Constantinople â┚¬â€œ a trauma that occurred 800 years ago. He said, “Every long conflict in the world has a very long memory component that is based on fear. How do we transform those fears into a sufficient amount of wisdom to transcend the fear?”

He quoted Gandhi and Teilhard de Chardin. He also quoted Kurt Vonnegut, who said in one of his books, “Like most Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense out of items she found in gift shops.” Al said he resembled that remark. Then, he quoted M. Scott Peck’s definition of evil: “Evil is the absence of truth.” Gore said that Bush had been quoted as saying he wanted to rid the world of evil. Al said, “That’s a big job because there’s a LOT of it out there, and it doesn’t all wear a turban!”

He spoke about some German philosophers who spent some time contemplating how the Holocaust had taken place. One of them said that he believed it all started when all fact became about power.

Then, he talked about his son’s accident when his hand slipped from Al’s on a busy street, and the child was hit by a car at age 6. His son spent a month in the hospital, and they didn’t know if he would make it (he did.) Al said he had worked on the global warming issue already, but after that, his passion was intensified, coming out of the pain. Suddenly, he realized viscerally that we could lose this beautiful planet. He said that if he could go back in time, he would go back to that moment when his son’s hand slipped from his, and he’d hold on tighter so that they could go on talking and playing and laughing. He ended by saying that the earth is just beginning to slip from our grasp: “I want you to hold it so that we can go on talking and playing and laughing.”

Omega’s founder asked some questions that had been emailed from various participants. I thought Al was very good on his feet. He said that we should have hope because things DO change. When in Europe, you’ll notice those walls around cities because they used to attack one another. But now, it’s absurd to think that Florence would attack Siena, and this is because of a change in consciousness. We also don’t expect that Germany would invade France tomorrow, even though it happened during the lifetimes of many people still around today. He ended his last question with a quote from a Wallace Stevens poem: “After the last “no” comes a “yes,” and on that “yes,” the future of the world depends.”