Gore & UN Panel Win Nobel for Work on Climate Change

October 16, 2007

A student reading deals with the Nobel Prize award, including a few of the basic facts and a view of what can and should be done.

This is about as teachable a moment as we'll ever get to study global warming and climate change with students. The student reading below deals with the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for their work on global warming. The reading includes a few of the basic facts and a view of what can and should be done.

Each of the following materials on this website offers further information and activities for students.

"Energy and the Environment: What Can We Do?" includes an array of action opportunities for students.

"Paying for Climate Change" offers an overview of a British government study and an IPCC February 2007 report on climate change.

"Youth Action on Climate Change" includes additional action opportunities and also lists useful websites. A relatively new one is the Alliance for Climate Protection, an organization founded last year by Al Gore: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/
"Problems at the Pump" provides basic information about oil, gas and the U.S.

"The Unpleasant News About Global Warming" includes a number of quotes from scientists about global warming, information on is being done about it and a suggested approach to launching a student project.

Student Reading

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize award to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations network of scientists, has focused global attention on climate change and global warming.

Why would efforts on global warming warrant a "peace prize"? The Norwegian Nobel Committee explained that Gore and the UN panel had focused "on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world's future climate, and thereby reduce the future threat to the security of mankind." Threats to that security could include violent competitions for resources as well as devastating coastal flooding and crop failures that might displace millions of people.

The final words of the Nobel Committee: "Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man's control."

Former vice president Gore has been speaking out and writing on global warming for many years. But his Academy Award winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," brought the subject and its importance to the attention of millions of people in a popular form.

The other Nobel winner, the IPCC, was founded in 1988 to address global warming. Prominent scientific specialists from around the world participate in the IPCC's working groups and task force. The panel has issued three detailed reports so far, which have concluded that:

  • Global climate change is occurring.
  • Human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution, but particularly during the past 50 years, are the main force behind the buildup of greenhouse gases causing climate change.
  • If we do not significantly cut our planet's greenhouse gas emissions, further warming will occur and produce additional changes in the global climate system.
  • Human beings have the knowledge and the technologies to reduce greenhouse gas
    emissions at a relatively low cost.

The IPCC is expected to issue another report before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Indonesia on December 3. At that conference, representatives from some 180 nations will begin negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The Kyoto agreement, reached in 1997, is an international treaty requiring signing nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

In May 2007, when the IPCC issued its third report, William Moomaw, a lead author of a chapter on energy options and a professor of international environmental policy at Tufts University, said:

"Here in the early years of the 21st century, we're looking for an energy revolution that's as comprehensive as the one that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century when we went from gaslight and horse-drawn carriages to light bulbs and automobiles. In 1905, only 3 percent of homes had electricity. Right now, 3 percent is about the same range as the amount of renewable energy we have today. None of us can predict the future any more than we could in 1905, but that suggests to me it may not be impossible to make that kind of revolution again." ( New York Times, 5/4/07)

That "energy revolution," as the IPCC noted in its third report, "could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels" and include: "hybrid cars, combined heat and power plants, better lighting, improved crop-plowing techniques, better forestry, higher efficiency aircraft, and tidal energy among others..." (Bill McKibben, "Can Anyone Stop It?" New York Review, 10/11/07)

Michael Oppenheimer, an atmospheric scientist at Princeton who has worked on the IPCC's climate assessments, commented that "The award reminds us that expert advice can influence people and policy, that sometimes governments do listen to reason and that the idea that reason can guide human action is very much alive, if not yet fully realized....Public attention is now engaged at the highest level it will probably ever be."

When he received the Nobel Prize, Al Gore said, "I will accept this award on behalf of all the people that have been working so long and so hard to try to get the message out about this planetary emergency. I'm going back to work right now." (New York Times, 10/13/07)

For discussion

1. What questions do you have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. What do you know about global warming and climate change?

3. Why do scientists think it is essential to act on global warming and climate change?

4. What would you like to learn more about? How can we find the information we need?

5. Why is it so difficult to get the nations of the world to take strong measures to curb global warming? If you don't know, how might you find out?

6. Consider the U.S., which is responsible for 25 percent of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Why did President Bush oppose joining the Kyoto Protocol? What are his ideas for reducing greenhouse gases? What do his critics say about them?


This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org