'Engage with politics to change your future' - The Honorable Al Gore

01 November 2013

The Honorable Al Gore last night called upon younger generations to engage with politics to create a future worthy of them, as he delivered his distinguished public lecture for the Oxford Martin School. Speaking to a crowd of 800 at the University of Oxford’s Examinations Schools, Mr Gore outlined the challenges presented in his latest book, ‘The Future’, ranging from climate change and wealth inequality to biotechnology and the loss of jobs to automation.

Another disturbing change to have emerged, he said, was the “hacking” of US democracy, whereby the welfare of voters was no longer politicians’ primary concern. “The system no longer functions very often to support the public interest,” he said. “I grieve that loss and yearn for its rehabilitation and return. It can change; the internet means people can engage even more in democracy. But it requires a decision by individuals to get engaged. We can’t watch from a distance and bemoan what’s going on.”

Calling for "disruptive transformation" to bring about change, he recalled the response to President John F Kennedy's 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon. "The average age of those engineers that achieved that was just 26 years old, which means that when they heard John F Kennedy's pledge they were just 18. They changed their life plans and they decided to change the future. Today's students have similar aspirations for a future that's worthy of you. And those of us in my generation have an obligation to open the door to that future. We have everything we need with the exception of political will. But remember that political will is a renewable resource."

Before his lecture, Mr Gore spoke to the School’s communications officer, Sally Stewart, and praised the work of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations to break gridlock on major global challenges. “I want to compliment the Oxford Martin School and the Commission for their excellent report, Now for the Long Term,” he said, adding that he looked forward to planned follow-up work, particularly on the recommendation to create innovative institutions, immune from the effects of daily politics, to focus on long-term challenges.

Asked whether politics would ever be free from the influence of wealthy corporations, he was optimistic that a change was on the way. “In the US we have had previous periods when corporate interests and wealthy special interests have seized control of government decision making, and those were frequently followed by periods of reform. The Progressive Era followed the Robber Barons, for example. I’m optimistic that the emergence of internet-based communication is already empowering grass-roots innovation and giving individuals access once again to the conversation of democracy. Both of these build my confidence that we will once again see the ascendancy of the public interest.”

On climate change, the issue on which he has campaigned most vociferously over the past decade, he said the window for implementing effective change was becoming ever smaller. “Time is growing short for a significant change and the decarbonisation of the global economy. The UN is hosting a special session on climate in the fall of 2014, aimed at accelerating progress in advance of the Paris meeting of the International Panel on Climate Change in 2015, which will be exceptionally important. The International Energy Agency has reminded us that if we are to have even a 50/50 chance of avoiding a two degrees celsius temperature increase, we can only burn one third of the carbon assets in the ground. And yet the plan worldwide is to burn it all.”

Such was the popularity of Mr Gore’s lecture that the overflow room in which it was screened via video link was also over-subscribed. The video recording will be available to watch soon on our website, and tweets sent during the lecture can be found with the hashtag #longtermnow