An inconvenienced man

BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

The fictional Al Gore did this thing: He “invented” the Internet. He did not, of course, but it has to be cited that Gore, was a geek, even before the word “geek” became part of our everyday jargon. During his years at Capitol Hill, he was part of the so-called “Atari Democrats,” who exhibited genuine passion toward technology. And at the same time made pioneering initiatives to push for a science and technology agenda.

The passion has endured. Al Gore now sits on the Apple board. I don’t think Steve Jobs and company would have offered  him that board seat had Gore turned  lukewarm on  technology issues. Gore is also a venture capitalist, investing on green and pioneering technologies.

The other fiction in the life of Al Gore:  his love story with Tipper Aitcheson was the basis of the tearjerker and top grossing movie “Love Story.” Not quite, said Erich Segal, but the domineering father of Oliver Barrett 1V, the main character of the movie, may have been Al Gore Sr.

The recent Manila visitor often finds himself in situations where both truthful things about his personal life and professional/political career are often trumped by fiction. And fiction often weaves its way into his political narratives—with negative results.

Who can forget this story from the late Molly Ivins, the irreverent Texas-based journalist whose books and journalistic accounts of the Bushes’ had nurtured and sustained the liberal’s bashing of the Bush dynasty.

In the 2000 presidential campaign between Gore and George W. Bush, Bush was portrayed as the God-fearing, Bible-quoting presidential candidate so loved by the religious right and Christian fundamentalists, Ivins wrote. And Gore was portrayed as something to the opposite of Bush.

This was fiction and propaganda at its crudest, wrote Ivins. Bush was a hell-raising, spoiled brat who did nothing much up to age 40. Gore, the truth was, spent a year at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School after leaving Harvard and serving a tour of duty in Vietnam.

How can a guy who spent serious time studying the spiritual issues of his youth get tagged as the wayward, anti-spiritual one?  The support from the Christian right mattered in that critical presidential election as it mobilized armies of faithful to vote for Bush and do fund-raising work.

Gore too was mocked by the Bush and his campaign zealots as the “Ozone Man” for his credible and legitimate work for climate change. How can somebody doing serious and trailblazing work to fight the most urgent and pressing problem of the generation get disparaged by this noble and pioneering work?

The recurring question about Al Gore is this: How can a man so earnest and seemingly sincere in his pursuits get hammered—at least politically—for these? This is one of life’s many ironies and Al Gore has been a main sufferer.

Some answer the question in these terms. Science and politics don’t mix, especially when one is talking about climate science.

While Gore won a Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work on global warming, critics continue to hound him and the criticisms do not just come from climate change skeptics. Recently, Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist who, like Gore, has been  a high-profile  crusader against global warming, intensely disagreed with Gore on the nature, direction and thrust of the climate change bill that Democrats want to pass in Congress.

Hansen is hard-core on the technologies to be employed  to combat climate change. Gore, essentially a moderate on the ways and means to combat climate change, is supportive of a cap-and-trade provision in the proposed legislation. Hansen, whose congressional testimony in 1988 against climate change before a committee chaired by Gore himself strengthened Gore’s environment work, publicly chastised Gore and the carbon trade supporters.

The public dispute, certainly, has not helped the climate change proponents. The public dispute came at the worst time for climate scientists. Doubts had been aired on the pioneering climate change report from an international panel of scientists commissioned to study climate change. There was talk of e-mail theft by climate scientists. And some leading Republicans in the US Congress have been emboldened to raise from the archives the debunked issue that climate change is a hoax.

Of course, running under the banner of environmental crusades has worked negatively even for Philippine political leaders with higher political ambition.

Former Senator Heherson Alvarez and Orlando Mercado carried the environmental banner in the 8th Congress. Both were young and sincere. Both were persecuted by the Marcos regime for their political activism. Both harbored higher political ambition.

Their higher political ambitions were not served by their work for the environment. Alvarez holds a sub-cabinet post, a presidential adviser on climate change. This is an office without a staff, without the funds and without a regulatory function. Mercado is currently an ambassador. But he will be part of a group of political appointees to be fired from their diplomatic posts soon.

Senator Loren Legarda made history by topping  two senatorial elections. But, clearly, her effort to make climate change an issue in the May 10 vice presidential election failed to resonate with voters.

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