Al Gore’s Smarter (and Funnier!) Planet
Never mind your political sentiments about Al Gore the politician, what you may not know about “the former next president of the United States,” as he jokingly refers to himself, is that the former U.S. vice president is very, very funny.
Really! Would I kid about something so serious as a former vice president?
In his keynote at this morning’s IBM Pulse 2010 opening session, Gore made me laugh so hard I wanted to cry…not only because of his very folksy yet hilarious delivery, but also due to the severity and great consequences of his important message.
Before you think I’m about to step up onto my soapbox, know that Gore was very cautious not to step up onto his in today’s keynote.
He knew that by coming to an IBM conference to speak to a very business-friendly audience, that he was potentially walking into enemy territory — despite the enormous sum I suspect we paid him to come and speak.
Gore walked into the room of 5,000+ at the MGM Grand Arena with eyes wide open, and with a sobering message that presented as much a cheerleading challenge to global business as an indictment of existing short-term inclined business practices or climate abuse.
The former vice president asserted that the climate crisis did not exist in a vacuum, and like any interconnected system, was joined at a nexus of two other key crises, one economic and involving our recent collective business philandering, the other one national security-related, with the ongoing U.S. role in continuing to buy cheap oil despite the long-term moral consequences.
“As long as we are so vulnerable to expensive energy resources in foreign countries that are not among the most stabile or friendly to us, there will be a national security threat associated with that,” Gore warned, the that being the notion of sending hundreds of billions of dollars every year to those unfriendly foreign countries, then backstopping those petro dollars with American military might.
He also noted that we’re putting 90M tons of CO2 every day into a thin sheath of atmosphere that you or I could drive to (if we could drive straight up) in a matter of minutes, and that the vast majority of the existing heat as a result was being reformulated into our oceans.
But let’s assume you’re just not hip to Gore’s whole climate warming message.
That’s cool (is it getting warmer in here?), but still and all you can’t deny the economic consequences of being dependent on that foreign energy: Every time we see a sudden increase in prices, we see an economic shockwave, investments suddenly dissipate, and we lose valuable time and have to start the cycle all over again with the next petroleum price increase.
So what’s a wandering, unemployed, itinerant, environmentalist ex-American vice president suggest that we do?
Gore alleges that all these things are connected by a common thread, and that if you pull the thread hard enough, you hold at least part of the answer in your hand: A shift to renewable sources of energy, natch; reduced carbon emissions, controversial though it is; but most importantly of all, a new reliance on efficiency.
Said Gore, “We are in the presence of one of the greatest opportunities in the history of business to become much more efficient and eliminate waste, pollution, and losses all at the same time.”
You’ll note that Gore said in the history of business, not in the history of the world. Methinks that was most intentional.
Even if you don’t buy into the evidence of the climate crisis, efficiency is by all odds the most productive business strategy around, and to that point, Gore himself came out and said that IBM’s smarter planet campaign “just feels right to me.”
I could envision IBM marketing executives across the company salivating (or perhaps cursing?) the implied endorsement.
Nevertheless, with great opportunity comes great responsibility.
Gore explained that the “hinge of history is swinging,” that with all this talk about complexity and complex systems at the Pulse conference, the audience needs to understand that our entire global civilization was going through a very challenging reorganization, leaving business, governments, even individuals around the world trying to figure out where they land in the great reorganization of 2010.
Alas, there’s no org chart that can explain that one, but Gore did explain there are natural places to start, that, for example, we’re extremely wasteful in the way that we use energy in buildings and cities — here in the US about 40% of all the CO2 emissions comes from buildings, another set of legacy technologies we’ve used a little too long.
So how to address these challenges and not instead disappear into the Nevada desert crying out in hopeless hysterics?
Well, we can start by getting better and more relevant information (using technology and the like), and that when there are important factors that are systematically ignored, to use that “better” information to make our own choices.
That, in fact, we all have an opportunity to get all the information relevant to decisions we make everyday in this challenging environment, and to the “pulse” of the conference theme, to automate some of those decisions so that we can free up the RPMs to focus clearly on the Key Major Decisions and be able to better see how they relate to one another.
“If you analyze the human brain as the same terms for computers,” Gore explained, “we have a low bitrate and very high resolution. In making decisions about vast amounts of data, if you try to do it bit by bit, you’ll never succeed.
“But if you can portray the context of all that info, that is a good strategy, whether in healthcare, or city management, or whatever, it is really important to get a clear view of where it’s going.”
Gore went on to say that “using the right kind of information, software, hardware, is your most powerful set of tools in your toolset,” and that this time around, business is leading the way, and that governments have not stepped up to the plate on this (with a few exceptions).
Finally, Gore used more cornpone charm to explain his reaction to the outcome of last December’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen: “I feel fine.”
Explaining, it’s kind of like the old farmer who, upon hauling a big cow to market in the back up of the pickup truck has a bad traffic accident, only to have the highway patrolman come along and shoot the injured cow right between the eyes to put the poor thing out of his misery, whereupon the farmer responds to the question from the same said patrolman when asked how he (the farmer) feels, and as he looks over at the cow explains: “I feel fine.”
The role of business in providing essential leadership is more important than ever, Gore started to wind down, asking us to remember that this is one of those moments in history where “it’s difficult to imagine the scale and scope of the changes that lie ahead of us.”
But imagine it we must.
Gore closed by citing that old African proverb, which was simplistic in its essence, but again concise in its expressed urgency:
If you want to go quickly, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
Concluded the former next president of these United States, “We must go far, quickly.”