Vice President Al Gore
Climate Change Conference
George Washington University
April 21, 1994

This is the week that, 219 years ago, Paul Revere went on his midnight ride celebrated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. "And so through the night went his cry of alarm/To every Middlesex village and farm," wrote Longfellow.

Well, Paul Revere actually did ride "on the 18th of April in '75."

But he wasn't alone. Some new research makes it clear that Revere was one of 60 riders. Not only that, these riders were helped out by boatmen ferrying them across the Mystic, sympathizers hanging lanterns in the church, farmers finding good horses -- and at least one informer, probably the wife of a British general.

You get my point.

There are certainly individual acts of heroism. But many of them turn out on closer examination to be the result of a team effort. A partnership. All of us here this morning are Paul Reveres of the environmental movement. We too are working as a team. The enemy is more subtle than a British fleet. Climate change has caused enormous damage before in human history. The historical evidence for this is overwhelming. Even short-term changes -- the volcanic eruptions near Crete 3600 years ago, or the devastating effects of the Tambora volcano eruptions in Indonesia, in 1815 -- can have disastrous effect.

And I'm talking about changes of one or two degrees. Today, we're setting forces in motion that can alter temperatures three or four times as much. I got a little taste of what the devastation could be like last spring during the floods that destroyed so many communities in the midwest.

It's one thing to read about these possibilities in scientific journals. It's another to fly over whole towns and see tops of houses and street signs poking above the water -- or row a boat down what used to be streets. Or talk to people who have lost literally every family memento and every stick of furniture they own. No one is suggesting that the 1993 flood was caused by climate change from our air pollution. But we can expect more and more floods just like it if we don't cut greenhouse gases. This isn't just the scientific view.

Take this quote.

Even a modest 0.9 degree Fahrenheit increase in average global temperature
by the year 2010 could produce a 20 day extension of the hurricane season,
a 33% jump in hurricane landfalls in the U.S., an increase in the severity of the storms
and a 30% annual rise in U.S. catastrophic losses from storms."

A treehugging enviro? Nope. A study by the insurance giant, the Travelers Corporation, based in Hartford.

As Franklin Nutter says -- he's the President of the Reinsurance Assn. of America: "The insurance business is first in line to be affected by climate change. Global warming could bankrupt the industry." Insurance companies set their rates in anticipation of future calamities -- and when they look ahead they see trouble.

So it's not just alarmists who say that the climate change will be devastating and we should try to prevent it. It's common sense. And it's good business sense, too. But the looming ecological and economic crisis of climate change is only the first of our problems.

The second is gridlock. For far too long shouting has taken the place of meaningful dialogue in the environmental arena. Litigation has taken the place of discussion. Lines have been drawn in the sand and progress has been stopped in its tracks.

And so, I am proud on this Earth Day, to be able to look back over the 16 months since Inauguration Day and see what a difference Presidential leadership -- the leadership of Bill Clinton -- has made on this issue. Two years ago in Rio, the United States was isolated from the world and fought ANY commitment for global warming. What a difference a year can make.

One year ago, President Clinton announced the Nation's commitment to address climate change. He directed his Administration to produce a plan to cut emissions to 1990 levels. At the time, he said it must be a "clarion call, not for more bureaucracy or regulation or unnecessary costs, but instead for American ingenuity and creativity, to produce the best and most energy-efficient technology."

That's what the plan does. It's a very aggressive attempt to address the world's most important environmental threat. It has 50 separate programs. It addresses every source of greenhouse gas emissions, in every sector of the economy. It will improve energy efficiency. It will save businesses, taxpayers, and consumers money. And it will create jobs. Like the commitment to fight global warming, the Climate Change Action Plan is a major break from the past. It's like no other major environmental initiative in history. It relies almost exclusively on PARTNERSHIPS. Partnerships with states. With business. With the environmental community. With Congress.

Now, when you make major breaks with the past -- taking on huge environmental problems like global warming, or implementing a new style of environmental program -- people get skeptical. Either they'll tell you the problem isn't worth fighting. Or they'll tell you you're not doing enough. And lots of folks will tell you it can't be done without wrecking the economy.

Sounds a lot like 1987. That's when the countries of the world took that first step to stopping ozone depletion from CFCs -- the Montreal Protocol. The naysayers said it couldn't be done. Said it would wreck the world's economy to try. And the business community rose to the challenge. They developed substitutes. And that allowed us to accelerate the phase-out dates. Not once. Twice. Here again, I think businesses around the country will rise to the challenge.

Already we've seen evidence to show that's true. It's gathered here today, in the form of facility managers, farmers, and executives who are committed to the climate change programs. Whether or not the plan succeeds depends on the continuing commitment of all of you. And it depends on the same level of commitment from your peers across America. I challenge all of you here today to sign up in a partnership to take this problem on. States, businesses, and their associations, laborers, environmentalists, and Congress all must work together in a committed partnership to make it work. What's that mean?

FOR STATES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: There are two challenges.

FOR BUSINESS: Prove the skeptics wrong and be committed partners in the climate programs. We've got a number of new commitments here today, including some who've signed up recently. You're the ones this effort depends on most. You'll be the ones to make it happen.

The fact is, since last October, there has been a tremendous response from industry and others to the challenge to become partners with climate change programs. Dozens of new partners have signed up for the Agstar, Climate Wise, Energy Star Buildings, and Natural Gas Star programs. Motor Challenge has 86 new partners. Waste Wise: 145. Energy Star Computers: 189. Green Lights: 201. And Climate Change: 766. The totals keep changing. But there's still plenty of room -- it's not like the Smith Center at a Colonials basketball game. We have sign up sheets available. To all the potential partners at this conference who have not signed up, I use the words of the Nike ad: Just Do It.

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS AND NGOs. Public interest groups and environmental groups are essential to the success in at least two ways:

The next one's tougher: We've got to fund the Climate Programs. The programs will not succeed if they're poorly designed. We'll work on that. But if we can't get them off the ground for lack of funding -- They don't have a chance. The Federal government is committed to this plan.

Will we have to monitor our work? Yes. Constantly. Are we willing to modify it? If necessary. But we still believe that if all the partners do their share, a cooperative approach can succeed.

And this Administration plans to lead by example. We've signed executive order after executive order to put our money where our mouth is. Just last month, I announced an executive order for federal energy efficiency. Under the order, our own building managers will do what we're asking you to do. We'll improve energy efficiency, prevent pollution, and save money -- up to $1 billion worth every year.

And when I say that we're starting at home, you can believe it. The White House itself is in the midst of an energy and environmental overhaul. The "greening" White House will be a showcase for practical measures that all Americans can take to save money, protect the environment and improve the comfort of their surroundings. Many of the technologies you're signing up to use in the Climate Plan will be installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We're starting at home. We're going to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. We're breaking gridlock with a new way of doing business -- partnerships. It's up to you to prove the new way will work. So be careful out there.

There's a story about a chicken who asked the pig to invest with him on a ham n'egg place. "No thanks," the pig said. "For you ham n'eggs is an investment. For me its a total commitment."

Earth Day is about commitment. It's about commitment to the most important task of our generation: preserving life on this planet. Commitment to something larger than oneself is the glue that holds society together. And society wins when each of us, one by one, makes that commitment.

In 1988, a group of 8-year-old girls planted a tree as penance for using paper plates on a camping trip. Today those girls form a group called the Tree Musketeers. The President, 15-year old Sabrina Alimahomed has taken Tree Musketeers from a vacant lot at the edge of El Segundo, California to national recognition. They've planted hundreds of trees. Adopted thousands of others, developed the city's waste management plan and helped open El Segundo's first drop-off recycling plan. Last year they ran the first National Youth Environmental Summit. Sabrina Alimahomed is at this Conference, along with three other Tree Musketeers.

To them, I say: we applaud your commitment. If we succeed in blocking climate change ... if we succeed in keeping our air and water clean will be because of the dedication you have demonstrated. Sabrina, you're not alone. On Earth Day, we should all resolve to be as dedicated as you. It's the people who work as a team that accomplish the real revolutions. After all ...just look at Paul Revere.