Matt Lauer was in Greenland, at the top of the planet. Literally half a world away, Ann Curry reported from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station. Joining them from a cloud forest on the equator in Ecuador was Al Roker. And putting what they were doing in perspective was Al Gore, the Nobel laureate and former vice president.
“I congratulate the TODAY Show for going to the Arctic and the Antarctic and the equator, and really going all out to tell this story,” Gore told TODAY co-anchor Meredith Vieira, who was in New York on Monday quarterbacking the unprecedented reporting from the ends of the earth on global warming and climate change.
Gore, who also won an Oscar for his film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” said that he’s been trying to tell the story TODAY is pursuing this week for 30 years. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work has given his effort a big boost, he told Vieira.
“It’s an opportunity to communicate more effectively about the climate crisis because of the respect in which the committee awarding it is held,” Gore said. “I’ve been trying to tell this story for more than 30 years.”
In 1992, then-President George Bush had ridiculed Gore for his preaching about the damage humans are doing to the atmosphere, calling him “Ozone Man.”
“It’s not about me,” Gore said, dismissing the dig. “It’s about getting this message out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. We face a planetary emergency, Meredith. The climate crisis is by far the largest challenge human civilization has ever faced.”
One of the places the effects of a warming planet are most evident is in Greenland, where glaciers are melting twice as fast as predicted just 10 years ago.
“Here in Greenland, those aren’t just words,” Lauer said of global warming in a live report from the coastal settlement of Ilulissat. “They’re living it every single day.”
In Antarctica, Curry talked about the ice shelf the size of Rhode Island that abruptly broke off the continent, astonishing scientists.
Global warming remains a controversial topic. Scientists agree that the earth’s climate is growing warmer, and the overwhelming majority of them have concluded that the 70 million tons of pollutants we pour into the atmosphere every day are contributing heavily to the warming trend.
But John Christy, who was a member of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with whom Gore shared his Nobel Prize, recently wrote an op-ed piece in “The Wall Street Journal” in which he criticized Gore’s dire predictions of the impact of global warming.
“I'm sure the majority (but not all) of my IPCC colleagues cringe when I say this, but I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming we see,” Christy wrote.
Gore said that part of the problem of telling the story of climate change is journalism’s determination to give equal time to people who have opposing viewpoints.
He said that Christy is no longer part of the IPCC. “He is way outside the scientific consensus,” Gore said.
“It’s the old ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ approach,” Gore said. “There are still people who believe the earth is flat. [But] you don’t search out for someone who believes the earth is flat and give them equal time.”
Lauer, Curry and Roker found no such flat-earthers, talking instead throughout the morning —as they will for the next two days — to scientists on the ground who are documenting the changes that are happening.
In Mindo, Ecuador, Roker talked from a cloud forest that is an extension of the Amazonian rain forest located 7,200 feet up the flanks of the Andes. “The rain forest is the lungs of the planet. When things go wrong here, things go wrong around the rest of the planet,” he said, adding that it is estimated that more than 90 percent of all the species on earth developed in the tropics.
The forest Roker was in is home to 330 species of birds, including 41 species of hummingbirds.
What linked the three locations together was the vital importance to all of them of water. In Greenland, it is the ice sheet that covers 81 percent of the world’s largest island. Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest continent on the planet, but it still holds 90 percent of the frozen water on the planet, which is about 75 percent of all the fresh water on earth.
Melting glaciers in both places contribute to rising oceans, putting coastal areas that are home to hundreds of millions of people at long-term risk.
And the mist forest in Ecuador is bathed in humidity that is normally at 100 percent. Without that moisture, the vast forests that consume enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and produce oxygen will die.
TODAY went to the ends of the earth to report on the importance of those places.
And, Gore told Vieira, it’s the same reason he and the IPCC won the Nobel Prize.
“The reason the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize [is because] the thousands of scientists that make up that group have over 20 years created a very strong scientific consensus, that is as strong a consensus as you’ll ever see in science, that the climate crisis is real,” he said. “Human beings are responsible for it, the results [of it] would be very bad for the United States and all human beings, and there is time to solve it.”