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Big Al speaks on climate (and neuroscience)

Al_Gore.jpgI got to hear Al Gore speak today at the close of the Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford, and I was amazed to be treated to a pop neuroscience lecture.

Rather than climate, Gore opened by talking about human psychology and physiology. Climate change, he said, is “ultimately a problem of consciousness”. He went on: “What is being tested is the proposition of whether or not the combination of an opposable thumb and a neocortex is a viable construct on this planet”.

That’s pretty deep, but Gore got deeper. Evolution, he said, had trained us to to respond quickly and viscerally to threats. But when humans are confronted with “a threat to the existence of civilization that can only be perceived in the abstract”, we don’t do so well. Citing functional magnetic resonance imaging, he said that the connecting line between amygdalae, which he described as the urgency centre of the brain, with the neocortex is a one way street: emotional emergencies can spark reasoning, but not the other way around.

Gore went on to speak about lots of other stuff: how better management of soil would be critical to solving the climate crisis. How geothermal energy had the potential for enormous development, and how existing technologies, such as coal-fired power plants had to become more efficient.

But in the end, he brought it back to human consciousness. Until the majority of citizens perceive climate change as a true crisis, he said, politicians will be sluggish to act. That’s the bad news. The good news, though, is that when we do decide to act, we will be able to do so more rapidly than anyone currently thinks is possible. “Just remember, when we become aware of what we have to do, and when we have the tools available to us to get the job done, it can change”, he said. “We ought to approach this challenge with a sense of joy.”

I’m not sure what it says about human consciousness, but it certainly is an interesting insight into Mr. Gore’s psychology. I’m curious to hear what neuroscientists make of his analysis.

If you want to hear the whole speech, have a listen here (audio quality isn’t brilliant, sorry about that).


  1. Report this comment

    Henry chance said:

    Yes Mr Gore. If we catch a few extra pounds, it does seem like theings are getting warmer. And we sweat. When I was young, I could run 10 miles in 100 degree heat. Now I prefer a breeze by riding a bike. Today is 15 degrees below forecast.

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    Paul from SA said:

    The rhetoric from the warmists is getting more and more bizarre. Nazis? Emotional emergencies? Consciousness? What next? Space aliens and crop circles?

    The fact is, there is no evidence to support global warming. It was just a theory based on faulty computer simulations. None of the models predicted the global cooling we’re now experiencing.

    Our biggest problem is that most citizens have been misinformed by a biased media. Most people don’t even know the planet is cooling or that the planet was much warmer in the past or CO2 levels were much higher in the past.

    We should expect Al Gore and James Hansen to become more and more deluded and extreme.

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    jon stotz said:

    “…the connecting line between amygdalae, which he described as the urgency centre of the brain, with the neocortex is a one way street: emotional emergencies can spark reasoning, but not the other way around.”

    there’s our prompt to become emotional, since obviously we’re not emotional enough to think about this clearly and act accordingly. a nice little appeal to scientific understanding to bolster the concept of emotionally victimizing yourself in order to attain a better understanding of how you’re not being good enough.


    that’s nice mr. gore. but at the same time, equally reprehensible.

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    Anthony Marino said:

    Gore You are the problem with our enviroment when You talk.

  5. Report this comment

    Jacek Dunajewski said:

    1.Cold War

    2.Greenhouse effect

    3.WHAT’S NEXT?

    Greenhouse effect – sequence

    1 Energy /The Sun, … /

    2 Temperature

    3 Quantitative composition /partial pressure: CO2, CH4,…/

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    Dragnet said:

    This is the first time I’ve read Al and thought he might be on to something. What Al et al, may have come to know is the “fright and flight” instinct in modern man has diminished. Where once, external forces could readily coerce man’s reactions by instilling fear – there is now a far more measured, pragmatic response. In the Dark Ages a king could command the obedience of the peasants by guaranteeing safety from marauders. Fear of catastrophe was the authoritarian’s friend.

    This is no longer true. Al et al have learned that faced with a global “catastrophe” the human race will start to scramble in the desired direction and then pause. To look hard at the facts. And when the facts indicate a sham is at work – the scrambling will end. Sober thought takes hold and the shamers regardless of original intent – will be outed.

    Had the science relied on in this exercise been sound – human response would be different. Had we incontrovertible evidence that we were under attack, response would be different. To answer Al’s question – YES. An opposable thumb and neocortex are a good combination. A successful combination ready for full admittance.

    As to the emergency induced emotion? The human heart responds to real suffering. It does not and will not respond to simulated suffering. In an artificial world one can little expect more than artificial emotion.

    Artifice can never replace original being.

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    Ben D said:

    I thought psychoanalysis had gone out of vogue. It’s good to see that smug and superior armchair psychologists can still tell us that we drink beer because we hate our our mother.

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    Thomas D said:

    What’s interesting here is that Global warming to a large number of the planet’s literatepopulation remains an abstract problem, and that science demonstrates that we have not yet developed the capacity to respond to such impetus. With regard to the general problem of reasoned threats… what would it take to have a global response? And are there common situations in our own experience where we cross that boundary?

    The only examples I can think of where science has taken us into our hearts are limited to images of man walking on the moon and the atomic bomb. Even these are not preemptive… Maybe it’s time our emotions evolved.

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    Pat R. said:

    Your link to the audio of the speech seems to be broken.

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    j ryd said:

    Does someone have an extra lock box we can put this free loading piece of garbage in?

    They cannot predict the weather one season to the next they ignore facts that the earth is cooling they ignore the oceans effect on our climate they ignore the suns effect on our climate but they are after the Holy Grail carbon tax.

    People better wake up! A Global Governance with China building a coal fired electric generation plant at a record pace but the US has to pay the bulk of the carbon tax.

    Pretty soon it will be the wealthy elites and just the rest of us slum dogs.

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