OSLO - Former vice president Al Gore, accepting his Nobel Peace Prize yesterday, called on the United States and China, the world's two largest polluters, "to make the boldest moves" on climate change "or stand accountable before history for their failure to act."
"Both countries should stop using each other's behavior as an excuse for stalemate," Gore said, labeling the threat from rising temperatures and sea levels "a planetary emergency, a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering, ominous and destructive."
"The future is knocking at our door right now," Gore said, paraphrasing the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen during a regal, 90-minute ceremony in Oslo's ornate City Hall.
Gore, 59, shared the $1.5 million prize, widely considered the world's most prestigious award, with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions," Gore said. "Either they will ask: 'What were you thinking? Why didn't you act?' Or they will ask instead, 'How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve?' "
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN panel that shared the Peace Prize with Gore, said in an acceptance speech that thousands of scientists had spent two decades documenting global warming. He said "myopic indifference" to the crisis threatened further disease and malnutrition and the swallowing of low-lying lands by rising seas.
The United States and China have been roundly criticized by environmental activists as taking insufficient action to curb greenhouse emissions that scientists say are causing global warming. China has argued that as a developing nation, it needs latitude to improve the standard of living for its people; the United States has opposed environmental mandates that don't address rising pollution levels in countries such as China and India.
Gore said the price of inaction is rapidly causing melting glaciers, massive crop loss due to drought, the extinction of some species and the displacement of millions of people by flooding. He called on all nations to mobilize with "a sense of urgency and shared resolve that has previously been seen only when nations have mobilized for war."
"Despite a growing number of honorable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler's threat: 'They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided.' " Gore said that just as a previous generation found the "moral authority" to defeat fascism, "so too can we find our greatest opportunity in rising to solve the climate crisis."
The event was attended by his wife, Tipper; the Norwegian royal family; and celebrities including actress Uma Thurman.
Gore opened his acceptance speech by referring to the 2000 US Supreme Court decision denying him the presidency. "Seven years ago tomorrow, I read my own political obituary in a judgment that seemed to me harsh and mistaken - if not premature," he said. "But that unwelcome verdict also brought a precious if painful gift: an opportunity to search for fresh new ways to serve my purpose. Unexpectedly that quest has brought me here."