Jul 18, 2009

Al Gore Thinks Your Brain Is Too Primitive

For 20 years, Al Gore has been a global warming activist. He has delivered speeches, written books, starred in a documentary film, won an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. But Mr. Gore has a big fat problem. Most of us have tuned out.

"Any measure that we look at shows Al Gore's losing at the moment," declared a Gallup Poll spokesperson in May. "The public is just not that concerned." When asked what they worry about, most people say the economy. Only two percent even mention the environment.

In 2007, when NBC television devoted three hours of prime time to Mr. Gore's celebrity-studded Live Earth event, the network came last in viewership that evening. Only 2.8 million people tuned in, compared to the 4.2 million who watched reruns of Cops and America's Most Wanted on Fox, and the 3.4 million who preferred the five-year-old animated movie Monsters, Inc. on ABC.

Every era has its doomsayers who bemoan some threat or another. The planet is cooling, so we'd better stockpile food. Now it's warming and catastrophe looms. Zealots who insist we must repent before it's too late are hardly a new phenomenon.

In free and democratic societies, ordinary people get to decide how much attention they pay to gloom-and-doomsters. But Mr. Gore appears to be having trouble with this concept. Instead, he's proposed a novel explanation for why the public isn't buying his message.

According to a breathless account published on a blog associated with Nature (one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals), Mr. Gore recently explained to an Oxford University conference that there are evolutionary and neurological reasons why others don't see the world the way he does.

"Gore opened by talking about human psychology and physiology" rather than climate, reports the blogger. "I was amazed to be treated to a pop neuroscience lecture." It seems that Mr. Gore now views environmental awareness as being "ultimately a problem of consciousness." Referring to MRI scans and human brain structure, he insists that "What is being tested is the proposition of whether or not the combination of an opposable thumb and a neo cortex is a viable construct on this planet."

I'm no psychologist, but this sounds to me like an attempt to apply a natural science veneer to self-serving rationalization, to invent a clinical-sounding explanation for what are, in fact, shortcomings associated with Mr. Gore's powers of persuasion.

It seems not to have crossed his mind that some of us consider his arguments flawed, his data suspect, his climate analysis simplistic, and his rhetoric overwrought. It's as though it has never occurred to Mr. Gore that, to paraphrase the title of a popular book/movie, we're just not that into him.

Nor does he appear to have considered the idea that Joe the Plumber might resent being told to desire/consume less by a man who owns three homes (including a 20-room mansion), travels by private jet, and charges $175,000 to deliver a speech. And let's not even talk about the company he keeps – such as his science advisor, James Hansen, who advocates crimes-against-humanity trials for oil executives and refers to coal-fired power plants as "factories of death."

Rather than recognizing our rejection of his worldview, Mr. Gore prefers to regard the rest of as defective. If we don't behave the way he thinks we should, there's only one explanation. Our neo cortexes are too primitive to grasp what someone of his intellect and discernment considers self-evident.