As you might have guessed from Wired's cover story last month, Al Gore is one of my heroes. Back in my science days (early 90s) I was lucky enough to see him up close as the chairman of the Senate Science and Technology subcommittee. For all the jokes, his work in promoting what was then called the National Information Infrastructure really was instrumental to the development of the Internet.
I particularly remember several hearings he held with scientists and scientific visualization experts from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (which would later become the birthplace of the Mosaic web browser, which in turn led to Netscape). None of the other committee members bothered to show up, so he came down off the dais and sat at the witness table with the visiting researchers to geek out over the 3D simulations and advanced (for the time) SGI workstations. This was a Gore we never saw in the 2000 Presidential Campaign: passionate, intensely curious, scientifically sophisticated and, yes, human--even funny.
What's notable about that scene around the witness table is that it combines the three main theme in the life of Al Gore: politics, technology and the environment. The simulations he was being shown at these hearings were climate models, some of which showed early work in projecting the effects of global warming. When he was introducing bills to build out the Internet, one of his main objectives was to make it easier for scientists to collaborate remotely on climate research, to try to understand the effect of human-generated carbon emissions on global temperatures.
Now Gore is back, and his passions have converged in a campaign--movie, book, speaking tour and web effort--to focus the world's attention on global climate change. Gore's a new kind of environmentalist--what we call a "Neo Green". Rather than calling for us to dial back our lifestyle, slow development and return to the land, he looks for technological solutions (both in energy generation and conservation) that allow continued economic growth with less environmental cost. No surprise that he sees technology as a solution rather than the problem: he's on the board of Apple and is a special advisor to Google.
If you happen to be in New York City on Thursday you can see him in action yourself. Wired is holding a town hall discussion at Town Hall with Gore, NASA's James Hansen, Laurie David, and Lawrence Bender, moderated by Wired Contributing Editor John Hockenberry, Thursday, May 25, from 8-10pm. I'll be doing the introductions.
You can get tickets here.