Breakfast with Bono and Al with two plates on the table: environment and poverty.
Bono: “If anyone sees my band would you please not tell them that I was up this early.”
Moderator Tom Friedman asks how we’re doing and Gore summarizes in a paragraph, warning about a polar ice cap gone in five years and demanding urgent global action.
“Everybody should be clear this is a planetary emergency,” he declares. “There has been nothing remotely like it in history. We are putting at risk all of civilization. It is difficult to summon the moral imagination to understand the degree of responsibility.”
He says the agenda of poverty and the environment must be tied together. This becomes his chorus for the morning. It is the meeting of agendas.
“We don’t have the good news yet but we have the basis for writing it in the future.”
Bono gives good news about debt cancellation, which he was talking about when he first came to Davos. He says new figures from the World Bank and OECD confirm that “there are 29 million children going to school because of debt cancellation in Africa.”
He then talks about AIDS drugs for Africa and fighting down the attitude of officials who said Africans don’t have wristwatches and couldn’t take a complex regimen. But it does work and he says “there are now 2 million Africans on retrovirals and that’s pretty astonishing.”
But then he laments lack of progress on the Millennium Development Goals and G8 goals to bring the lowest countries up the ladder.
“The good news makes the bad news even worse. We’ve proved that aid can be effective…. And yet, the G8 are not making good largely on their commitments. About half, I would say, is where we’ve got…. It looks like we were taken on a dance.”
Gore says the Millennium Development Goals can be met only if the environmental goals are wrapped in because current agricultural goals will work, but with a two-degree rise in temperature, he says, they will fail.
Bono criticizes media and our attention to poverty. “We have noticed that the interest from the media, which has been so accute on the issue of extreme poverty, is not accute now with the climate crisis at home. These people live a long way from us.” If you said that 10 million children were going to die from the environment, he says, it would get aggressive coverage. But 10 million children will die from poverty.
He talks about his relationship with Gore, who has visited his home. He riffs: “Here’s the recycler, Al. I’ve got a posh car but it runs on ethanol, Al… My wife, it’s like living with Al Gore…. He’s sort of rabbinical or like an Irish priest, you meet him in the supermarket and you confess your sins. Father Al, I am not just a noise polluter, I am a diesel sucking… rock star…. I’m trying, Father Al, but to be honest, oil has been very good to me…. Hair gel.”
Gore says it’s important that we move away from the idea that personal action will solve the climate crisis. “In addition to changing the light bulbs, it’s far more important to change the laws…. The one simple thing that will solve the climate crisis is to put a price on carbon.”
Friedman says: “It is far more important to change leaders than light bulbs.” He asks whether “any Democrat will be fine, will put a price on carbon,” or whether “this current economic crisis is coming at exactly the wrong time.” Gore says the three Demcrats “have responsible positions that don’t go far enough. John McCain on the Republican side has a responsible position that doesn’t go far enough.”
Gore says “no change” will be made in the price of carbon “until the people ask for it.”
Friedman later says that environmental movements normally tell governments what not to do but to get a price on carbon, this would require the first popular movement demanding a tax.
Bono says good action comes from popular movements of reform. He also admits that at first, his job was to go to politicians and act as if he had a movement and then wait for that movement to catch up. “It is justice, not charity, that we have always argued.”
Bono says we need a coherent policy on “the three extremes — extreme poverty, extreme climate change, and extreme ideologies.”
“Normally when the world is being reimagined and there’s a new world order — that’s a loaded thing to say around here — it comes after a catastrophe.” He asks that we come to the change before the catastrophe.
Gore praises Bono for getting the presidential candidates to go on the record on the agenda he is pushing..
An aside: “He, by the way, is one of the best politicians I’ve ever run into.”
“I take that as an insult,” says Bono.
“As Groucho Marx said, I resemble that remark.” (Gore never has been the friend of a punch line.)
Indeed, Bono is better at telling his story and making his point. Gore spent too many years trying to get sound bites on TV. For example: “The single thing that reminds us that we are all in this together is the planet.” (to which Friedman nods enthusiastically and seriously, as if this were profound). Gore hits the same points with different words again and again, not knowing which will stick so he keeps throwing. Bono, instead, tells a story.
: Here are Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s impressions.