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Shortly after Al Gore won the Nobel Peace prize in 2007 for his work with the UN on climate change, he stated “We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.”

Thus, when SAP announced that Al Gore would be the key note speaker for Sapphire, I was truly excited to hear his message about the environment and about sustainability.  SAP certainly has tried to take a leadership position about sustainability, not only from solution perspective but more importantly as a corporate citizen. 

Let’s take a slightly different approach to this topic.  If I was Al Gore and I was preparing to be the key note speaker at a technology conference, what would I talk about?  Al and I have a few things in common – we are both horrible public speakers for one, and we are  both democrats.

I clearly would have articulated a message about the juxtaposition of 2 environmental disasters, one man made and the other from mother nature. 

The current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the world’s worst man-made environmental disaster of all times.  Every 2 to 3 days that the spill continues, the equivalent of another Exxon Valdez spills into the Gulf.  If you haven’t researched the spill yet, just type it into any search engine.  The first thought that came to my mind was the old hamburger counter at McDonald’s which used to keep track of the number of hamburgers served – today it just says ‘billions served’.  Most of the websites show a running counter of estimated gallons of oil spilled – it is now approaching 21 million gallons.  That might just equal the amount of grease that we have consumed from those hamburgers.  The response to the spill requires the cooperation of government, businesses and the public to fully understand the serious technical challenges of stopping the spill and of course remediating the devastating environmental impacts.  This spill could continue for another 2 months.  When the first hurricane rolls into the Gulf, the effects will be horrific. 

The second disaster is of course the eruption of the Icelandic volcano that resulted in the highest disruption of air traffic since WWII.  This eruption was smaller in comparison to Mount St. Helens and to Mount Pinatubo, but the location above the jet stream was a significant factor in its impact.  In addition, the second eruption resulted in a major melt-away that caused dramatic cooling of the molten lava, triggering a tertiary explosion of highly abrasive, glass-rich ash.  This could actually have a temporary effect on lowering the average global temperatures, but the technical community is not in agreement on this yet.

Like Gore, I don’t have any answers or pieces of wisdom.  As with any natural or man-made disaster, I feel a sense of emptiness and helplessness.  What can one person do to help during the time of a crisis, other than just criticize those in charge?  For one, I would speak about it at a technology conference in front of 10,000 people.

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  1. Gretchen Lindquist
    Raymond,
    I am curious as to what you expected Mr. Gore to say about the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Icelandic volcano. Even now, several weeks after the conference, neither a root cause of the oil well disaster has yet been determined nor is there a solution, so what could he have said- “it’s an unprecedented disaster”? “The Obama administration need to find out what caused it and hold them accountable.” “The US needs to reduce petroleum consumption.” No kidding. I’d like to think we all already knew all of that, so I am glad he did not insult our intelligence.

    As for the Icelandic volcano, you yourself noted that the experts are not in agreement as to the expected long term effect of the volcanic ash on the climate, so I wonder what he could have said of any real consequence. Yes, he could have mentioned both of these events in passing, but I suspect that, as a relatively experienced speaker from his years in politics, Mr. Gore long ago learned to stay on message and stick to his script.

    So I’m curious; in your estimation, what could he have said that was meaningful enough to rate a deviation from his prepared remarks and not border on criticism of the current administration?

    Regards,
    Gretchen

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    1. Raymond Adams Post author
      What insulted my intelligence was that a person who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the environment did not comment on the worst man-made disaster in history.  Mr. Gore could have inspired us all to do something, to become involved, and to realize that we all play a role whether an environmental disaster is man-made or the result of mother nature.  During General Powell’s speach, I noted numerous folks on the verge of tears – he was truly inspiring and reminded us all of the role we play in this world, regardless if we are a hotdog vendor or a CEO.
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  2. Marilyn Pratt
    As professionals in the technology and software industry there are practical things that we can do.
    Are you famililar with the Innocentive Projects?

    This is what I received from Jen-Ling Liu who works for Innocentive and has been reaching out to folks around the globe to pit their expertise and intelligence around these catastrophic problems.  She wrote:

    “Solvers have opened 1,800+ project rooms and submitted nearly 500 solutions.  And InnoCentive continues to work diligently through government and other channels so that these solutions can be channeled to people who are close to the disaster.  We have also launched the Emergency Response 2.0 Pavilion (Community https://gw.innocentive.com/ar/challenge/browse?pavilionName=Emergency+Response+2.0&pavilionId=1921 )  – to provide a place for Solvers to apply their unique expertise when cataclysmic events occur.  This  pavilion is InnoCentive’s commitment that if and when a disaster does occur, we’re ready to engage the best minds in the world to provide solutions, and to get those solutions to the people who can put them into action.”

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    1. John Dila
      We received about 1000 submissions to the InnoCentive Gulf Oil Spill challenge (http://bit.ly/abbyOT), including some really innovative ones that use magnets, coconut coir, and other materials and processes. And in the meantime we’ve opened two new “clean-up” challenges (http://bit.ly/dxM0iG). The main challenge we’ve faced has been delivering great solutions into the right hands at BP, of course. And, like many other organizations, we are currently working with people on the ground to provide solutions we received to local officials and cleanup workers on-site. Please see our CEO’s message to our Solvers last month here: http://bit.ly/91tSnb
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  3. Natascha Thomson
    …for this well-written, entertaining and funny blog. It’s unfortunate that Al Gore is not a very engaging speaker as I think he has great messages; not easy to stay with it and some current events might have spiced it up.
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  4. Vijay Vijayasankar
    I find it hard to listen to a sustainability message at an event like SAPPHIRE. These type of events need people flying from all over the globe – some flying commercial, and some flying in private jets. Then there is the massive airconditioning required to keep the convention center cool in Florida’s heat and humidity. And then there is the heavy energy used for all the fancy displays and so on.

    So when some one comes on stage at these events and try to inspire me on sustainability – I tend to take it as a joke.

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    1. Raymond Adams Post author
      I understand your point.  It reminds of a time 5 years when a roaming TV news reporter in a van drove up to me on a hot July day while I was using my gas powered leaf blower and asked me if I had considered using a push broom instead.  I quickly reminded him that the amount of gas he just wasted in driving thru my neighborhood was more than I would use in the lifetime of my gas blower (which happens to be my favorite landscaping tool).  My interview of course was not aired…
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