Al Gore’s Way

The Nobel ‘Veep’ Visits Vienna for a Forum On Communication (and Climate Change)

Al Gore

Al Gore (left) in a discussion on the role of technology, here with ORF’s Armin Wolf during his visit to Vienna. Photo: Mobilkom Austria

Al Gore paid a short visit to Vienna Oct. 24, before rushing off to Paris for a meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy scheduled for the following day.

Invited by Mobilkom, Austria’s largest mobile phone service provider, the former US Vice President and recent Nobel Peace laureate was the keynote speaker at the mobile.futuretalk 07, held at the Arsenal in Vienna’s 3rd District.

“I used to be the next President of the United States,” Gore joked, as he opened his his remarks, a taste of self-deprecating irony that has become more characteristic of him during this activist chapter of his life.

It was an expensive evening. The organisers proudly claimed that the leading advocate of international action against climate change and as well as pioneer of the Internet, was the most expensive keynote speaker they had ever invited, for a rumoured fee of nearly EUR 200,000 – including all expenses.

Whatever the price, Gore seemed pleased to be speaking to a room full of telecommunications specialists and politicians, an industry he sees as central to the possibility for positive change, an image the industry is working hard to promote. In advance of the meeting, Mobilkom Austria had commissioned a study analysing the possible contribution of the telecommunications sector to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Findings suggested that, for example, business travel could be reduced some 30% through the use of video conferencing, saving up to 33.5 tons of CO2 every year, as reported by the Austrian broadcaster, ORF.

In his speech, however, Gore turned his attention to the role of communications in the political process; it is “part of the development of democracy,” he said, “and part of the solution to the greatest problems on the planet.” When this process is restricted even a little, the access to knowledge is limited. Freedom, he said, comes from expansion of communication and communications technologies.

“We have to maintain a living dialogue in our democracies, and insist on communication as a human right,” Gore emphasized, applauding Mobilkom’s initiative to bring telecommunications to Belarus, where, he suggested it could act as a “virus of revolutionary change.”

In October, Mobilkom Austria acquired 70% of MDC, the second largest mobile service provider in Belarus, for just over EUR 1 billion this month, according to the Austrian Press Agency. The deal is considered a “showcase” for President Alexander Lukaschenko – described by human rights organisations as “Europe’s last dictator” – a response to pressure from the World Trade Organisation to open its telecommunications market and an effort to demonstrate that it is ready for international investment.

However, Gore never strayed far from his thesis of the need to address the problems of global warming. In the recent bush fire disaster in California, he was clear that “the main contributing factor was climate change.”

With the strong winds, less than three centimetres of rain and temperatures  some 10°C above the seasonal average for Southern California, a crisis was hardly a surprise.

“We are facing a planetary emergency situation. We need to act now,” Gore said.

As to his political goals, Gore was equally clear.

“I have no plans to stand as a candidate for the US Presidential Elections,” he told ORF interviewer Armin Wolf, who moderated the evening. Gore did not, however, rule out to return to politics in the nearer future. According to recent polls in the United States, the Democrat contender of 2000 would stand good chances in the primaries in the upcoming months, and grassroots activists, particularly on the Internet, hope to encourage him to run again in 2008.

The more than a 1,000 guests at the Mobilkom event included politicians, business people and cultural leaders. Invitations had gone out before the Nobel announcement, and the exploding interest afterward from the press and the general public meant that some on the original list had, ultimately, to be turned away.

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