Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Al Gore's talk: The experience

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee..." 
– John Donne (1624)

Hans T. Sy, president of SM Prime Holdings, welcomed everyone to the SM Leadership Conference Series. His opening line, John Donne's "No Man is an Island", strikes home today's theme. What a way to introduce the man of the hour, a speaker who encourages environmental awareness: Mr. Al Gore.

The former U.S. vice-president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate brought his famed presentation "An Inconvenient Truth" to Manila, this time updated for the Asian audience. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as well as the movers and shakers of Philippine society, attended the lecture... plus a few fans who would never land in the society pages (including me).

Mr. Gore took the audience through a journey beginning with images of Earth taken from space: Earthrise (Will Anders, 1968 on Apollo VIII) and The Blue Marble (1972, Apollo XVII crew). Both images show that the Earth's atmosphere is so thin and is the most vulnerable of all the  components of the Earth's ecological system. From there, he started detailing what global warming is all about. He zeroed in on the detrimental effects of human activity on the environment, and then proceeded to how we can minimise our impact on the planet. 

Since I've already watched the film, I found that he did not deviate from his original message: Save the planet! No surprises there, making it an okay seminar. However, what made it a great experience was his passion about the environment that oozed out of him as he spoke onstage. Seeing his lecture live is so different from watching him onscreen. It didn't even matter too much that I was so far away and I could barely see him when most of the house lights were turned off. With a less effective speaker, I would have zoned out during the first few minutes of the talk; but he kept me listening the whole time!

He obviously had a lot of practice for the presentation, but the Q&A portion was a whole different matter. Cheche Lazaro, one of my favourite journalists, moderated the session! Her questions were both candid and difficult, just like in her interviews of Presidential candidates. Mr. Gore paused a few times to gather his thoughts before answering her (and the audiences') questions. Thankfully, difficulties in his personal life, which have recently reached gossip column and talk shows, were not discussed onstage (this was not a Sunday showbiz talk show after all). 

I just wish that there was some way to make his presentation more accessible and appreciable to people who didn't watch it. For instance, how to make people see that the extremely rainy 2009 and the extremely hot 2010 summer could be associated with cutting of trees and increasing population.