A Nobel for another great Southerner

The Nobel Foundation has awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice President and U.S. Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Said Gore in a statement:

I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the world's pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis -- a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years. 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. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.

My wife, Tipper, and I will donate 100 percent of the proceeds of the award to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization that is devoted to changing public opinion in the U.S. and around the world about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

Gore becomes the fourth Southerner to win the prestigious award, joining former President and human rights advocate Jimmy Carter (2002), civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1964), and fellow Tennessean Cordell Hull (1945), an ex-Secretary of State who played a key role in the formation of the United Nations.

Though some cynics have questioned Gore's Southern credentials because he was born in Washington, D.C., Gore has undeniably deep roots in the South as the son of two native Tennesseans -- Al Gore Sr., who also served as a U.S. representative and senator from Tennessee, and Pauline LaFon Gore, one of the first women to graduate from Vanderbilt University Law School. Growing up, Gore Jr. split his time between Washington and the family farm in rural Carthage, Tenn., where he developed a love of nature that would shape his environmentalism. After graduating from Harvard and serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, he returned home to Tennessee where he attended Divinity School at Vanderbilt University and later worked as a reporter for The Tennessean, where his investigation into corruption on Nashville's city council resulted in the arrest and prosecution of two members.

Gore went on to attend law school at Vanderbilt but quit in 1976 to run successfully for a seat in the U.S. Congress as a Democrat. He was re-elected three times before running successfully for the U.S. Senate in 1984. He served there until 1993, when he became Vice President under President Bill Clinton.

In Washington, Gore was a leader on environmental issues, holding hearings on toxic waste in Toone, Tenn. in the late 1970s and on global warming in the 1980s, long before those became issues of broad public concern. In the early 1990s he wrote Earth in the Balance, an ecological treatise that became the first New York Times bestseller written by a sitting senator since John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. On Earth Day 1994, Gore launched the GLOBE program, which used the then-nascent Internet to increase students' environmental awareness. He also pushed for the passage of the Kyoto Treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though he was rebuffed by the Senate.

After serving two terms as Vice President, Gore ran for president in 2000 with Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate. Though he and Lieberman won the popular contest by more than a half-million votes, they lost the electoral college vote in a controversial election that was eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case Bush v. Gore.

Following that loss, Gore focused his energy traveling the world and speaking on climate change. His popular talks became the subject of the 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth, which earned glowing reviews from climate scientists as well as Academy Awards for best documentary and best song.

Gore currently chairs Generation Investment Management, a firm he founded in 2004 that focuses on companies making a proactive effort to address climate change and other pressing global issues. Gore also takes personal steps to protect the climate: He and his family drive hybrid vehicles, and he also buys carbon offsets when traveling by plane.

There has been chatter that Gore's Nobel win might inspire him to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. But at least one reporter who has followed him closely over the past year says he so strongly doubts that will happen that, if it does, "I'll eat my copy of An Inconvenient Truth. (The paperback, not the DVD.)"

We would note that Gore's Nobel is not a milestone only for the South but also for the environmental movement. The Peace Prize was awarded to an environmental leader for the first time in 2004, when Wangari Maathai of Kenya was honored for founding the Green Belt Movement, which has helped women plant over 30 million trees in Africa. Environmental leaders are hailing Gore's win for helping focus attention on the connection between human needs, security and the environment.

"Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to peace and security the world has ever known," said Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin. "This prize marks another turning point for the climate issue -- the question now is whether law makers around the world will rise to the challenge of implementing new treaties and laws that reduce the world's dangerous addiction to fossil fuels."

(Photo by Scanpix/Tom Hevezi courtesy of the Nobel Foundation)