"An Inconvenient Truth", the movie about former American vice-president Al Gore's anti-global-warming campaign (see previous post), has been released one month ago in the US, stirring a passionate debate. It will be released in Europe only in September and in Asia probably later, but it has already managed - together with another shorter video, a portrait of Gore (part 1 - part 2) made by director Spike Jonze before the 2000 election and unseen until recently - to attract worldwide attention. Which is an unlikely feat for a documentary trailing a former politician as he travels from city to city giving speeches about the climate crisis. But the movie is both lucid and riveting and Gore's message powerful. After having seen it, and wondered how different the world would be today had he entered the White House six years ago, and agreed that climate change is no longer debatable, however, you're left with a question: What can we - individuals - do about the climate crisis?
A partial answer is coming today in the form of the other Al Gore speech: the one he gave last February at the TED conference.
Gore gave two speeches at TED2006. The acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and it is considered one of the world's leading events in these fields, attracting every year a high-profile crowd of 1000 innovators and doers to Monterey, California. Gore went on stage the first evening and presented the slide show that is at the center of "An Inconvenient Truth" and which he has probably repeated a thousand times in the last twenty years. Three days later, he closed the conference with a second keynote where he outlined a 14-points blueprint for personal action (I was in the room and blogged that session: read about the 14 points here).
This "What can I do" talk, together with those of several other TED speakers, is being released today on the Internet, for free and in full video. The video shows both the "old" Al Gore - lecturing us about global warming with depth of knowledge and intensity - as well as the "new" Gore that many seem to have discovered only recently - funny and passionate and convincingly authentic.
TED's decision to release for the first time the conference talks for free was at least partially inspired by the impact the two Gore speeches had on those attending the Monterey gathering last February. "Gore was a convincing presence at the conference, his speeches stirred debates during and after the event: his passion and persuasion activated people. Attendees basically got a live preview of the movie", says June Cohen, director of TED Media in New York. "We believe in sharing the power of ideas, and it became clear to us that these talks deserve a wider audience". On top of the Al Gore speech, the TEDtalks program (which is fully sponsored by car-maker BMW) is launching with presentations by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, community development leader Majora Carter, Swedish data and development expert Hans Rosling, British education visionary Ken Robinson, and the New York Times' tech correspondent David Pogue.
One of these talks contains another powerful Gore-related moment of truth. At one point during his speech, motivational speaker Tony Robbins asks the audience to raise their hand if they have ever failed to achieve something significant in their lives. All hands go up. So Robbins asks: why did you fail? And starts listing the answers: not enough knowledge; lack of time; not enough money; lack of other resources; wrong boss. "The Supreme Court", says a voice from front row, and it's Al Gore's. The whole room laughs. Robbins too, and walks towards Gore to shake his hand. But then he becomes serious again: "You may not have enough money, you may not have the Supreme Court. But that's not the defining factor. The defining factor is never resources: it's resourcefulness". The audience goes silent, sensing that something is gonna happen. "If you have emotion, something that I have experienced very strongly from you the other night [during your first speech] at a level that's as profound as I ever experienced, and if you had communicated with that emotion, I believe you would have ... won!". Easy to guess what goes to many minds in the audience at that moment: Wow! Has Tony Robbins just flatly told Gore the other inconvenient truth?
I may be a bit biased on this, given my ties to TED, but TEDtalks takes conference podcasting to a whole new level. TED is going out of its way to make it as easy as possible for anyone interested to access the speeches, by making them available in five different formats: Flash (on ted.com), VideoEgg (on the TEDblog), MP3 audio and MP4 video podcasts (from iTunes or directly from the TED site), and on GoogleVideo. Adding to that is an automatic transcript generator called PodZinger that allows for keyword searches: put in "carbon dioxide" and it finds the exact spots in Gore's talk where it's referenced - then click and start watching at that point (the search of course only works on the online versions, not on the downloaded files; and while doing a decent job PodZinger, like other automatic speech-to-text software, still has a hard time with some nouns and jargon, so some of the results are only partially helpful. But it's a step forward in video searchability).
The podcasts are being released under a Creative Commons license, allowing them to be redistributed freely for non-commercial use. TED plans to release additional videos at regular intervals: over 40 speakers were featured at this year's conference in Monterey (there is an RSS feed to subscribe to the podcasts). The next TED conference (already sold out) will take place in March 2007.