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At Class Day, Al Gore talks climate change, jokes about grade deflation

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On the same day that the federal government announced a 30 percent target reduction of carbon pollution by 2030, former Vice President Al Gore gave a speech to the graduating Class of 2014 at Class Day combining humor and a message to take action against global warming.

“I was once named one of the 100 funniest men on C-Span,” Gore said.

On a more serious note, he criticized the University for not supporting the divestment movement, a push that seeks to stop college endowments from investing in non-renewable energy sources, and turned to University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 to apologize for the disagreement that University presidents and the cause Gore promotes hold on that front.

Gore follows in the footsteps of David Remnick ’81, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Chevy Chase, Jerry Seinfeld and others who have spoken at the University’s annual tradition of Class Day in honor of the graduating class. The speech usually takes a lighter tone than the Baccalaureate speech the day before.

“Back when I was vice president, I wasn’t known for humor, but as the object of humor,” he said, adding that people used to say, “How could you tell Al Gore apart in a room full of secret service agents? Well, he was the stiff one.”

Gore began his speech joking about grade deflation as a serious problem. “Heck, I won the popular vote and got marked down to second place,” he said referring to his 2000 loss to former President George W. Bush.

“You win some, you lose some,” he added.

Gore went on to say he thought about crowdsourcing his keynote address and in the process went on to do some research on graduation and class day speeches to find that many of them give consistent advice with similar rhetoric.

Sixty-four percent of speakers at events like Class Day tell the audience to “give back, serve humanity and make the world a greater place,” Gore said, and 61 percent tell the graduates to “do the right thing, do your duty.”

Gore told the Class of 2014 that he would not make any of these suggestions and instead took Class Day as an opportunity both to show his humor behind the more serious veil that people often attach to his name and to talk about the steps necessary to combat climate change as well as President Barack Obama’s historic Environmental Protection Agency announcement on Monday.

“It’s particularly important not because of the actual reduction but because it enables the reestablishment of moral authority in leading the world community in an effort that will culminate in Paris at the end of 2016 where all nations will take the kinds of statements that our nation took today,” Gore said.

Ninety-eight million tons of pollution are poured into the atmosphere every day, Gore said, which he compared to an “open sewer.” He asserted that the first step toward combating climate change is establishing what the reality is today and highlighting the dire necessity for change.

He noted that there are now 79 countries around the world where the cost of electricity is equal to or cheaper than the cost of electricity from all other sources, a step in the right direction with regard to appropriately effecting change.

He cited the progress in Bangladesh in installing solar panels around the country in efforts to lessen pollution and preserve natural resources.

Gore concluded his speech by saying that decades from now, graduating classes either will appreciate those who promoted renewable energy and new technologies that accomplished a low carbon world and who ultimately reversed the harmful reality that global warming would have brought, or graduating classes will be struggling with the horrific consequences of climate change and will ask why nothing was done to bring about change.

“I want them to look back at us, and I want part of that answer to be that the Princeton Class of 2014 led the way,” he said.

Class Day took place on the morning of June 2 on Cannon Green. Commencement will take place on June 3.

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