Al Gore Joins Web 2.0 Summit Lineup

As I wrote last month in What Good is Collective Intelligence if it Doesn’t Make Us Smarter?, at this year’s Web 2.0 Summit, we’re focusing on how what we’ve learned from the web over the past decade can be applied to solve the world’s hard problems. That’s why I’m really excited to see that John Battelle has persuaded Al Gore to join us.

One of those hard problems that requires all the intelligence we can throw at is global warming. And there’s no one who deserves as much credit as Al Gore for getting it on our collective radar. Through persistence, vision, and hard work, and a real mastery of the new tools of global media, he made all of us pay attention. His work has been a textbook demonstration of the power of media to change the way people think.

That’s Gore’s continuing focus, with his role at Current TV. He’s also joined Kleiner Perkins as a partner involved in cleantech investing.

When I first saw Gore talk about climate change at the TED conference in early 2006, everyone wanted to know what we could do about it. People are still struggling to answer that question, but it’s clear that technology can play a large role: helping us to monitor and measure the rate of change in crucial environmental variables, creating feedback loops that change behavior at both macro-levels (like carbon markets) and personal levels (like home energy monitoring); creating green data centers and low-power devices; creating new forms of renewable energy generation or storage, new materials that require less energy to create; alternative fuels and vehicles. The list goes on and on. (Reminder: we’re looking for innovative “web meets world”startups for the Web 2.0 Summit Launchpad.)

Of course, global warming is far from the only “web meets world” theme that we’re exploring. The conference will cover everything from the latest trends on the web (the rediscovery of e-commerce as a business model, cloud computing, social networking, mobile applications, and the inevitable platform wars) to politics, global disease detection, personal genomics, private space industry, and even military infotech. Speakers I’m particularly excited to see, in addition to Vice President Gore, include Tony Hsieh (@zappos, for those of you who see him continually on twitter), Elon Musk (who’s got to have the coolest portfolio of investments since retiring from PayPal, with SpaceX, SolarCity, Tesla Motors all under his wing), and Michael Pollan, who’s completely changed the way many of us think about food. Check out the confirmed speaker list, but keep in mind that there are more yet to come as John and I firm up the program.

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  • http://galaxyspectrum.com/ PR NY

    Was it intentional to start the conference the day AFTER the Presidential Election day?

    Especially if Obama wins, that will probably be all that people will be thinking about or discussing for the next few days afterwards.

  • http://blogs.adobe.com/jd John Dowdell

    Tim, you’re wrong. Al Gore came onto the stage from his wife’s repression of rock lyrics, then he went to hardware locks with Clipper Chip, okay’d Echelon and the “federal spying” some natter on about, has more recently called bloggers who ask inconvenient questions “digital brownshirts” and brought forth the new PC meaning for “holocaust deniers”.

    He is a bad guy.

    For climate changes, he glosses over that this local planetary system is in constant change, and we can’t accurately measure the recent relatively-small changes, and anthropogenic contributions are an open question beyond that, and “fixes” such as the Kyoto Protocol (which he uncharacteristically nixed) would likely not have led to the desired process anyway. It’s BS from top to bottom.

    Gore’s a bad guy. He profits from telling others to not do what he does.

    Don’t give him an additional stage. Question Authority.

  • http://www.mymeemz.com Alex Tolley

    John McDowell: “For climate changes, he glosses over that this local planetary system is in constant change, and we can’t accurately measure the recent relatively-small changes, and anthropogenic contributions are an open question”

    That is a misleading characterization of the science of climate change. You are just playing the “we just don’t know, so we need more research” card. We are way beyond that now.

    As for whether Gore should be given credit for his work, I think it is fair to say that whilst he wasn’t even close in being near the beginning of warning on this, his highly ridiculed (by the political talking heads) book, “Earth in the Balance” does lend him some authority as a politician willing to talk about these issues when they were not popular and politically risky and his movie really did bring the issue of global warming onto the international stage. That is enough, despite his arguably poor decision on rock lyrics.

  • Kent Brewstead

    BAD choice! Al Gore has lived in lies for most of his life. We in the tech world base our studies, ethic, work and planning based on facts and solutions to problems and challenges. As I recall he even said he created the internet…didn’t he?

    People love him because he is a politician…which is the reason to keep him away from such a great conference. Choosing him then will give many of us doubt of other presentations wondering if they too have a political agenda rather than giving us some great new technology facts, direction and trends.

    I used to get frustrated when conference presenters pushed micro-shaft so hard when we techs all knew of the MS products faults…we all just laughed about in the network classes I taught for years…but when you drag in a total liar like this it changes the whole environment of the conference.
    BAD CHOICE!
    Sorry, I have opted out of this conference.

  • Bad Brad

    I have one simple question…
    How is global warming calculated?
    It’s from one HUGE computer complicated program in research where they “enter” estimates and anything they want to change the outcome. It is pure guess work..research it geeks and you will find out.

    If you want to have a great discussion at the conference discuss the computer technology and program they use to estimate the future of global warming.

  • Scott

    Well, with the posts already on this thread we’re seeing the downside of the web…any old tool with a keyboard can spread misinformation and completely misrepresent reality.

    None of the people spreading this information know anything about how climate science is or isn’t conducted. They just make assumptions and then argue against those assumptions.

    I think the Global Warming skepticism is a best example of the web making society dumber.

  • john

    ugghh forget it, o’reilly has jumped the shark with gore, good luck with that

  • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress John A Arkansawyer

    @Kent Brewstead:

    Al Gore has lived in lies for most of his life. We in the tech world base our studies, ethic, work and planning based on facts and solutions to problems and challenges. As I recall he even said he created the internet…didn’t he?

    Actually, no, he didn’t say that. To quote the Snopes article:

    Despite the derisive references that continue even today, Al Gore did not claim he “invented” the Internet, nor did he say anything that could reasonably be interpreted that way.

    I’ve noticed a real vulnerability in tech people who reason beautifully and create lovely systems from false premises.

    It’s worst, I think, in those of us with backgrounds in math or philosophy, but it permeates tech culture. We like systems, we value consistency. When we see them, we assume the best–gullible in the second worst way (the worst being skepticism).

    Al Gore is dealing in messy reality. He’s on a hard problem in an area when absolute certainty is difficult. Cut him some slack.

  • http://vizbang.com/da Dan Ancona

    Wow, this is cool. I’ve been a fan of Gore’s since reading Earth in the Balance when I was in high school. This thread’s an interesting reminder of what the conservative movement does to its political opponents.

    I’m awfully disappointed in the timing of Web 2.0, though. I’m involved in politics and tech, and I’m working on a couple things that I would love to be talking to people about at this conference.

    But the finish line I’m very, very focused on is Nov. 4th. My feeling is that if I don’t collapse in a heap when polls close Tuesday night, I won’t have worked hard enough. It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to move Wednesday morning, let alone attend an event with a bunch of smarties.

    Really awful timing for a show with this focus. Bordering on cruel. Unless you’re trying to filter out the people most focused on actually participating in the political system, for some reason?

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    I’m with @scott. I’m blown away by how opinionated people are without much direct knowledge (usually based on political orientation on issues distinct from the actual science of global warming.)

    I’m sitting in a room right now with a bunch of climate scientists at Science Foo Camp, and there’s a damn lot of science and data being analyzed here.

    People offering opinions on this science based on what they read in the paper, or are told by their favorite TV pundit, is silly. The divergence between scientific opinion and popular media coverage is huge. You don’t have to trust Al Gore on this. You can trust scientific publications like Nature, which I’d trust a lot more deeply than say, Fox News.

    How would the developers in this audience feel if the news media were opining on the benefits of one programming language over another, and other people with no knowledge of programming were making strong statements based on what they’d read or heard in the media?

  • J

    “They just make assumptions and then argue against those assumptions”

    Go back and read the sentence you wrote before this one.

    “I’m with @scott. I’m blown away by how opinionated people are without much direct knowledge (usually based on political orientation on issues distinct from the actual science of global warming.)”

    In both cases, just a bit unfair to the kettle…

  • Scott

    J, exactly.

    So in the absence of direct understanding ourselves, we have a choice of what and who to believe.

    Right now, your choices are between the scientists who are actually conducting the research and analysis, and pundits who are opining on something that they have no data, research, or proper science to support.

    Your choice.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    What Scott said.

  • Robert

    Um, there are an awful lot of scientists against the theories being thrown out there about global warming that are *in* the field. I guess those scientists must be idiots because they don’t conform to your belief system.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    Robert,

    There are a few well known scientists (Freeman Dyson comes to mind) who have expressed skepticism. But Freeman, wonderful and insightful as he is, is not a climate scientist. The overwhelming consensus of climate scientists is that there is a serious problem.

    You can find people (including those who will claim to be scientists) who disagree with virtually anything.

    I’m curious, Robert, whether you are also skeptical about evolution. That would be a good litmus test of whether this is a political/religious disagreement or a scientific one. This would be a good question for Bad Brad, and Kent, and J to answer as well.

  • Terry Hill

    I would be interested in how W 2.0 technologies can be used to bring some understanding to the 1000 bills in the 110 Congress that relate to energy. I would like to understand, from the perspective of a custom builder that is interested in building Zero Energy Homes, which of those bills contain incentives that would facilitate building more ZEH’s. It seems to me that being able to create perspective views of this information would be very beneficial in developing alternative approaches to solving the energy/climate problem.

    Mr Gore has done his stint, now its time to get something done.

  • http://blogs.adobe.com/jd John Dowdell

    Tim asked: “How would the developers in this audience feel if the news media were opining on the benefits of one programming language over another, and other people with no knowledge of programming were making strong statements based on what they’d read or heard in the media?”

    Dude, there’s “global warming” programming in the *elementary*schools*. These are not informed audiences. It’s like being in a religious school.

    And those who dare to ask inconvenient questions are assailed as heretics, who must not speak. Their questions must be ignored; they must be characterized as uninformed; they must be labeled and reviled.

    Here’s a nice community-driven effort testing our core basic inputs on temperatures. For some reason, it doesn’t get much press, I wonder why….
    http://www.surfacestations.org/odd_sites.htm

  • zee

    Yes Terry,

    Some programmers need to aid law makers and general public to write intelligent parsers to parse through these bills which slip through publics attention without much coverage. Also go through and organize this info. Not just for energy related but for all the bills.

    It would be a great service. I might be wrong. What do you think?

  • J

    “I’m curious, Robert, whether you are also skeptical about evolution. That would be a good litmus test of whether this is a political/religious disagreement or a scientific one”

    If a litmus test about an unrelated issue is your standard for credibility here, I’ll concede that this is indeed a disagreement over your religion.

    I’m curious whether, in your view, skepticism about evolution makes one more or less credible on the subject: http://christiansandclimate.org/

    “Dude, there’s “global warming” programming in the *elementary*schools*. These are not informed audiences. It’s like being in a religious school”

    This is a core problem in environmental protection. I believe one of the primary roots of skepticism about AGW amongst the public is the relentless propaganda in schools in the 70′s that we were going into a new ice age
    as a result of burning fossil fuels. There are very good reasons to wean ourselves from fossil fuels apart from theories like AGW; basing our efforts on a theory that could be proven wrong or that, like many other societies, we could decide is worth the risk is not a good long term strategy.

    “Right now, your choices are between the scientists who are actually conducting the research and analysis, and pundits who are opining on something that they have no data, research, or proper science to support”

    Here’s the problem for me Scott. I am not qualified to judge the credentials of any given expert on climate science, but I have some expertise in human behavior. When I see advocates on one side of an argument demanding that research refuting it be stopped (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2006/sep/20/oilandpetrol.business), that scientists who question it be professionally sanctioned (http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressRoom.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=32abc0b0-802a-23ad-440a-88824bb8e528 ) , and that anyone who questions it be criminally prosecuted (http://gristmill.grist.org/print/2006/9/19/11408/1106?show_comments=no ), my experience has been that the people on that side of the argument are pretty much always wrong.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    J – You failed to answer my question about whether or not you question evolution as well. This is far from an “unrelated question.” In each case, there is a group that for political, economic, or religious reasons, “questions the science.” And in the case of both evolution and global warming, there seems to be a strong political alliance.

    The “Christians and Climate” link you provide is a good one: it demonstrates that there are people who are actively working to break that lockstep assumption that if you are a Christian, you are skeptical about climate change. Doesn’t that in fact reinforce my argument that there is a political agenda here.

    Regarding your links about scientists being censured, they gave me pause until I followed them and read the target articles. The Royal Society letter was not in fact a “demand that research refuting it be stopped,” but a request that Exxon Mobil stop mis-representing the scientific consensus, and that they provide information about the scientists and organizations to whom they were providing funding to express doubt. That’s a pretty big difference. Any company and any scientist should be able to provide research on the subject. But it is no more appropriate for an oil company to pay scientists to express doubt than it was for cigarette companies to pay scientists to express doubt about the link between cigarettes and cancer.

    The link about criminal prosecution points out the similarity between tobacco companies funding denial of the cancer-cigarette science and oil companies funding denial of the oil and global warming science. And yes, the tobacco companies were eventually prosecuted. So this doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to me.

    In short, I think you’re misrepresenting this as scientists being censured for their opinions, when in fact, it’s about scientists being censured for taking money from interested parties to espouse particular opinions.

    The link about the weather guy saying that weathermen who question the science should be decertified is more troubling. But even there, there is some justification, just as there is justification for scientists being concerned that “creation science” is taught as an alternative to evolution in schools. This is religion, politics, and economic self-interest masquerading as science.

    The bottom line on global warming for me is this: if the scientific consensus is wrong, and we take action, we get lots of benefits anyway: we improve our energy independence, we invest in new technology and reinvigorate our economy over the long term, and we get an improved environment. If the scientific consensus is wrong, and we take no action, we get more of the same: obscene profits to entrenched oil companies, a staggering economy, and the prospect of increased dependence on foreign oil. (If global warming doesn’t get us, peak oil will.) If the scientific consensus is right, and we take no action, we’re well and truly screwed.

    Which of those choices do you prefer? Seems to me that even if there’s *significant* uncertainty and scientific debate about global warming, we’re *far* better off taking it seriously than not.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    John Dowdell -

    Thanks for the link to surfacestations.org. Anything we can do to get better data is good.

    Note that I’m totally supportive of research to improve the models, and figure out whether we have a problem. And in fact, all my conversations with climate scientists have supported the idea that they are also looking for more data. They would LOVE to disprove global warming. They are not at all hostile to data that would improve the picture. (At the Science Foo Camp we hosted last weekend, this was the continual question: is there any data that contradicts the model, or suggests possibilities for improvement.)

  • Michael

    As a climate scientist (& incidentally an evolutionary scientist as well), I usually look at the responses that question the science as short-sighted and reactionary. Many, even from people who should know better, are downright laughable and they are easily dismissed. But sometimes you have to repsond, like in the case of the statement about the “huge global warming calculating computer”.

    C’mon…this isn’t Oz. The IPCC is not behind the curtain manipulating data so that the publc only sees the scary face of upward trends. Nearly all data that goes into calculating the trends on numerous spatial and temporal scales (yes geologic too, so you save the ‘only 150 years of data’ rebuttal) are publicly available & trends are computable on your kid’s laptop. Further, an increasing trend does not mean warmer for everyone, every year. Just because a trend is increasing, there will also be points that exhibit decreasing trends. THis is evident in a simple analysis of the data as well. Beyond the human contribution, there are and always will be geophysical drivers (the North Atlantic Oscillation and ENSO for example), that trump man; these are well documented in the literature. Actually, due to the ease of collecting data and the political polarization surrounding climate, climate science and climate science in general is one of the most transparent branches of science.

    One of Tim’s last points is extremely important in the context of this thread. Global warming aside, there are many more compelling reasons to reduce emissions/develop alternative energy sources from a purely humanitarian perspective. So even if you don’t agree with the alarmist arguments (which many scientists do not), it is very hard to disagree with the other human/economic/environmental benefits that the same efforts would generate.

  • J

    “J – You failed to answer my question about whether or not you question evolution”

    Sorry. For the record, I don’t have any reason to question the theory of evolution. I “question the science” of course, in the sense that I question all science. I’m open to arguments against evolution, if you have any.

    I’m discouraged by your defense of the behavior of the Royal Society and Heidi Cullen. It’s easy to take things for granted, but the right to freedom of speech is more anomalous than you think, and needs to be defended even when you believe the speaker is wrong.

  • Scott

    John Dowell,

    You ask a question “I wonder why?” when you show the surfacestations website.

    It doesn’t take much investigation on your part to find out why it doesn’t get much press. The reason is simple, that data is combined with a lot of other sources of data and the anomalies that are pointed out on that site are identified by the scientists themselves and corrected by computers which is much more convenient and accurate than trying to change every single data point.

    You mention “plenty of other scientists” being skeptical. But what you can’t find is a single peer reviewed paper that makes the skeptics case.

    I’ve done a lot of investigation of these skeptics you mention and they are either all retired and very old scientists (80+) not active in science for years or they lie outside of Climatology all together.

    One wonders why the skeptic community is so willing to listen to scientists who aren’t actually studying the phenomena and not willing to listen to those who do?

  • http://tim.oreilly.com Tim O'Reilly

    J -

    I also support freedom of speech. But don’t you think it’s actually more a case of trying to stop deceptive advertising than a matter of free speech? When I read the Royal Society letter, that’s how it came across to me.

    Do you think “freedom of speech” includes the right to pay scientists to spread doubt about an issue in which the companies in question have a huge financial interest? They aren’t paying scientists to “research” the topic, but to cast doubt on the existing research. Very analogous to the situation with tobacco companies. Do you think that tobacco companies in the 50s had the “right” to pay scientists to deny the smoking/cancer link?

    And you seem to have missed that I said I found the Heidi Cullen article troubling. But I will reiterate what I tried to say the first time: Cullen is trying to address a real issue. When people certified by a professional agency misrepresent the scientific consensus, that is a real concern.

    Imagine, for example, if a stock market commentator mis-reported the state of the market? Or failed to disclose connections with interested parties that influenced his or her reporting? Would that be grounds for censure?

    There’s a big difference between saying “Most scientists think that global warming is an issue. I think it’s bunk.” and saying “There no agreement among scientists that weather patterns are changing as a result of human activity.” (Especially when, in the latter case, there is a strong correlation between the political agenda of your station and that message.)

    The first statement of doubt is freedom of expression and good science. (Freeman Dyson’s article is a great example of that.) The second is deception.

    I don’t know enough of the specifics to know if it’s worthy of censure. But I will point out that the third link that you provided is actually to a book documenting how companies are funding scientists to argue positions that the companies know to be false, much as happened with tobacco. You are free to disagree with their research, but when you say “look, they are saying there may be the equivalent of war crimes trials one day” without making clear on what grounds the book makes that claim, you are practicing a bit of deception of your own.

    Given the misrepresentation of the Royal Society letter and the Monbiot book (“The Denial Industry”) in your original post, I’m wondering whether you actually read the documents at the ends of the links you provided, or whether you had done so, but were hoping that your readers wouldn’t.

  • L Hayward

    Just need to add another perspective as an educator for over 25 years. Theories do not becomes facts even if published for 50 years.
    Also -information is only as good as it’s source! Al Gore is a master of deception! (In whatever language you say it.) Selling carbon units does not fix the trumped up global warming problem he lays claim to. He has a nose for profiteering on a grand scale!
    Typical political thinking-find a source of revenue and engineer a means to tap into it.
    Gore is a globalist and has no loyalties, scruples, character, integrity, honesty… and that is the best I can say for him. In my travels I find that liars can never be trusted and should never be sourced or quoted!
    For all of the databases of information accumulated in the world- that does equal intelligence or wisdom! Neither is the amassing of printed materials the equivalent of genius!! Pack rats live that way all their lives!
    The human race continues to battle the same corruption and ills of society despite his race to fame and fortune!
    The incredible advances in technology, communication and access to information does not guarantee that people will recognize truth or have any discernment to separate error from truth!! That is the gross problem at hand!! While one uses Adobe software for impressive presentation-that glossy spellbinding cover does not guarantee the information behind it is valid! Crowds can gather to learn computer technologies and tools of the trade but that is not a measurement of sound thinking or sound judgement!! I have to agree with comments by Kent, Scott etc. Your judgement is questioned when you share stage with Al Gore!!Al Gore and all his written supposition is insufficent for debate!