Former Vice President Al Gore brought his message about the dangers of climate change to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa on the evening of April 15, 2014. He spoke before a crowd of nearly 7,000 people—more than half of them students—at UH’s Stan Sheriff Center.

“If we act together, there is absolutely no question that we will solve this,” said Gore. “Hawaiʻi is very impressively playing an inspiring leadership role.”

Gore’s speech was the capstone event of Ascent, a one day conference on clean energy and a sustainable future hosted by the UH Sea Grant College Program, UH Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple and U.S. Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaiʻi. His message was crystal clear.

Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at UH’s Stan Sheriff Center on April 15, 2014.

“Our way of life is at stake,” he said raising voice and waving his arms. “Our grandchildren are at stake. The future of human civilization is at stake. Somebody says, don’t tell people about that. I’m sorry but I cannot but tell people what is at stake. We got to rally on this and we got to understand what’s at risk.”

Those who attended say they were impressed.

“It was really exciting to see energy and passion, to support the knowledge and facts that he had to bring to us,” said UH student Clarice Schafer.

“It was really interesting to see that we had that sort of connection with getting someone as famous as president, Vice President Al Gore, to come down here and talk about it,” said Levi Viloria, who also attends UH.

The Ascent conference started in the morning with an opening speech by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California at UH Mānoa’s Orvis Auditorium. She was also very passionate as she addressed the audience on climate change.

“Clean energy is good for our lungs, energy efficiency is good for our pocket book, both create good paying jobs that can’t be outsourced,” said Boxer. “And as we move forward, we will make sure consumers are protected. That is the right thing to do and that is the moral thing to do. Hawaiʻi gets it.”

Boxer’s speech was followed by a roundtable discussion with respected community and business leaders from Hawaiʻi and the continental United States. The focus was on water and energy sustainability.

The discussion continued in the afternoon during breakout sessions at the East-West Center on the Mānoa campus with experts from the public and private sectors who are on the front lines of sustainability efforts.

“What they bring up is just how difficult decisions are that they have to make on a day-to-day basis dealing with costs when it comes to strategies and the challenges. And then, how do you deal with that in terms with moving forward and making the best decisions,” said Daniele Spirandelli, a UH Mānoa urban and regional planning professor.

The University of Hawaiʻi Ascent conference addressed key underlying issues of sustainability and demonstrated the role UH plays.

“This university has been fantastic and hosting this conference is a very big, big move because it captures people’s interest,” said Boxer.

“We can attract the quality of people like Senator Boxer and Vice President Gore, who are the major thinkers in these areas, not only in the nation but across the world,” said event organizer Gordon Grau, the director of the UH Sea Grant College Program. “So it is very, very important and it shows the importance of the university, not just locally, but nationally and internationally.”

All of the speakers waived their fees, including Gore, who ended the conference by imploring the audience to think about future generations.

“I want them to look back at us, at our time, and ask, how did you find the moral courage to stand up and do the right thing, and turn the tide?” said Gore. “And part of the answer is that the state of Hawaiʻi provided leadership and the United States finally listened. Always remember, that the only thing we need is political will and political will is a renewable resource!”

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s Ascent conference address