The former vice-president of the United States, Al Gore, has called for a change in our system of values to save the earth from environmental chaos. Addressing the sun21 energy forum in Basel, Gore said we had a moral responsibility to future generations to adopt a new code of behaviour.
In a wide-ranging talk, which covered evolution, geology and the lyrics of the Beatles, Gore identified three main threats to the planet - unprecedented population growth, the unintended consequences of technology and our inability to change our way of thinking.
"In my 53 years, I have witnessed the population of the world go from a little over two billion to six billion," said Gore.
"In the next fifty years, it's going to increase to nine billion. That's a China's worth of people every 12 to 15 years. And 95 per cent of that growth is in developing countries which aspire to have a pattern of energy use similar to ours."
Gore catalogued a "litany of disasters" from the depletion of the ozone level to the destruction of rainforests and the recession of the world's glaciers, saying all were symptoms of the collision between our civilisation and the earth's environment.
Attacking our throwaway culture, he said: "In my country we produce enough household, business and industrial waste every day to equal twice the body weight of every man, woman and child in the United States."
Gore said we had to find a more sustainable way to live on this planet. He said we needed to change our attitude and behaviour.
"It is time to reassess our value system. If the only way we have to measure value is money, how do you measure clean air, clean rivers, the beauty of our landscape? These things can't be valued in terms of dollars and cents or euros. In the words of the Beatles, money can't buy you love.
"You must become the change you wish to see in the world. We have to live the values we try to promulgate."
Gore, who was the Democratic candidate for the US presidency last year, is a prominent environmentalist and author of the 1992 book Earth in the Balance in which he proposed a global "Marshall plan" to protect the environment.
To loud applause, he told the 1,000-strong audience at the Congress centre in Basel that he was the man "who used to be the next president".
Security was tight at the congress centre, which is hosting the 4th international energy forum.
At the beginning of his speech, Gore referred to last week's attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in which more than 6,000 people are now thought to have died.
"My heart is heavy because of the terrible tragedies which occurred in my country last week," he said. "I would like to express my gratitude to all of you who have expressed condolences and solidarity in one form or another. All my fellow Americans are grateful for the firm support here in Switzerland."
by Vincent Landon