Why Al Gore Shouldn’t Be This Year’s SHRM Annual Keynote Speaker

An Inconvenient Choice?

Last week, China Gorman used Twitter to announce that Al Gore had been selected as the Keynote Speaker for the 2010 SHRM Conference and Exposition in San Diego. It didn’t take long for the news to spread, or for a debate to spring up on Twitter about whether the selection was an appropriate one.  My own take is that Gore is a good choice in juxtaposition to Jack Welch last year.  You can see my full post on Why Al Should Be This Year’s SHRM Annual Keynote Speaker by clicking here.

HR people love a controversy.

One of the more vocal opinions against Gore that I encountered on Twitter was that of Martha Finney.  To say that she was not in favor of the selection would be putting it far too mildly.  It is more adequate to describe Martha as feeling disenfranchised by SHRM as a direct result of this choice.

I thought the best to describe how Martha feels was to ask her to say so for herself.   She was kind enough to agree to pen a guest post on the topic, and so here is Martha Finney, kindly sharing her thoughts on Al Gore speaking at SHRM in her own words.   I think you will find them thoughtful, compelling, and perhaps even provocative!

If you don’t know Martha, here is a short bio.  Martha Finney is, an employee engagement consultant, who vastly prefers writing and speaking about great corporate cultures and people who love their work, as well as giving her Career Landscape workshop to internal corporate groups.  You can tell her off at martha@marthafinney.com.

Al Gore speaking at SHRM

It’s been a few days now since SHRM proudly announced that Al Gore will be this year’s keynote speaker in San Diego.  And my mind is still swinging so wildly from befuddlement (in the benign moments) to outright outrage (in moments of clarity) that I’m having a really hard time focusing on my work. Since a large part of my work is writing (specifically writing about HR), I’m thinking that if I get it out of my system this way, I can return to more pressing matters at hand. But then again, maybe this exercise will put me in an even bigger (I just typed, “bitter,” Freudian?) swivet.  I guess time will tell.

Here are the reasons why Al Gore should not be this year’s keynote speaker:

His entire platform is based on flawed, faulty and just flat-out wrong data. In recent months, especially (probably right around the time the SHRM program committee was negotiating with Al’s people),  there has been breaking news about data manipulation, coercion, and oh, let’s see, “off the top of my head” speculation about historic global temperature trends and how these hypothetical trends might – might – impact ice melt around the world.  Ice melt, mind you, that human beings might be directly responsible for.  Which is also a highly speculative notion.

Al and his pals will not tolerate appropriate dissention and inquiry. Careers have been threatened in the scientific community because a handful of thoughtful researchers and academics had the temerity to publicly question the research methodology, the data, the results and the conclusions that the earth’s environment is going to hell. And that countries, like, oh, gee, uhm, say, the United States, ought to pay huge bucks (or “carbon credits” or jobs) to the rest of the world in a bizarre scenario of reparations, one day in some form of cap and trade.

Our former vice president doesn’t seem to be so keen on the freedom of the press either. A few months ago, during what was purported to be a legitimate press conference around environmental issues, he stonewalled a reporter who was asking a challenging (but courteous) question around the health of the polar bear population.  When the reporter didn’t receive the straight answer he was legitimately asking for, he asked again. Again, courteously.  And then suddenly the reporter’s microphone went out and Al went on to field a new question from a different reporter.  Coincidence, I’m sure.

This particular environmental group is rife with hypocrisy. You heard about all those private jets and limos shipped special to Copenhagen?  I thought so.

Al’s platform will turn this country’s pockets inside out, while, coincidentally lining his own. And not do a darn bit of real good for the environment.

Cap and trade is recognized by both parties as a job killer.  Should it become law here in the United States, millions of jobs will be lost. But don’t worry, there has been talk that people who would lose their jobs would get a weekly taxpayer-funded paycheck worth 70% of their current salary for up to three years. A “climate change worker adjustment assistance program” could cost America $4.2 billion from 2011 to 2019. Given the fact that Obama himself acknowledges that the cost of energy would “necessarily skyrocket” as a result of cap and trade, I wonder if I could qualify, given the fact that the cost of running this here computer will also necessarily skyrocket. I think we could all expect a little less jingle in our pockets should the current batch of global warming warners have their way.

(And even if this massive redistribution of our national wealth [oops, I mean, mitigation of the national impact on the climate] were to actually have any kind of impact on the environment at all—and the jury is still out on that – climatologists believe that it would only be a degree or two by the end of this century.)

Al, on the other hand, would see a positive impact on his personal bottom line well before that.  He invests heavily in “green” companies (good for him) but then uses his not-insignificant influence on global opinion to advocate for national policies that would cause those companies to prosper. He has been referred to by the media as the man who is positioned to be the “world’s first carbon billionaire.”  (We’re talking the NY Times here, not Bill O’Reilly.)

He says he’s just putting his money where his mouth is.  Okay. But don’t overlook the fact that he has also positioned his open wallet directly under the jackpot whose chances of paying off increase every time he gives his speech from the august platform of this country’s former vice president and his reputation as a thoughtful advocate of environmental protection.

Al’s proposals would make work a living hell for SHRM members.

How much do you love regulations, restrictions, litigations, and laying people off? Me, too.

The choice to invite Al to be the keynote speaker tells at least half of the SHRM membership that they don’t matter. This global warming issue is splitting our nation apart.  The radical Left has set up the conversation in such a way as to say, “If you don’t agree with me about global warming, then you are a money-grubbing, materialistic, fumes-spewing, selfish pig who doesn’t give a damn about the environment and all those poor, poor, pitiful polar bears.” Assuming that the SHRM membership represents the nation politically,  then it would be safe to say that half think that Al Gore might have a point. And the other half really, really doesn’t. But 100% care about air, water, climate and the polar bears. And jobs.  Still, SHRM has decided that 100% of conference attendees this summer, those who want to get full value of their registration fee, must sit and listen to lies, bad research and spin.

And if you happen to be among those who don’t want to? Tough. But the nice folks at the SHRM conference registration will happily take your full registration fee anyway. Your considered opinion may not count, but your money’s always, uhm, green.

Am I advocating that we don’t discuss the impact of business on the environment altogether? Absolutely not! This is definitely an essential subject. But why give Al the bully pulpit, without any balanced commentary from reasoned, reasonable thought leaders from all sides? (I say all, because there are more than just two.) You know, people who are actual experts who might actually know something based on actual legitimate research.

That this is the one guy who gets center stage and the microphone all to himself is just pandering to celebrity, which, in itself insults the intelligence of SHRM members. We are not magpies, shoving aside the substance, while in the thrall of the shiny.  We deserve better.

And why the hell Al anyway? You know, I get how the program committee is under pressure to create a dynamic, irresistible line-up of great sessions and get-em-in-the-door keynote stars. I understand that. I really do.  But, I find myself thinking the same thing I thought when the Nobel committee announced its Peace Prize winner this year:  “Why him, when there are so many other clearly more compelling, more deserving, more inspiring individuals who have earned the right to speak from the stage (whether it’s the world stage in front of billions or the SHRM stage in front of thousands)?

Why not Greg Mortenson or John Wood, who are bringing literacy and hope for a better future to children in some of the most remote, ravaged parts of the world?  Why not Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders? (I’m sure she could put that hefty speaker’s fee to excellent use, and she probably wouldn’t require a private plane to get to San Diego.)

Why not anyone whose fundamental message is how everyday human beings work wonders every day to lift up mankind throughout the world?  Why must we invite – at immense expense – a scold whose main message is that our yearning to grow, build, manufacture, expand and prosper is making life really hard for the polar bears (proven to be untrue) and creating a hockey-stick temperature rise (also proven to be untrue)?

But, we invited him. So it looks like we’re stuck with this guy.  In other communities , it’s become fashionable to shout-down the guest speaker, and basically push the person off-stage with cacophony.  We at SHRM are grown-ups and better behaved than that. So we won’t.

That doesn’t mean I have to stick around when he takes the stage.  That person you see standing up and leaving? That will be me. I’ll try not to scrape my chair as I stand up.


More on Martha Finney,President and CEO, Engagement Journeys, LLC

author, Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss (FT Press, 2009)

author, The Truth About Getting the Best From People (FT Press, 2008)

editor, Building High Performance People and Organizations (Praeger, 2008)

blog:  reboundyourcareer.blogspot.com

website: www.marthafinney.net

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38 thoughts on “Why Al Gore Shouldn’t Be This Year’s SHRM Annual Keynote Speaker

  1. @heartofhr: How can you set aside the issue of global warming when it comes to Al Gore? He’s probably the single most decorated individual in the world for championing the re-making of global commerce in accordance with the Marxist ideal. We only encourage people to set aside their own views and take in another when we want them to adopt ours, not when they’re asking us to listen to theirs.

  2. I agree with Mike’s take on the reasons why SHRM should have Al Gore as the keynote speaker. There are even greater issues at stake here.

    Setting aside the issue of global warming, when did it become a bad thing to listen to another opinion? By keeping our minds open, we might actually learn something new. Our opinion may not change. At least we can walk away with a broader perspective. When I was growing up my father and grandfather would give me books to read and afterwards we’d have discussions. They would play devil’s advocate as I struggled to make my case. Any one of us can put the spin on most anything and we do.

    HR Florida received flack from having Edward James Olmos’ as a keynote. We were told that his message was too strong and not appropriate for an HR group. If diversity is not appropriate topic for HR folks, the ones who should be spearheading their organizational cultures into one of inclusion, then tell me who?

    The real problem rests with the folks that really need to hear the message and learn. Their minds are already made up and their ears are closed. How sad for us as a nation that civility seems to be on its last breath.

    We are a country founded on capitalism, so I can’t blame Al Gore for making money either. His rivals do, too.

    On the topic of global warming, whether you believe it exists or not, we have not been good stewards of our planet. How deep of a carbon footprint do you want to leave your children, grandchildren and future generations?

    1. @Lori – Thanks for adding to the conversation, especially regarding the controversy within HR Florida around Mr. Olmos – I missed that presentation last year, but really wanted to hear it. I understand the points Martha is making. She did propose some speaker alternative that would have been good choice as well. For me, I like choices who will make people do two things – LISTEN and THINK.

      Talk to you next week!

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