Former Vice President Al Gore delivered a powerful address to a packed house at the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa this week. Environmentally, Gore is most famous, perhaps, for his 2006 speaking tour and subsequent documentary called An Inconvenient Truth, but as opening speaker Senator Brian Schatz pointed out, Mr. Gore has been a climate change and environmental champion throughout his long career. Schatz, the current U.S. Senator from Hawaii, said he was inspired by Earth in the Balance, Gore’s breakthrough work of nonfiction that set Gore’s path to a run for the White House in motion. Gore, in turn, after coming on stage, said that he was inspired more by Schatz, a freshman senator who managed to organize an all night session on the Senate floor with some 30 senators to discuss climate change and urge action from their colleagues. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get that many Senators to do ANYTHING? Let alone spend a whole night at work?” Gore quipped.
Gore started by framing the argument on climate change with the history of measurement of greenhouse gases. Roughly about the same time the first oil well was tapped 150 or so years ago, scientists were already saying that carbon dioxide can trap heat in a greenhouse kind of way. Gore got to the heart of the matter quickly:
Our way of life is at stake. Our grandchildren are at stake. People say not to tell people about this, but we’ve got to talk about it. We’ve got to rally on this! There is hope, and not only is there hope, but we are going to win this!
Gore said there have been two game changers in the last few years that have turned the tide in the war we’re waging against climate change. The first, he said, is the frequency of historic climatic events and the obvious effects of climate change. Right before Hurricane Sandy, according to data Gore showed from NOAA, the temperature of ocean water was recorded at 9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines after being bolstered by ocean temperatures 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal and to this day, 4 million environmental refugees are still homeless as a result. Worldwide, data are becoming incontrovertible. “Extremely hot days” are now 100x more prevalent than they were just a century ago. People are getting it, Gore said. Even the climate deniers are starting to become fewer and fewer and less and less vocal.
The other game-changing occurrence in recent years is clean technology. There are 79 countries where the cost of solar panels have dropped so much so that these countries have achieved grid parity with solar power. Gore compares the current climate denier industry to the tobacco industry 30 years ago. Back then, he said, when science had proven that smoking was bad for you, the tobacco industry paid actors to dress up as doctors, gave them a script, and they went on TV and told the world that there was absolutely nothing wrong with smoking. Gore said that climate deniers who pollute and make money from it are doing the same thing now. ”It’s immoral, unethical, and despicable, and we need to call them to account for it!” he implored the audience.
Beyond the political side, comparing solar to cell phone technology, Gore showed that AT&T did a study in 1990 which concluded that they should be able to sell 100,000 cell phones by 2000. The actual figure was over 100 million. Like cell phones, solar has an unstoppable quality to it.
Just like cell phone technology:
- Solar costs have dropped,
- solar quality has improved,
- people have the capacity to make the decision (rather than the utility),
- and the developing world is using solar as a leapfrog technology–rather than putting in power lines and centralized power, solar comes cheaper and faster
He concluded: “This is unstoppable!”
But solar and other clean technologies are not without their enemies. The Koch Brothers (whom this author thinks may be the worst people in the world) have introduced legislation in 34 states, through their lobbying power, to tax anyone who uses solar on their homes! They have not been able to move the legislation very far, however, and resistance has come from all sides of the political spectrum. In Georgia, Gore said, some elements of the Tea Party even came out of the woodwork to oppose this government intervention, and formed a strange bedfellows partnership with the Sierra Club… they called it the “Green Tea Party,” Gore said.
And it’s happening around the world. The Vatican, Gore said, is set to become the first carbon-neutral nation. “I’m a Southern Baptist, but I could convert to Catholicism!,” he said.
As for the science, the consensus continues to grow. Gore said that last year, over 9100 scientists around the world published climate science papers in peer-reviewed journals, and literally, only one of them opposes the majority view that climate change is happening and that we’re causing it. “Climate change is indisputable,” according to a Joint Statement issued by climate change scientists globally, shown in the slide show Gore was giving.
Gore advised, globally, two major changes that are needed to speed our victory over climate change.
- Put a price on carbon in markets
- Put a price on denial in politics
After comparing solar technology to cell phone technology, Gore argued that we’re on the right side of history in political terms, too. Comparing the way climate deniers and right wing talking heads are trying to reframe the argument or make it taboo to the same historical pattern seen in gay rights, civil rights, and many other issues in which we were told not to talk about it, not to acknowledge it, and not to legitimize it.
Gore finished with a powerful and emotional finale: “The only thing we need is political will, and political will is a renewable resource!”