This past summer I joined The Climate Reality Project Toronto Training, where I became a climate reality leader along with 600 other participants.
Former US Vice-President Al Gore founded The Climate Reality Project to address awareness about climate change after the 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
This two-day session brought people from all over the world, mostly from Canada. There was a sense of optimism, a sense the tide was turning. From last year’s People’s Climate March to Naomi Klein’s critically acclaimed best-selling book This Changes Everything, much has changed recently in the race to save the planet.
However, one aspect which grabbed me was an increased optimism shown by Al Gore and those in attendance for improved awareness and capacity for cleantech in recent years.
In order to understand the upward momentum in climate action, you first must understand the climate crisis going on. Last year was the hottest year on record, according to NASA. In 2015, this year is expected to smash last year’s record.
With warmer temperatures across the globe, we are seeing increases of extreme weather. From California’s drought, to Canadian wildfires, and Houston’s massive rain storm the world has not been immune from extreme weather across this year.
One effect of this trend is the economic impact on infrastructure. Glenn McGillivray from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction made this key point to Climate Leaders on how climate change is creating big financial headaches. In Canada alone, 2010 and 2011 saw for the first time in its history $1 billion insurance losses due to extreme weather, he noted. McGillivray also said in 2013 Canada saw its worst year for insurance losses with $3.2 billion due to huge extreme weather events in Calgary (flooding), and Toronto (rain and ice storms).
Another effect is on the global food supply. As temperatures increase, it wrecks havoc on farmers, who depend on steady weather to forecast how much they will grow. Droughts have affected global food supply, helping to fuel chaotic situations, including the Syrian Civil War.
When you add concerns of food and financial costs of infrastructure, the challenges of climate change can’t be ignored. Despite what’s happening, Al Gore highlighted why we should be optimistic about solving the climate crisis, thanks to recent clean technology advancements.
— ElmwoodFietser (@adamjohnstonwpg) July 9, 2015
Consider both wind and solar energy: Gore highlighted the fact that both wind and solar energy capacity are greatly higher now than initially in the early 2000s. Wind energy capacity was twelve times greater in 2010 than 2000 predictions, while solar energy projections in 2010 were more than 62 times 2002 estimates.
Sharp price drops (as mentioned numerous times here on CleanTechnica) have been critical for wind and solar advancement on a global scale. Gore mentioned during his presentation that onshore wind costs have dropped from around $200 Euros per MW in 1984 to just a few pennies today, which has helped to boost overall wind capacity to nearly 360 GW at the end of 2014.
Gore was quite enthusiastic about solar energy, relating it to cellular phones, which as a transformative technology changed how we communicate. He pointed to an AT&T study which predicted there would be 900,000 US cell phone users by 2000. Yet, the number was 109 million, or 120 times higher.
This transformation that is occurring is helping both consumers and developing nations bypass traditional energy providers in receiving electricity.
Solar installers are helping homeowners to save on their energy bills in the US. In developing nations, solar is giving African & Latin American countries, China, and India the opportunity to modernize their electricity needs, while leapfrogging past fossil fuels. A similar occurrence happened with cellular phones leapfrogging past land lines in these countries. In Latin America alone, solar power grew in 2014 by 370%, with Chile, Honduras, and Mexico set as the 3 top solar markets in this region.
I share the same hope along with former US Vice President Gore on how we may be turning the corner. However, the task is far from done. The fossil fuel industry received $550 billion in subsidies in 2013, more than four times what renewables get, according to the International Energy Association. This is holding back further investment in cleantech, and a shift in subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables would help.
Putting a price on carbon is also critical to enhance cleantech investment, while accounting for externalities seen in carbon emissions. British Columbia has a carbon tax in place which has been successful since its start in 2008, ranking as one of Canada’s top economic performers.
With a Canadian election now in full swing and US Presidential race gearing up, it’s time to engage our politicians on where they stand on climate change and a clean energy future. We need to move beyond climate denial and toward climate hope.