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Al Gore Speaks Out About US Climate Challenges & Opportunities

The former US vice president and climate activist outlines both hope and trepidation around the new US administration’s climate policy potential.

In 2006, he brought his climate change slideshow to the US public in the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The film warned of an increasing “planetary emergency” if global warming continued unchecked, including rising sea levels, coastal flooding, and nations of climate refugees. He shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for his work to slow global warming. He’s Al Gore, the former US vice president who now spends the majority of his time as chair of The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit organization he founded that is focused on solutions for the global climate crisis.

Gore

Image provided by Climate One

Gore wrote in a recent New York Times editorial about his quest to protect the Earth’s climate balance as a “life-threatening battle” — one that has “consequences measured not only in months and years, but also in centuries and millenniums.” He implores us “to re-establish our compact with nature and our place within the planet’s ecological systems, for the sake not only of civilization’s survival but also of the preservation of the rich web of biodiversity on which human life depends.”

Calling all of President-elect Biden’s challenges “monumental,” Gore says the “most dangerous of all” is the climate crisis.

A whole decade might have been different if his 2000 candidacy to become a US President had ended differently. As a reminder, that’s the nefarious election in which the US Supreme Court reversed a Florida Supreme Court request for a selective manual recount of that state’s presidential election ballots. The 5–4 decision effectively awarded Florida’s 25 votes in the electoral college — and thus the election itself — to Republican candidate George W. Bush.

Climate action would have to wait.

Now we fast forward to 2020, a time in which the “accumulated wreckage of the past year” weighs heavily on Gore and the US. It’s also the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, now signed by 194 other nations to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases threatening the planet. President-elect Biden plans to rejoin the agreement on his Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021.

Opportunities ahead include building a more just and equitable way of life for all humankind. “Even as the climate crisis rapidly worsens, scientists, engineers and business leaders are making use of stunning advances in technology to end the world’s dependence on fossil fuels far sooner than was hoped possible,” he reminds us. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of severe consequences — coastal inundations and worsening droughts, among other catastrophes — if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced by 45%  from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

A New Global Generation Of Clean Energy

Cities, states, businesses, and investors have made progress in the past 4 years, despite resistance from the Trump administration, and, over the next 5 years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that clean energy will constitute 95% of all new power generation globally.

Gore highlights several examples of climate action which can give us hope.

Solar energy: The cost of solar panels has fallen 89% in the past decade, and the cost of wind turbines has dropped 59%. The International Energy Agency projects that 90% of all new electricity capacity worldwide in 2020 will be from clean energy — up from 80% in 2019, when total global investment in wind and solar was already more than 3x as large as investments in gas and coal. The IEA recently called solar power “the new king” in global energy markets and “the cheapest source of electricity in history.”

Retiring coal plants: As renewable energy costs continue to drop, many utilities are speeding up the retirement of existing fossil fuel plants well before their projected lifetimes expire and replacing them with solar and wind, plus batteries. Clean energy is now cheaper than 79% of US coal plants and 39% of coal plants in the rest of the world — a number projected to increase rapidly.

Natural gas: Clean energy combined with batteries is already cheaper than most new natural gas plants. The cost of batteries for EVs has dropped by 89% over the past decade, so EVs will reach price parity with internal-combustion vehicles within 2 years in key segments of vehicle markets in the US, Europe and Australia, followed quickly by China and much of the rest of the world. Sales of internal-combustion passenger vehicles worldwide peaked in 2017.

Divestment: Many global investors are beginning to shift capital away from “climate-destroying businesses” to sustainable solutions. Some of the world’s largest investment firms are now joining this movement, too, having belatedly recognized that fossil fuels have been extremely poor investments for a long while. 30 asset managers overseeing $9 trillion announced on Friday an agreement to align their portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050. As example, Exxon Mobil, “long a major source of funding for grossly unethical climate denial propaganda,” has decreased the value of its fossil fuel reserves by as much as $20 billion, adding to the “unbelievable” $170 billion in oil and gas assets written down by the industry in just the first half of this year.

Governments Around The World Step Up

Several of the world’s most important political leaders have introduced important initiatives this autumn, according to Gore.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission (EU), just announced that the EU will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in the next 9 years.

President Xi Jinping has pledged that China will achieve net-zero carbon emissions in 2060.

Leaders in Japan and South Korea said that their countries will reach net-zero emissions in 2050.

Denmark, the EU’s largest producer of gas and oil, has announced a ban on further exploration for fossil fuels.

Britain has pledged a 68% reduction by 2030, along with a ban on sales of vehicles equipped with only gasoline-powered internal-combustion engines.

Gore: “The Climate Crisis is Getting Worse Faster than We are Deploying Solutions”

The global context movement toward net-zero governing sets the background for President-elect Biden’s economic plan centerpiece of the US electricity grid decarbonization by 2035. Noting that an accelerated conversion to electric vehicles, an end to government subsidies for fossil fuels, and other initiatives can point the US toward net-zero emissions by 2050, Gore also implores the US to “put front line communities — often poor, Black, brown, or Indigenous — at the center of the climate agenda. They have suffered disproportionate harm from climate pollution.” As example, he describes how air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels — “to which these communities bear outsize exposure” — makes them more vulnerable to covid-19.

Jobs across demographic groups can help. With millions of new jobs needed to recover from the economic ravages of the pandemic, sustainable businesses result in 3x as many new jobs as investments in fossil fuels. Between 2014 and 2019, solar jobs grew 5x times as fast in the US as average job growth.

Gore reminds us that “all of these positive developments fall far short of the emissions reductions required. The climate crisis is getting worse faster than we are deploying solutions.”

The November 2021 meeting of all signatories to the Paris Agreement will have at their grasp new monitoring from an array of advanced technologies that will have precisely measured the emissions from every major source of greenhouse gases in the world, with most of that data updated every 6 hours.

This “radical transparency” resulted from efforts of a broad coalition of corporations and nonprofits called Climate Trace that tracks real-time atmospheric carbon emissions. “Countries will have no place to hide when failing to meet their emissions commitments,” Gore forecasts. “This precision tracking will replace the erratic, self-reported, and often inaccurate data on which past climate agreements were based.”

Looking ahead to that gathering of signatories, Gore argues, “We need to deal forthrightly with our shortcomings instead of touting our strengths. That, and that alone, can position the US to recover the respect of other nations and restore their confidence in America as a reliable partner in the great challenges humankind faces.” Saying “knowledge will be our salvation,” he asks the world’s leaders to “learn to work together, lest we perish together.”


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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. As part of her portfolio divestment, she purchased 5 shares of Tesla stock. Please follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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