Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Al Gore: A Plan to Solve the Global Climate Crisis
Today I am deeply honored to welcome Vice President Al Gore. He joins us to discuss his latest book Our Choice A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. And Mr. Gore's new book. We find out exactly that in the plan. The book provides direct ideas a collection of tangible solutions from personal to global to change what is happening to our planet. The book has been called authoritative exhaustive reasoned and logical and renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben explains our choices quote the grand compendium of all that we know about how to undertake this most difficult of transitions from an economy that burns fossil fuels to an economy that lives mostly on incoming power of the sun in its many forms. Mr. Gore has created yet again an accessible and urgent vehicle of information that demands decisions and actions. For over 30 years Al Gore has been the leading advocate for confronting the threat of global warming. His efforts were outlined in the bestselling book.
In the balance. Mr. Gore's Mr. Gore is also the author of The Truth the bestselling book and subject of the Academy Award winning documentary of the same title which I believe a few of you may have seen.
Al Gore is a graduate of Harvard University and the co-founder and chairman of Current TV an Emmy Award winning independently owned cable and satellite news network. He is co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management a film focused focused on a new approach to sustainable investing. Mr. Gore is a member of the board of directors of apple and a senior advisor to Google. He is a visiting professor at Middle Tennessee State University and chairs the Alliance for Climate Protection the nonprofit organization does it make good to solve. To help solve the climate crisis as we all know Mr. Gore has served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the United States Senate and was inaugurated as the forty fifth vice president of the United States in 1993. He's a recipient of both a 2005 Webby Award and a co recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ladies and gentlemen fell further do thank you for joining us tonight. Please join me in welcoming. Thanks president. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you very much for that very warm and generous welcome. It is great to be back in Cambridge. Thank you Heather again for the very generous introduction of the Harvard bookstore is one of my favorites.
And the whole world.
There are lots of good friends here and I'm not going to try to acknowledge everybody but I want to acknowledge Bob Mann and Massey who I'm told are here somewhere.
There you go.
And Bob has been one of the great leaders of the movement to get accountability among large institutions and financial institutions.
I'm very grateful for your work.
My friend then parrots the is is here and thank you.
One of my teachers she hated it when I called her Ma'am the first time I met her I was only a couple years older than me. Jim McCarthy one of the IPCC leaders co recipient is a member of the IPCC of the Nobel Peace Prize and many others and I don't have my glasses on so I if I look right at you and don't recognize you that's the reason.
It's great to be here.
My own personal journey on the issue of the climate crisis began here and Cambridge Forty two years ago when I walked into the classroom of Roger Revelle and he was a genius and a great man of distinguished scientists.
He was the first to propose the epic long running 50 year plus the measurement of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere. One of the most important scientific undertakings in the history of human civilization and during his course he opened my eyes to what this was all about. And. Opened a window onto the future through which it was possible to see what would unfold if we did not take action to halt the rapidly accumulating global warming pollution in the Earth's atmosphere. So it is a homecoming for me. Each time I come back to this to this day to this city I want to acknowledge here in Massachusetts the outstanding leadership of Markey and John Kerry along with his colleague Henry Waxman did a terrific job in a very difficult political environment in the House of Representatives to get legislation that. Wow.
Containing provisions that many of us would not have wanted to see in a head didn't either. Nevertheless walk the line between what was possible politically and what is necessary to respond to the crisis and John Kerry has been the preeminent leader in the United States Senate in pulling together the various groups and factions to get legislation there. And that effort is proceeding. Barbara Boxer his colleague just reported out of the Environment Committee this week one of the six pieces of legislation that will all be combined together in a consensus draft due to be available before Copenhagen and designed to attract the vote the votes of 60 senators a sufficient number to pass the legislation in the aftermath of Copenhagen. I was on the phone this morning with the prime minister of Denmark. He gave up. An update of the preparations there. And I think that in spite of the odds and in spite of the pessimism there is an excellent chance of a binding political agreement among heads of state in Copenhagen that will both again immediate implementation of reductions and give a roadmap to the negotiators who will be assigned to complete the details of a comprehensive treaty in the months following Copenhagen. Seems like a long time since I've been since I started working on this issue and I was reminded of. That not long ago when I was with a friend in Los Angeles and we worked through lunch and headed back out toward Los Angeles Airport and stopped. For a quick bite at a place called soup and sandwich and we walked through the line I got a bowl of soup sat down at a plastic table on a plastic chair and as I was beginning to eat my soup this woman walked by in front of the table just staring at me as she walked by and I didn't think too much about that until a few moments later out of the corner of my God saw the same woman coming from the opposite direction just staring and so to be polite I looked up and I said How do you do.
And she took a step forward and she said you know if you dyed your hair black.
And I knew you would look just like Al Gore I.
And as a thank you so much and I. She said You sound like him too. And. Anyway.
I am. I'm really happy to have completed this book.
It's it has been the most difficult for me because it covers so much territory and in order to do it justice I found it necessary to drill down very deeply into a variety of different subjects all of which are connected intimately to any comprehensive plan to solve the climate crisis.
With which in which I wrote researched and wrote the book. Included more than 30 so-called solutions summits. To which I invited the leading world experts on each of the topics explored in the book. And they were generous with their time and patient with my request to go back over the material slowly and please put it in language jackin understand because that's the only way I can communicate it to others and in a real sense the this book represents the the insides of these hundreds of experts they're all listed in the back of the book in the acknowledgments and I want to acknowledge my debt of gratitude to them. These sessions were very exciting. Because many of the experts sitting around the table with their peers and colleagues have got into very heated discussions of elements that they didn't always agree on. But often these discussions yielded some some new insights that they felt were of value to them not withstanding all of the years of study and dedication they've put into these topics and every time that happened. Gave me a good feeling because I thought I was. Getting the very best that they had to offer. Unlike An Inconvenient Truth which focused about 85 percent on. The causes and the impacts and the nature of the crisis and 15 percent on the solutions. This is about ninety nine percent on the solutions themselves. When I was completing the outline for the book it turned out to be a 40 page single spaced outline. And I knew I was in trouble when I finished that exercise.
But even though it's all about solutions I wanted to include.
An update on the impacts because so many new discoveries have come out since during during the last three and a half years. They come out almost every week now. The growing acidification of the oceans that is interrupting the process by which anything that makes a shell or a reef scavenge is calcium carbonate to make those hard structures the food we're putting 90 million tons of CO2 into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet every 24 hours and more than 25 million of those tons every day go into the oceans then they they become the carbonic acid that is now present in such amounts that are evenly distributed pretty much that it has actually changed the acidity level of the oceans.
Overall the pattern that has been clear to scientists like Jim and others. Who've lived with this for such a long time is by now a familiar pattern.
The IPCC typically projects different scenarios of where the crisis is going. Low medium high and then a few years later they go back and examine the evidence and in almost every case the actual impacts turn out to be right at or even above the worst case projections that have been compiled only a few years prior to that.
It is a challenge to our moral imagination to get our arms around the magnitude and scale of this crisis. It is absolutely staggering. In any case.
I ended up riding 17 single pace spaced pages on the impacts on the updated impacts. And it didn't they didn't fit anywhere. So I saved it for the U.S. what I was not was what I thought. And so I saved them for the introduction. And they didn't fit in the introduction.
At least that is what my editor said and I said well I'll compress some to make um to make it shorter. And I got it down to 12 pages and it still didn't fit and so I brutally compressed more and got it down to five pages and they still didn't fit. So I kept on compressing and at the end of that process I ended up just writing one line about each of the each of the impacts and I put I put them at the end of the introduction and I'll just start with this.
I'm not a poet but this is what this is how that process ended up.
One thin September soon a floating continent disappears in the midnight sun vapors rise as fever settles on an acid sea Neptune's bones dissolved. In snow glides from the mountain ice father's floods for a season a hard rain comes quickly then dirt is part kindling is placed in the forest for the lightning celebration. Unknown creatures take their leave unmourned horsemen ready their stirrups. The passion seeks heroes and friends the belle of the city on the Hill is wrong the shepherd cries the hour of choosing has arrived. Here are your tools.
That's at the conclusion of an introduction. That's one book in along with the the conclusion itself and the conclusion sketches out two scenarios.
Letters to the future imagining our response in the event that we failed to meet this challenge how would we respond. And the second scenario if we succeed as we must. How can we describe. That success and how it came about. In between those two bookends are chapters that explore.
First of all in the first section clearly describes the nature. Of the causes of the problem and what it all comes down to. Our six molecules. And the six gases one of them is technically not a gas. But the six gases that cause. The climate crisis and of course CO2 is the principal one. By far the largest part of the cause.
But recent scientific advances have taken into account the complicated interaction of these six kinds of molecules in the atmosphere and with other chemicals and with aerosols. And that results in a recalibration AAB the relative importance of each of the of the six. When I wrote An Inconvenient Truth. Just because I'm a geek wannabe I was happy to get some cutting edge science that had been through the peer review process but had not been published yet. That's really a sweet spot that you want to aim for in this line of work and I'm happy that once again that was possible due to the generosity of some scientists that Nassar who have been on the cutting edge of this science for quite some time. A group in this case led by scientists named Dr. Drew Shinde. And. It was just published three days before the book was published in Science magazine. But it didn't make it through the peer review process until the final day of the of the deadline for the book to go on the on the press so I was sweating in that waiting waiting it waiting it out I probably wouldn't use it anyway.
But. Because I had confidence that it would get approved.
But there there on page 46 new figure of 47 new figures that do represent. What I regard as the cutting edge scientific estimate of exactly what the contribution of these six greenhouse Get Great Global Warming pollutants are. And there's one new element added to the list not even mentioned as a cause in the last IPCC report not because they don't understand it fully of course they do. But black carbon also calls but was not put into the same category because it has different characteristics it only stays in the atmosphere for a few days or a week and it doesn't trap outgoing infrared traps incoming sunlight. But it's a double threat because it not only. Retains heat in the atmosphere but it also settles on the surface of the ice and snow in places like the Himalayas and the Arctic darkening the surface of the snow and ice and making it. So that it absorbs much more of the incoming solar radiation thus accelerating the melting right. A comprehensive plan like the one described in this book really needs to focus first of all on CO2 but also on the other five. And some of the other five. Give us a chance to get reductions quickly and buy some much needed time to implement the the more difficult changes that are necessary to back the CO2 emissions out of our pattern of civilization.
We face so what you could call a carbon crisis because the climate crisis is connected to the security crisis. We have had several wars in the Middle East. All of them with complicated causes. But one enduring cause for our involvement in that region is the very real fact that America's national security is at risk. When global oil markets are so vulnerable to sudden and drastic disruption elsewhere in the book I have a graphic of what's happened to oil prices in the last 30 years during which we've had OpEx embargoes and hostage crises and all the rest.
And the impact on the U.S. economy when oil prices shoot way up is very harsh indeed.
But the energy security crisis has to be addressed not just in the moment of high oil prices but during the times when prices come back down. And we've followed a pattern that President Barack Obama described it I think better than I've heard it elsewhere. We go from shock to trance when the prices go up. We were in a state of shock and then come back down and we fall back into a kind of trance state if you will.
And it's important for us as Americans to understand that the nature of the world oil market is not just an oligarch plea it is partly a free market it's a hybrid. But when supply and demand are in sufficient balance to allow the manipulation of supply and therefore price it can be done by the sovereign states in the Middle East that own the largest reserves of oil and have the ability to go up or down in their daily production. Right.
And have a very profound impact on the global price. And we've. Wrongly assume that they followed one strategic objective and that is to maximize. Their price at any Max maximize their revenue at any given time. And of course they do but they think strategically and that has led them to. Pursue two goals not one they want to get the maximum revenue. But when they sense the formation of political will sufficient to develop alternatives to foreign oil. Then they will bring the price back down.
And disrupt the forward planning of governments and businesses who have mobilized during their time of shock to develop renewables and to develop substitutes for foreign oil.
So it's connected to the energy security crisis. It is also of course connected to our economic crisis because we are sending so many hundreds of billions of dollars every single year to foreign producers of oil. It puts our current account deficit in a in. A totally new category. And in order to restore the integrity of our finances we have to find a way to reduce the dependence on these carbon based fuels and continuing the description of how this is connected to the economy. The biggest and best source of good new jobs in the United States is by putting millions of people to work retrofitting homes and businesses.
Developing and installing solar energy and wind power and geothermal power and building a super grid a network of smart grids with smart storage and low losses from the lines that transmit and distribute electricity. Shifting over to electric cars that can run on that renewable energy brought from remote areas like the southwestern desert where the sun is so intense and the mountain corridor where the wind blows so powerfully and from the best of the enhanced geothermal power sites.
So there is a common thread running through the climate security and economic crises and that common thread is our ridiculous and absurd over dependence on oil coal and other carbon based fuels. If we grab ahold of that threat and pull it hard all three of these crises began to unravel and we hold in our hands the answer to all of them. A generational one off shift. Away from fuels that are dirty dangerous expensive and vulnerable to a source of fuel that is free forever. The technologies that are necessary to make use of those free fuels the sonne in the wind and the natural heat of the earth cost money but once we shift then the incremental fuel cost year for every year after that is indeed free. Anough sunlight falls on the surface of this planet every hour to equal the entire world's total energy use for a full year and the efficiency with which the engineers and and developers have been able to capture and convert the heat and the photons from the sunlight into usable electricity has been improving dramatically.
And to some extent the planet contained in this. Depends upon. Not just attacking these solutions separately in an isolated way but in.
Anticipating the convergence of several initiatives that create a gestalt that work together and give us a completely new set of opportunities I mentioned one of them before installing solar facilities in the desert and wind in the mountains. Building a smart super grid that connects those areas to the cities and replacing automobiles over time with the internal combustion engine. Horribly inefficient with electric plug in electrics and all electrics using that as what you might call a widely distributed national battery. We think of a battery as as one thing. If it's broken up into lots of small pieces all of them connected by smart wires still a battery is just widely distributed. Those three elements together represent one of the several examples of how by attacking this crisis on multiple fronts simultaneously and anticipating how the elements of the solution fit together we can solve this crisis. Indeed. The most important learning experience that I had personally going through this work was the realization that when you put them all together we really do have enough tools and technologies to solve three or four climate crises.
And the good news is we only have to solve one. But the missing element still is. Political will. And so to that list of crises that I've mentioned. Let me add one more.
We have a democracy crisis.
Our Democracy in America is not working as our founders intended and hoped that it would. Two years ago I wrote a book called The Assault on Reason that is focused on the causes of that interruption to the intended workings of our democracy and I'm not going to go back through the case that I laid out in that book. But briefly stated. The shift from the printing press to television as the dominant means of communication through which the conversation of democracy is carried today has had a profound impact. First of all it is a one way communication. The average American now watches television five hours per day which translates in an average American lifespan to 17 uninterrupted years of watching television.
And somebody is making up for me and some of the rest of you. But to bring up that average. But it has other.
And so it it induces a kind of political letter G. And those with special agendas. In our country I make good use of that box that has entranced so many millions of Americans for so many hours a day with messages that are intended to shape the political consciousness of our country such as it is and it has another of well let me put it this way.
If you played tennis for five hours a day every day or you went running for five hours a day you would develop some tremendous muscles as a result. If you watch television five hours a day every day what muscles are you developing. Not the democracy muscle. Now the the other impact is since this is by far the dominant means of communication in spite of the oncoming Internet and I'll get to that in a moment. Because of that 80 percent of the campaign budgets for both Democrats and Republicans are now devoted to buying 30 second television ads and the overall expense of campaigns has gone up dramatically as a result. So from the day they're sworn into office our elected officials know that they have to go out and and raise six seven eight ten thousand dollars every single day.
During that term in office and then start up and do it all over again. Now do you suppose they could go to get that much money. Every year year after year. Well they go to two corporate PACs and the special interests that take various forms no matter what the campaign finance reform laws are the new new ways around them emerge. But there are special interests that set aside enormous amounts of money every year specifically for the purpose of feeding the political system.
And it used to be a graceful wink and a nod.
It's more than that. Now I'm not talking about corruption. Not at all. But I'm talking about a serious defamation of American democracy.
And right now we've been having a vivid illustration. Of the net result. When these special interests want to stop. Reform movements in the Congress. They have an enormous and unhealthy amount of power. To do so. We are in an age of transition. I mentioned the Internet.
It's not an accident that most all of the great reform movements in the world are now based on the Internet because it recapitulates the architecture of the printing press in one important respect.
It has a low entry barriers for individuals and the ideas and other contributions of individuals rise or fall according to the estimation of the collective participants in that dialogue and as a result the growth of the Internet as a potential challenger to the dominant medium of television brings with it a source of great hope.
That we will be able to reclaim control of our destiny and fulfill the dream of self government of the people by the people and for the people. The Alliance for Climate Protection which Heather mentioned is the recipient of all of the proceeds that I would otherwise get from this book has a website that I want to mention to you. And I want to invite you to to go to it is call reap our America dot org repay our America dot org. You will find a video wall on that side. I'd like to ask you to put up a short little video from that little camera on your computer screen on your laptop. And and add your voice. To the many thousands that are already saying look this is coming. From the people. The most important reform movements in our history. Have arisen from the grassroots large reforms by nature.
Arouse the ire and resistance of powerful entities that see themselves as benefiting from the old way of doing things and in this present political culture. As I've just described it the ability of these a legacy of centers of power to stop change is enhanced. Making it all the more important. For men and women and young people all over our country to get active and to speak up. It's important to change the light bulbs in the windows but it's a lot more important to change the laws and the policies and the only way we can do that. Facing such massive. It's self-interested resistance is is to share with one another. The the ideas that convictions and the passion. That we owe to this cause. We've never faced a problem like this before ever because as most of you know what's happened is the entire relationship between humankind and the Earth's ecological system has been radically transformed in less than a hundred years. Population has quadrupled in 100 years. And by the time it stabilizes in in or on or about 2050 it will be five and a half times as many people as lived on this planet in 1900. Now this is a success story in slow motion. And there is a chapter on population that represents the newest cutting edge of social science that gives confidence that this transition toward population stability is in fact emerging every country in the world is somewhere along the path that marks the transition from one state of equilibrium to another.
The first being high death rates high birth rates and large families. And the second equilibrium in which the United States Western Europe Japan already are living is the low death rates low birth rates and small families. But importantly developing countries all around the world are also traveling that path.
And they know now as this chapter points out there for conditions that have to be present in a society to induce that transformation in the pattern. Of the population dynamic. First the education of girls.
Second the empowerment of women to take part in the decisions of their societies families and communities. Third the available means for managing fertility and allowing women to choose how many children they're going to have and what the spacing of those children will be. And fourth most importantly.
Higher child survival rates because parents with the confidence that their children will live naturally prefer smaller families and have throughout history provided. Women are equal and girls are educated and the means for managing fertility and culturally acceptable ways country by country are present and so long as the child survival rates are very high. So that's a success story in slow motion. Never the less. It has this. Huge increase in population is one of the principal factors that has redefined our relationship to the planet. The second factor is much more important and much more powerful. And that is the technologies that are in common use around the world a million times more powerful than the ones our grandparents had available to them.
And you don't have to focus on the dramatic examples like nuclear weapons or genetic engineering but think about chemical processing and the incredibly powerful new chemical compounds thousands of which are introduced every day. Very few of which are really tested for their impact.
And you can go right down the list. Every tool and every technology that we use is infinitely more powerful than the ones that used to be commonly used. And as a result we are having a very.
Powerful impact on the earth and of course again the most vulnerable part of the Earth system is that astonishingly thin shell of atmosphere surrounding the planet. One hundred fifty years ago this year two events took place the same year that are crucial to the evolution of this crisis. First Colonel Edwin Drake drilled the first oil well in the world in Pennsylvania. He wasn't really a colonel but that's another story.
The same here the great Irish scientists John Temple. Discovered that CO2 molecules intercept and trap infrared radiation or heat. And so the birth of the oil age and the birth of climate science really. It's had the same birth year we had already started using coal and coal and oil together represent the single largest part of this crisis. But there are multiple other factors. Industrial feedlots industrial farming. The way we are strip mining the soils of the earth. The bargain that we have struck with synthetic ammonia fertilizers which now feed 95 percent plus of the agriculture. On our planet. These processes pull carbon out of the soil. And many are not aware that the carbon in the soil in the topsoil of the earth is three to four and a half times the volume of all the carbon in the trees and the vegetation. Now. Deforestation. Is now responsible for roughly 20 percent.
Of the CO2 that's being released into the atmosphere every day. So I thought people were coming to grips with the fact that an international agreement to reduce industrial emissions also has to reduce the rampant burning and destruction of forest lands.
But there is not yet as wide and broad an appreciation of the fact that in order to solve this we also have to pay attention to what's happening to the soils because when carbon is taken out of the soil incidentally anybody ever spent time on Earth on a farm. Here a few. How do you recognise the best soil. What does it look like. It's black. Why is it black. That's the carbon. Fifty eight percent of the humus layer of the School of the soil is pure organic carbon. And. Plowing in the old way. And synthetic fertilizers and the lack of crop rotation and poor farming practices aimed at maximizing in the short term the yields without giving a thought to how fertile the soils will be the following year. This has put an enormous amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Now don't get me wrong industrial emissions are still by far the largest source. But if we're going to solve this we're going to have to really get serious about taking on every single component of it. So there's a chapter in here on on soil and agriculture.
And the changes that can be made. And once again. The inner connections are important because by Rijkaard been ising the soil putting the black back in the soil. We can increase food security make the land more fertile or. Provide new sources of income for subsistence farmers. These are important objectives in an OB themselves. But they are also collateral benefits of an intelligent plan to to reduce the amount of global warming pollution going up into the atmosphere and increase the amount being pulled back down.
So the first section outlines the precise nature of the causes and what the implications are for constructing solutions. The second chapter in that first part deals with energy where our energy comes from and where it goes how much of it is liquid fuels gaseous fuels hard fuels like coal at etc. what the processing of it is all about and how that contributes to the vision of how we can solve the crisis. Then the the the large middle section of the book takes each one of the solutions individually. And I've picked the all of the ones that are really important. As part of a comprehensive plan. So the book has a chapter on solar energy on wind power on geothermal and enhanced geothermal power biomass carbon capture and sequester aeration nuclear power and others. And it has a chapter on the super grid and and perhaps most importantly in some ways the chapter on fish NC because efficiency gains have long been recognized as the largest and best source of new energy supplies and reductions in global warming pollution. And it's let me just dilate on that just for a moment.
Because in addition to staying with these old fuels that we've been habituated to we have also clung to a set of old technologies that are more than 100 years old. The internal combustion engine the coal fired generating plant and there's a long list of them. And now in the 21st century we have the ability to build far more efficient substitutes that don't waste so much energy we actually waste most of the energy that we think we're using half of our electricity comes from those coal fired generating plants. How much of the energy in that coal is withdrawn. It is it is pulled out in the form of usable electricity. About one third. And for the older the most inefficient plants down to 30 percent. Absolutely. So 65 to 70 percent is just completely wasted largely in the form of waste heat that could be recaptured and used. But the tangle of laws and utility regulations and the perverse incentives that flow out of those laws and regulations make it more profitable to just waste two thirds of the energy rather than lifting a finger to actually capture it. And there are lots and lots of other examples. The internal combustion engine I mention how much of the energy in the gasoline is a mistake to ask questions of an audience here in Cambridge was.
OK it's odd to me how much of the energy in the gasoline is actually used to move the car from point A to Point B.
Tim percent 90 percent of the energy in the gasoline again is just completely wasted. And my friend Amory Lovins takes that analysis further and calculates how much of the energy in the gasoline is used to move the person in the car.
From point A to Point B and this is all this is all in the book there's a whole diagram illustration on this. About eight tenths of one percent of the energy in the gasoline is used for the purpose. That we think we're serving. By driving the car. So. Part of the reason for the shift to electric vehicles is that electric vehicles are infinitely more efficient. And again when connected to renewable sources of electricity really back out lots of carbon reduce a great deal of our dependence on foreign oil and put people to work in in the process. The third section of the book focuses on the obstacles that have to be removed in order to implement the solutions to the crisis. And so there is a chapter on the political obstacles. Again go to our America dot org. And the political obstacles are formidable. The Center for Investigative Reporting just this past week put out a massive. Study a report that represented their work on every continent over an extended period of time with a large number of investigators in which they document thoroughly and in detail. The massive political campaign. Organized in the main by these. Carbon polluters and others who have an interest in blocking this transformation in every country on earth. This is a global struggle. Now happily it is also the war and the the cause that has.
Brought out the largest grassroots movement in the history of the world. Paul Hawken in his excellent book blessid on rest. Analyze these grassroots organizations and found that more than 1 million new NGOs are focused on solving the environmental crisis have emerged just in the last few years. Globally maybe as many as two million according to his calculations and again they all live on the Internet.
This is an empowering tool. I urge you to make use of it I urge you to make use of every tool that you can make use of to persuade your members of Congress your Senators and your local and state leaders to take action and to be a part of the solution to this. So a second obstacle is the is that. The Current. Pattern. Of economic accounting. And and the set of incentives in the marketplace that do not capture all of the values that they should be measuring and taking into account. CO2 for example is invisible tasteless and odorless.
But more important than that it has no price tag. And so the old cliche out of sight out of mind certainly applies to CO2. If we are so committed to the market system and it works extremely well. But if we're that committed to it we ought to make sure that is that it's working properly. And that it's not distorted as it presently is. You're familiar with the old buzz word externalities that the economists throw around. Basically it refers to. Something that you want to pretend doesn't exist and pollution has long been in that category. And every time we as Americans have stood up to say don't put the pollution in the water. Don't put the pollution in these pits in the ground don't solve the air to where we can't breathe it in in a healthy way every time we have tried to cut back on pollution. The people responsible for the pollution have thrown up all these classic objections all we can do that and they'll give all their reasons. But when we press forward and assert the public interest then we can succeed.
Back when I was working on Nuclear Arms Control years ago. The military strategists and historians taught me that the military analysts. Look at conflicts in roughly three categories local battles.
Theater or regional wars and the rare but. All important global or World Wars strategic conflicts.
These environmental fights that we've had for a long time. Also fall into the same three categories. And the most common has to do with local forms of pollution. And then there are regional forms of pollution like acid rain for example originating in the Midwest and settling out in the northeast.
And there are examples of that all over the world. The poisons and the chemicals that come out of the Mississippi River and create these dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and all over the world. The number of dead zones in the ocean is is it is growing.
But this issue is the rare but all important strategic environmental threat global in nature. And we have to scale up our response. Accordingly. Again those military theorists. Understand that the tactics the strategy the the resources all have to change depending upon whether it's local theater or or strategic. And here we have a global war strategic environmental threat that has that's being waged largely as if it was a local a collection of local battles. And again it's important to change the light bulbs in the windows. But this book is really not about the individual personal things that we do in our own lives in our homes and our businesses and places of worship and communities. There is a little bit OB that but it is focused almost entirely on the policy changes on the legal changes on the treaty that we need on the large shifts that are necessary if we are going to solve this crisis.
Yet another obstacle in that third section of the book focuses on changes in our thinking. This was one of the most interesting. Parts of the book for me to research I spent two full days with the leading neuroscientists and the leading behavioral psychologists had to have them on separate days they don't necessarily get along.
Hey that's another story too.
But but they but but but both disciplines have powerful insights to bring to this effort to solve the climate crisis. And again without going into detail just to briefly summarize our ancestors survive specific threats. Over a long period of time not to get controversial here.
We had a trial in my home state an.
Interesting the Chamber of Commerce call for another Scopes trial on climate. I think they regret having used that phrase but.
I hope they do but anyway. The threats that our ancestors survived put a premium on a particular kind of thinking. And they passed those traits owned down to us. And even though our world is completely different from theirs and were most unlikely to encounter a leopard as we leave the church here. Nevertheless we're still hardwired to respond to a threat of that time. Short term thinking is more the norm. But we do have the capacity for long term thinking and the pursuit of long term goals based on our deepest values.
We have that capacity and that chapter in the book describes all of the insides that these experts have have come up with and they're fascinating to me and I hope they are to you but there are specific implications for how we can go about that. You know the great cathedrals of Europe were built by multiple generations.
Who stayed on task for many decades because when they set out on that course. The goal was based on very deeply felt and deeply shared values that were important enough to them to stay on course. Well there's a particular part of the brain that is in charge of just that. And the end there are ways that we can communicate with one another that reinforce that.
Now. In conclusion.
If we were to decide in the present generation for whatever reason that it was fine for us to take advantage of all of the work and sacrifices by previous generations who left for us. The accumulated. Majesty and wealth of a civilization that has brought much comfort.
And happiness to our lives and then exploited fully and completely in our own time and give the back of our hand to all generations after us. That would be the single most immoral act by any generation of human beings ever to live on this planet.
But that's what the stakes are. That's the decision we face. That's.
Our Choice. Because in order to implement a serious and effective plan to solve the climate crisis and does Jar-Jar our obligation to our children and those who come after us we really have to make.
Now I see a lot of young people here.
How many here in the last three years or so have decided to change your course of study or to embark on in an effort to try to get knowledge that will allow you to be a part of the solution for the climate crisis. Could I see a show of hands. That's great. That Thank you. I. Was.
Will. All those hands represent. A great source of hope.
I remember when I was 13 years old President John F. Kennedy who represented this district in the House of Representatives before he was president issued a challenge to put a person on the moon and bring him back safely within 10 years. And I remember how many skeptics there were who said that can't be done.
But eight years and two months later Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and on that day there was a great cheer in Mission Control in Houston Texas. And the average age of the systems engineers there was 26 which means their average age when they heard that challenge was 18.
So those of you who raised your hands said to go rooted in your deepest values know how high the stakes are. And how much we are counting on you.
But the rest of us have to understand how much they are counting on us.
The time is not.
Our choice lies before us. There's an old African proverb that I quote in the book it says if you want to go quickly go alone if you want to go far go together.
We have to go far quickly.
Which means we've got to get our act together quickly.
Globally we have to make our choice. Not too long from now there will be an encounter when the next generation looks around them in the world left to them. And depending upon their circumstances they'll look back at us and ask one of two questions. If they see the entire north polar icecap gone and Greenland and West Antarctica in a state of melting and collapse if they see the deeper droughts and the stronger storms and all of the rest. Of the Harz the scientists have long been warning us about if we don't take this in the hand they would be more than justified in looking back at us and asking what were you thinking.
Didn't you hear the scientists did you pay attention to. Were you watching Dancing With The Stars What in the world.
Was going on or didn't you care. If that's the question they ask it will have profound implications for what it means to be a human being if we consciously or unconsciously make a choice to condemn future generations to steadily degrading prospects with each successive generation generation faced with the terrible realisation that is going to continue to get worse.
That would really say some. About who we are. I don't think that's who we are. I don't believe it for one minute.
But I if I could if I could find the words and I've tried in this book to transfer from my heart to yours.
Not only the knowledge that these experts have been generous and giving.
But the passion.
That we've got to find a way down the line in this generation. Those of us alive today.
There's a second question that next generation could ask if they look around and see a world in renewal with lots of good jobs being constantly created as we make our civilization far more efficient and humane if they are about the task of in improving the world on all of these multiple fronts as they continue to solve the climate crisis.
Then I want them to look back and ask. Of Us How did you find the moral courage to shake off that lethargy. How did you find the passion. How did you find the depth of commitment to rise up and solve a crisis that so many said it was impossible to solve. That's the question I want to ask and our answer.
Has to be in deeds beginning now. These are the tools. We've got everything we need.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Harvard Book Store
- WGBH Forum Network
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- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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- Former US Vice President and climate change activist Al Gore discusses his book "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Global Climate Crisis." In his follow-up to the bestselling "An Inconvenient Truth," the Nobel Peace Prize winning former vice president outlines a comprehensive strategy for combating the impending global climate crisis, while at the same time addressing long-standing issues of global poverty and inequality. This talk was given shortly before the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. In his talk, Gore stated that he believed that there was an "excellent chance of a binding political agreement among heads of state in Copenhagen, which would begin implementation of reduction in emissions." Today, the Copenhagen summit is widely regarded among climate scientists and activists as a failure, since no agreement to globally reduce carbon emissions was struck among the participating nations.
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Speaker: Gore, Al
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- Chicago: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Al Gore: A Plan to Solve the Global Climate Crisis,” 2009-11-07, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 18, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-4m9183453q.
- MLA: “Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Al Gore: A Plan to Solve the Global Climate Crisis.” 2009-11-07. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 18, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-4m9183453q>.
- APA: Harvard Book Store; WGBH Forum Network; Al Gore: A Plan to Solve the Global Climate Crisis. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-4m9183453q