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Al Gore wants to save the world — if only the world would let him

Tad Simons  Technology Journalist/Thomson Reuters Institute

· 6 minute read

Tad Simons  Technology Journalist/Thomson Reuters Institute

· 6 minute read

Former Vice President Al Gore’s core message on global warming has been remarkably consistent since he published An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 and became the world’s most vocal climate activist. That message: Human civilization is not doomed — not yet anyway — if enough governments, businesses, and individuals around the world can harness the power of the marketplace to create something close to a carbon-neutral form of capitalism.

Gore elaborated on this theme in a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker interview with Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler, in which he discussed the importance of developing “sustainable capitalism,” the connections between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, the many signs of progress and hope he sees today — and, of course, the key to it all: not allowing Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans to stand in the way.

“There is still time to solve the climate crisis before it creates catastrophic damage,” Gore reiterated. “We can still avoid the worst effects of global warming and put tens of millions of people to work,” he said, particularly in industries related to renewable energy, such as solar, wind, electric vehicles, etc.

As the co-founder and chairman of both The Climate Reality Project and Generation Investment Management, Gore has spent much of the past 15 years trying to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis and make people aware of available solutions. He continues to train thousands of activists every year to deliver a version of his well-known PowerPoint presentation for An Inconvenient Truth. And he recently announced that next year, The Climate Reality Project plans to unveil an open-source, AI-powered website that will show where carbon emissions are coming from, and in what concentrations.

“How long will it take before some of those deniers who are following their chosen leaders realize that we are behaving unethically, immorally, and self-destructively?”

“By next June, we will make available to the world a full accounting of every human-caused emission of greenhouse gasses all around the world,” Gore said. The website — called Climate TRACE (Tracking Real Time Atmosphere and Carbon Emissions) — will “allow us to see where this stuff is coming from, and that will create a completely new reality,” he ventured. “And yes, we will identify by location, in real time, who is responsible for it.”

COVID-19 & climate change: Closely related

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has displaced climate change on most people’s list of daily existential dreads, the two crises are “closely related,” Gore insisted, and lessons from one can inform the other. Like climate change, the pandemic reminds us that when leading scientists — like the epidemiologists and virologists who have been warning about the likelihood of a pandemic for years — are trying to warn us of an impending disaster, “it’s best to pay attention.”

Another similarity between the two crises is that both “reveal the pre-existing inequities, institutional racism, and unfairness in the structure and make-up of our economy and society,” he said, noting the many ways in which the coronavirus disproportionately impacts African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Likewise, he said, the climate crisis “affects communities of color, the poor, disadvantaged, and persecuted first and worst.”

Engrained inequalities in our economic and social systems are the root cause of this suffering, Gore said — climate change and the pandemic have only exposed the rot within.

The sustainability revolution

Despite these grim realities, Gore said he was optimistic that measures necessary to recover from the pandemic can also serve as a foundation for taking meaningful action to mitigate the effects of climate change and recharge the economy. “We have had a partial shut-down of many economies in order to try to overcome the pandemic, so many jobs have been lost, and we have to create new ones,” Gore explained. His proposed solution is to rev up “the job-creating engine of the sustainability revolution” — a revolution that, he said, “has the magnitude of the industrial revolution with the speed of the digital revolution.”

Al Gore
Former VP Al Gore spoke during a Reuters Newsmaker interview.

Indeed, the overall cost of renewable energy is going down, and quality is improving, he asserted. “Five years ago, electricity from solar and wind was cheaper in 1% of the world; now it’s cheaper in two-thirds of the world.” Fossil fuels and nuclear power will eventually be priced out of the market if these trends prevail, Gore said, and companies everywhere are exploring how to make their supply chains more carbon neutral.

Though Gore said he believes the world can rise to both the climate and coronavirus challenges at once, he conceded that the task will be considerably more difficult if Donald Trump is re-elected. Gore criticized Trump for supporting and enabling large oil corporations’ efforts to convince people that climate science is somehow inconclusive on the matter of humanity’s impact on the environment. “How long will it take before some of those deniers who are following their chosen leaders realize that we are behaving unethically, immorally, and self-destructively?” Gore wondered.

Conversely, the climate platform proposed by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is “the most ambitious climate plan we’ve ever had,” Gore said, and is proof that Democrats are “leaning into the crisis.” No matter how passionate one is about climate change, however, Gore was emphatic that “massive policy changes are necessary,” because “almost all [ U.S.] environmental agencies and departments are now in the clutches of the largest polluters.”

Keeping the faith — in democracy

Gore said he hopes the tide will turn with a Biden presidency, but speaking as a presidential candidate who has lost a closely contested election, Gore did not mince words about Trump’s blatant efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the upcoming election.

“Donald Trump is attempting to put his knee on the neck of democracy,” Gore said, referencing the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, an event that sparked protests around the world. But when asked if Americans should be concerned about whether Trump will accept the results of the election if he loses, Gore said he still has faith in America’s democratic institutions.

“It’s not up to him,” Gore said. “If a new president is elected, at noon on January 20, the police and military will respond to the command and direction of the new president. It won’t matter if Trump accepts it or not.”

Still, like many leaders on the Democratic side, Gore cautioned voters not to expect a decisive tally on election night because counting the expected flood of mail-in ballots will take time — a situation with which he is all too familiar. When asked why he did not contest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2000 granting George W. Bush the presidency after a month-long recount, Gore said he explored his options, but “couldn’t find an intermediate step between a Supreme Court decision and violent revolution.”

Whether Donald Trump sees November’s election results the same way remains to be seen.

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