Climate Week, Climate Reality and Al Gore; this time let's listen

Published 08/27 2014 11:09AM

Updated 03/21 2015 07:18AM

“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change. But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we’re holding the answer to all of them right in our hand. The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.” — Al Gore, 2008

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Al Gore has been a favorite whipping post of the political right-wing, because he’s so self-assured or brash, depending on how you vote; more than a little geeky and an unapologetic climate “alarmist”. He attracts a backlash from the anti-science crowd so big it could raise the oceans without the Arctic melting.

But strip out the politics and you might find that Gore speaks the plain, painful truth about climate change.

And the painful truth in 2014 is that not enough has changed since the former vice president gave his “Challenge” speech in 2008, or stood on that silly automated riser in the film An Inconvenient Truth or ticked off his political enemies by sharing the Nobel Prize with a corps of climate scientists.

In that landmark speech, Gore urged America to reset its priorities toward saving the planet. He claimed we could switch to 100 percent green power within 10 years. Many people scoffed, and even those who advocate for green energy felt that Gore was being a little too bullish.  But,  re-reading his 2008 speech, he sounds positively reasonable. Why was the public seems so resistant?

Actually, the problem is not the public. Polls show that Americans favor clean energy by huge margins. Lawmakers, though, have failed to act, on carbon regulations, strong incentives for wind and solar power, rolling back oil subsidies to level the playing field (remember when Obama threw out that challenge?) and have even quibbled over energy efficient light bulbs (the same ones that the Edison family said, yeah, go ahead it’s time to improve the light bulb).



Yes, the US has added wind and solar power since 2008, in some states quite a lot of it. Check that. But for every step forward, it seems like there’s an equal push back. For instance, Oklahoma and Arizona are now charging homeowners who go solar an extra fee, ostensibly to cover the costs of connecting this green power onto the grid. But let’s be honest. This is a move by entrenched energy interests to deter people from becoming energy independent.

Homeowners and businesses that take that step of going solar,  a move that actually assists the grid via backup power, should get a note of thanks, not a slapdown of extra fees. Liberals, libertarians and fiscal conservatives should all be furious about this.

In another example of how states are undoing environmental progress, Texas and Arkansas already are maneuvering to get out of new EPA rules that would greatly reduce coal plant pollution, the single largest driver of climate change in the world. They are taking steps to maintain coal operations, despite the proposed rules, which have been hailed by environmentalists and public health experts as life-saving. The new carbon controls would benefit those with respiratory disease, and greatly slow carbon dioxide emissions. Coal, many believe, is a dirty-air, 19th Century solution that has no place in today’s world.

Signs abound that we need to shift toward greener ways, yet glaciers are disappearing faster than our policies are greening. Congress endorsed special tax credits for wind and solar (just like oil and gas operators get tax credits). Then just as investors were jumping in and grids were being readied, lawmakers pulled the plug on the major incentive this past year. This is expected to whiplash wind, pushing it into a familiar boom-and-bust cycle that advocates say is hobbling the US competitively.  (Please see much more about wind power in our story and graphic, “Wind power: It’s just better”)

Most surprisingly, we’re still fighting a bruising rhetorical war over climate change. This has been generated in large part by climate deniers taking a page from the cigarette makers — deny and stall — to keep the dollars (in this case oil and gas and coal dollars)  coming in for awhile longer. And they’ve convinced a herd of people to follow them on this perilous path.

Since 2008 our bunkered political leaders who deny climate change have provided some great political theater with that hissy fit against more efficient light bulbs and their contention that a snowy winter shows there’s no global warming. But it’s more sad than amusing.

Meanwhile, Mother Earth continues to take a beating.

We’re now at 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a place we’ve never been before in civilized times. We don’t even know what life will be like above 400 ppm. We are seeing extinctions in the animal world. We know it might get harder to breathe. You’d think that alone would cause us to declare an emergency.

Ice sheets are melting rapidly and mysterious holes are appearing in the carbon-sinks of the permafrost in Siberia that could release trapped methane, the most potent greenhouse gas. Oceans are becoming acidic and warming, killing marine life and accelerating the melting in a vicious cycle that can only be stopped if we slow our carbon and methane emissions.

We are toasting under the blanket of greenhouse gases we’ve been sending into the atmosphere since the coal age revved up 160 years ago, and hit a furious pace in the last 20 years.

We know all this. We just can’t predict the precise particular outcomes, so people can easily organize the fight against climate change. Will Miami go underwater before Manhattan? Will Florida lose its freshwater to a massive incursion of saltwater during a big storm or more slowly? What year will malaria become as endemic in America as it is in Africa? Do we want to find out?

I trust the climate models which predict such horrific events if we don’t put the brakes on our polluting ways, will be on the money, though they may not be perfectly accurate. But what if they’re close?  Shall we wait for the next hurricane to see?


We need our US politicians stop denying the truth, listen to the science, stand up as leaders and work toward solutions. Aggressively.

And yes, we need to listen to Al Gore, even if you think he’s a windbag.



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