“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, apparently because he’s so self-assured, more than a little geeky and an unapologetic Democrat. He attracts a backlash both from extreme partisans and the anti-science crowd.
But he speaks the truth about climate change, and I’ve never understood why he’s faced such heat and ridicule over this.
The painful truth today is that not enough has changed since Gore gave his “Challenge” speech in 2008 urging 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 at that, and even those who advocate for green energy felt this was a case of Gore’s ambitious vision running wild. Still, after re-reading his speech today, he sounds so reasonable, and on hindsight, the public seems so resistant. Actually, not the public, which favors clean energy by huge margins in polls, but the lawmakers.
Yes, we’ve added wind and solar power since then, 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. It’s a move to deter people from becoming energy independent. So homeowners and businesses that take that step of going solar, a move that actually assists the grid via backup power, get thanked with extra fees. Liberals, libertarians and fiscal conservatives should be furious. A few are, but not enough.
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. They are taking steps to maintain coal operations, even before the new rules, hailed by environmentalists and public health experts as life-saving, take effect.
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, federal lawmakers pulled the plug on the production tax credit this past year. Wind installations are expected to take it in the chin, falling into the seemingly inevitable boom-and-bust cycle that has kept the industry from reaching its potential. (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 coming in for awhile longer. And they’ve convinced a herd of people to follow them on this perilous path (perilous for the planet).
Since 2008 our bunkered political leaders who deny climate change have provided some great political theater with their silly tirades 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. 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 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, and at a furious pace in the last 20 years.
We know all this. We just can’t predict the precise particular outcomes. 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 you want to find out?
I trust these climate models, which predict these events, will unfortunately be on the money, though they may not be perfectly accurate. But what if they’re close? Let’s 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 for the solutions we all need?
And yes, we need to listen to Al Gore.
- Get involved and learn more at Gore’s annual online Climate Reality coming Sept. 16-17.
- The People’s Climate March is Sunday, Sept. 21 in New York City.