The new urgency of climate change | Al Gore

Chris Anderson: Al, welcome. So look, just six months ago — it seems a lifetime ago,but it really was just six months ago — climate seemed to be on the lipsof every thinking person on the planet. Recent events seem to have swept itall away from our attention. How worried are you about that? Al Gore: Well, first of all Chris,thank you so much for inviting me to have this conversation. People are reacting differently to the climate crisis in the midst of theseother great challenges that have taken over our awareness, appropriately. One reason is somethingthat you mentioned. People get the factthat when scientists are warning us in ever more dire terms and setting their hairon fire, so to speak, it’s best to listento what they’re saying, and I think that lessonhas begun to sink in in a new way. Another similarity, by the way, is that the climate crisis,like the COVID-19 pandemic, has revealed in a new way the shocking injusticesand inequalities and disparities that affect communities of color and low-income communities. There are differences. The climate crisis has effectsthat are not measured in years, as the pandemic is, but consequences that are measuredin centuries and even longer.And the other difference is thatinstead of depressing economic activity to deal with the climate crisis, as nations around the worldhave had to do with COVID-19, we have the opportunity to createtens of millions of new jobs. That sounds like a political phrasing, but it’s literally true. For the last five years, the fastest-growing job in the UShas been solar installer. The second-fastest has beenwind turbine technician. And the “Oxford Review of Economics,”just a few weeks ago, pointed the way toa very jobs-rich recovery if we emphasize renewable energyand sustainability technology.So I think we are crossinga tipping point, and you need only lookat the recovery plans that are being presentedin nations around the world to see that they’re very muchfocused on a green recovery. CA: I mean, one obvious impactof the pandemic is that it’s brought the world’s economyto a shuddering halt, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I mean, how big an effect has that been, and is it unambiguously good news? AG: Well, it’s a little bitof an illusion, Chris, and you need only look backto the Great Recession in 2008 and ’09, when there was a one percentdecline in emissions, but then in 2010, they came roaring back during the recovery with a four percent increase.The latest estimates are that emissionswill go down by at least five percent during this induced coma, as the economist Paul Krugmanperceptively described it, but whether it goes back the way it didafter the Great Recession is in part up to us, and if these green recovery plansare actually implemented, and I know many countriesare determined to implement them, then we need not repeat that pattern. After all, this whole process is occurring during a period whenthe cost of renewable energy and electric vehicles, batteries and a range of othersustainability approaches are continuing to fall in price, and they’re becomingmuch more competitive. Just a quick referenceto how fast this is: five years ago, electricityfrom solar and wind was cheaper than electricityfrom fossil fuels in only one percent of the world. This year, it’s cheaperin two-thirds of the world, and five years from now, it will be cheaper in virtually100 percent of the world. EVs will be cost-competitivewithin two years, and then will continue falling in price. And so there are changes underway that could interrupt the patternwe saw after the Great Recession.CA: The reason those pricing differentialshappen in different parts of the world is obviously because there’s differentamounts of sunshine and wind there and different building costs and so forth. AG: Well, yes, and government policiesalso account for a lot. The world is continuingto subsidize fossil fuels at a ridiculous amount, more so in many developing countriesthan in the US and developed countries, but it’s subsidized here as well. But everywhere in the world, wind and solar will be cheaperas a source of electricity than fossil fuels, within a few years. CA: I think I’ve heard it saidthat the fall in emissions caused by the pandemic isn’t that much more than, actually,the fall that we will need every single year if we’re to meet emissions targets. Is that true, and, if so, doesn’t that seem impossibly daunting? AG: It does seem daunting,but first look at the number. That number came from a studya little over a year ago released by the IPCC as to what it would take to keepthe Earth’s temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.And yes, the annual reductionswould be significant, on the order of what we’ve seenwith the pandemic. And yes, that does seem daunting. However, we do have the opportunityto make some fairly dramatic changes, and the plan is not a mystery. You start with the two sectors that areclosest to an effective transition — electricity generation, as I mentioned — and last year, 2019, if you look at all of the newelectricity generation built all around the world, 72 percent of it was from solar and wind. And already, without the continuingsubsidies for fossil fuels, we would see many more of these plants being shut down. There are some newfossil plants being built, but many more are being shut down. And where transportation is concerned, the second sector ready to go, in addition to the cheaper pricesfor EVs that I made reference to before, there are some 45 jurisdictionsaround the world — national, regional and municipal — where laws have been passedbeginning a phaseout of internal combustion engines. Even India said that by 2030,less than 10 years from now, it will be illegal to sellany new internal combustion engines in India.There are many other examples. So the past small reductions may not be an accurate guideto the kind we can achieve with serious national plans and a focused global effort. CA: So help us understandjust the big picture here, Al. I think before the pandemic, the world was emitting about 55 gigatons of whatthey call “CO2 equivalent,” so that includes other greenhouse gases like methane dialed upto be the equivalent of CO2. And am I right in saying that the IPCC, which is the globalorganization of scientists, is recommending thatthe only way to fix this crisis is to get that number from 55 to zero by 2050 at the very latest, and that even then, there’s a chancethat we will end up with temperature rises more like two degrees Celsiusrather than 1.5? I mean, is that approximatelythe big picture of what the IPCC is recommending? AG: That’s correct.The global goal establishedin the Paris Conference is to get to net zero on a global basis by 2050, and many people quickly add that that really means a 45to 50 percent reduction by 2030 to make that pathwayto net zero feasible. CA: And that kind of timelineis the kind of timeline where people couldn’t even imagine it. It’s just hard to thinkof policy over 30 years. So that’s actually a very good shorthand, that humanity’s task is to cutemissions in half by 2030, approximately speaking, which I think boils down to abouta seven or eight percent reduction a year, something like that, if I’m not wrong. AG: Not quite. Not quite that large but close, yes.CA: So it is something like the effectthat we’ve experienced this year may be necessary. This year, we’ve done itby basically shutting down the economy. You’re talking about a way of doing itover the coming years that actually gives someeconomic growth and new jobs. So talk more about that. You’ve referred tochanging our energy sources, changing how we transport. If we did those things, how much of the problem does that solve? AG: Well, we can get to — well, in addition to doingthe two sectors that I mentioned, we also have to deal with manufacturingand all the use cases that require temperaturesof a thousand degrees Celsius, and there are solutions there as well. I’ll come back and mention an exciting onethat Germany has just embarked upon. We also have to tackleregenerative agriculture. There is the opportunityto sequester a great deal of carbon in topsoils around the world by changing the agricultural techniques. There is a farmer-led movement to do that.We need to also retrofit buildings. We need to change our managementof forests and the ocean. But let me just mentiontwo things briefly. First of all, the hightemperature use cases. Angela Merkel, just 10 days ago, with the leadership ofher minister Peter Altmaier, who is a good friendand a great public servant, have just embarked ona green hydrogen strategy to make hydrogen with zero marginal cost renewable energy. And just a word on that, Chris: you’ve heard about the intermittencyof wind and solar — solar doesn’t produce electricitywhen the sun’s not shining, and wind doesn’twhen the wind’s not blowing — but batteries are getting better, and these technologies are becomingmuch more efficient and powerful, so that for an increasing numberof hours of each day, they’re producing often way moreelectricity than can be used. So what to do with it? The marginal costfor the next kilowatt-hour is zero. So all of a sudden, the very energy-intensive processof cracking hydrogen from water becomes economically feasible, and it can be substitutedfor coal and gas, and that’s already being done.There’s a Swedish companyalready making steel with green hydrogen, and, as I say, Germany has just embarkedon a major new initiative to do that. I think they’re pointing the wayfor the rest of the world. Now, where building retrofitsare concerned, just a moment on this, because about 20 to 25 percentof the global warming pollution in the world and in the US comes from inefficient buildings that were constructedby companies and individuals who were trying to be competitivein the marketplace and keep their margins acceptably high and thereby skimping on insulationand the right windows and LEDs and the rest.And yet the person or companythat buys that building or leases that building, they want their monthlyutility bills much lower. So there are now ways to close that so-calledagent-principal divide, the differing incentivesfor the builder and occupier, and we can retrofit buildings witha program that literally pays for itself over three to five years, and we could put tens of millionsof people to work in jobs that by definitioncannot be outsourced because they existin every single community. And we really ought to get seriousabout doing this, because we’re going to need all those jobs to get sustainable prosperityin the aftermath of this pandemic. CA: Just going backto the hydrogen economy that you referred to there, when some people hear that, they think, “Oh, are you talkingabout hydrogen-fueled cars?” And they’ve heard that thatprobably won’t be a winning strategy.But you’re thinking much morebroadly than that, I think, that it’s not just hydrogenas a kind of storage mechanism to act as a buffer for renewable energy, but also hydrogen could be essential for some of the other processesin the economy like making steel, making cement, that are fundamentallycarbon-intensive processes right now but could be transformed if we hadmuch cheaper sources of hydrogen. Is that right? AG: Yes, I was always skepticalabout hydrogen, Chris, principally because it’s beenso expensive to make it, to “crack it out of water,” as they say. But the game-changer has been the incredible abundanceof solar and wind electricity in volumes and amountsthat people didn’t expect, and all of a sudden,it’s cheap enough to use for these very energy-intensive processes like creating green hydrogen.I’m still a bit skepticalabout using it in vehicles. Toyota’s been betting on that for 25 yearsand it hasn’t really worked for them. Never say never, maybe it will, but I think it’s most useful for thesehigh-temperature industrial processes, and we already have a pathwayfor decarbonizing transportation with electricity that’s working extremely well. Tesla’s going to be soon the most valuableautomobile company in the world, already in the US, and they’re about to overtake Toyota. There is now a semitruck companythat’s been stood up by Tesla and another that is going to be a hybridwith electricity and green hydrogen, so we’ll see whether or notthey can make it work in that application. But I think electricity is preferablefor cars and trucks. CA: We’re coming to somecommunity questions in a minute. Let me ask you, though, about nuclear. Some environmentalistsbelieve that nuclear, or maybe new generation nuclear power is an essential part of the equation if we’re to get to a truly clean future, a clean energy future. Are you still pretty skepticalon nuclear, Al? AG: Well, the market’s skepticalabout it, Chris.It’s been a crushing disappointmentfor me and for so many. I used to represent Oak Ridge,where nuclear energy began, and when I was a young congressman, I was a booster. I was very enthusiastic about it. But the cost overruns and the problems in building these plants have become so severe that utilities just don’t havean appetite for them. It’s become the most expensivesource of electricity. Now, let me hasten to addthat there are some older nuclear reactors that have more useful timethat could be added onto their lifetimes. And like a lot of environmentalists, I’ve come to the viewthat if they can be determined to be safe, they should be allowed to continueoperating for a time. But where new nuclearpower plants are concerned, here’s a way to look at it. If you are — you’ve been a CEO, Chris. If you were the CEO of –I guess you still are.If you were the CEOof an electric utility, and you told your executive team, “I want to build a nuclear power plant,” two of the first questionsyou would ask are, number one: How much will it cost? And there’s not a singleengineering consulting firm that I’ve been able to findanywhere in the world that will put their name on an opinion giving you a cost estimate. They just don’t know. A second question you would ask is: How long will it take to build it,so we can start selling the electricity? And again, the answer you will get is, “We have no idea.” So if you don’t knowhow much it’s going to cost, and you don’t knowwhen it’s going to be finished, and you already know thatthe electricity is more expensive than the alternate ways to produce it, that’s going to be a little discouraging, and, in fact, that’s been the casefor utilities around the world.CA: OK. So there’s definitelyan interesting debate there, but we’re going to come onto some community questions. Let’s have the firstof those questions up, please. From Prosanta Chakrabarty: “People who are skepticalof COVID and of climate change seem to be skepticalof science in general. It may be that the singularmessage from scientists gets diluted and convoluted. How do we fix that?” AG: Yeah, that’sa great question, Prosanta. Boy, I’m trying to put thissuccinctly and shortly. I think that there has been a feeling that experts in general have kind of let the US down, and that feeling is much more pronouncedin the US than in most other countries. And I think that the considered opinionof what we call experts has been diluted over the last few decades by the unhealthy dominanceof big money in our political system, which has found waysto really twist economic policy to benefit elites.And this sounds a little radical, but it’s actually what has happened. And we have gone for more than 40 years without any meaningful increasein middle-income pay, and where the injustice experiencedby African Americans and other communitiesof color are concerned, the differential in pay betweenAfrican Americans and majority Americans is the same as it was in 1968, and the family wealth, the net worth — it takes 11 and a half so-called”typical” African American families to make up the net worth of oneso-called “typical” White American family. And you look at the soaring incomes in the top oneor the top one-tenth of one percent, and people say, “Wait a minute. Whoever the experts werethat designed these policies, they haven’t been doinga good job for me.” A final point, Chris: there has been an assault on reason. There has been a war against truth. There has been a strategy, maybe it was best known as a strategydecades ago by the tobacco companies who hired actors and dressed them upas doctors to falsely reassure people that there were no health consequencesfrom smoking cigarettes, and a hundred million peopledied as a result.That same strategy of diminishingthe significance of truth, diminishing, as someone said,the authority of knowledge, I think that has made itkind of open season on any inconvenient truth –forgive another buzz phrase, but it is apt. We cannot abandon our devotionto the best available evidence tested in reasoned discourse and used as the basis for the best policies we can form. CA: Is it possible, Al,that one consequence of the pandemic is actually a growing number of people have revisited their opinionson scientists? I mean, you’ve had a chancein the last few months to say, “Do I trust my political leaderor do I trust this scientist in terms of what they’re saying about this virus?” Maybe lessons from thatcould be carried forward? AG: Well, you know, I thinkif the polling is accurate, people do trust their doctorsa lot more than some of the politicians who seem to have a vested interestin pretending the pandemic isn’t real.And if you look at the incredible bust at President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, a stadium of 19,000 peoplewith less than one-third filled, according to the fire marshal, you saw all the empty seatsif you saw the news clips, so even the most loyal Trump supporters must have decided to trust their doctorsand the medical advice rather than Dr. Donald Trump. CA: With a little help fromthe TikTok generation, perchance. AG: Well, but that didn’taffect the turnout. What they did, very cleverly,and I’m cheering them on, what they did was affectthe Trump White House’s expectations. They’re the reason why he went outa couple days beforehand and said, “We’ve hada million people sign up.” But they didn’t prevent — they didn’t take seats that otherscould have otherwise taken.They didn’t affect the turnout,just the expectations. CA: OK, let’s have our next question here. “Are you concerned the world will rushback to the use of the private car out of fear of usingshared public transportation?” AG: Well, that could actually beone of the consequences, absolutely. Now, the trends on mass transit were already inchingin the wrong direction because of Uber and Lyftand the ridesharing services, and if autonomy ever reaches the goalsthat its advocates have hoped for then that may also have a similar effect. But there’s no doubt that some people are going to be probablya little more reluctant to take mass transportation until the fear of this pandemicis well and truly gone. CA: Yeah. Might needa vaccine on that one. AG: (Laughs) Yeah. CA: Next question. Sonaar Luthra, thank youfor this question from LA. “Given the temperature risein the Arctic this past week, seems like the ratewe are losing our carbon sinks like permafrost or forests is accelerating faster than we predicted.Are our models too focusedon human emissions?” Interesting question. AG: Well, the models are focusedon the factors that have led to these incredible temperature spikes in the north of the Arctic Circle. They were predicted,they have been predicted, and one of the reasons for it is that as the snow and ice cover melts, the sun’s incoming rays are no longerreflected back into space at a 90 percent rate, and instead, when they fall onthe dark tundra or the dark ocean, they’re absorbed at a 90 percent rate. So that’s a magnifierof the warming in the Arctic, and this has been predicted. There are a number of other consequencesthat are also in the models, but some of themmay have to be recalibrated. The scientists are freshly concerned that the emissions of both CO2 and methane from the thawing tundra could be larger than theyhad hoped they would be.There’s also just been a brand-new study. I won’t spend time on this, because it deals with a kind of geeky termcalled “climate sensitivity,” which has been a factor in the modelswith large error bars because it’s so hard to pin down. But the latest evidenceindicates, worryingly, that the sensitivity may begreater than they had thought, and we will havean even more daunting task. That shouldn’t discourage us. I truly believe that oncewe cross this tipping point, and I do believe we’re doing it now, as I’ve said, then I think we’re goingto find a lot of ways to speed up the emissions reductions.CA: We’ll take one more questionfrom the community. Haha. “Geoengineeringis making extraordinary progress. Exxon is investing in technologyfrom Global Thermostat that seems promising. What do you think of these air and watercarbon capture technologies?” Stephen Petranek. AG: Yeah. Well, you and I havetalked about this before, Chris. I’ve been strongly opposed to conducting an unplannedglobal experiment that could go wildly wrong, and most are reallyscared of that approach. However, the term “geoengineering”is a nuanced term that covers a lot.If you want to paint roofs whiteto reflect more energy from the cityscapes, that’s not going to bring a dangerof a runaway effect, and there are some other things that are loosely called “geoengineering”like that, which are fine. But the idea of blocking outthe sun’s rays — that’s insane in my opinion. Turns out plants need sunlightfor photosynthesis and solar panels need sunlight for producing electricityfrom the sun’s rays.And the consequences of changingeverything we know and pretending that the consequencesare going to precisely cancel out the unplanned experiment of global warmingthat we already have underway, you know, there areglitches in our thinking. One of them is calledthe “single solution bias,” and there are peoplewho just have a hunger to say, “Well, that one solution, we just needto latch on to that and do that, and damn the consequences.” Well, it’s nuts. CA: But let me push back on thisjust a little bit.So let’s say that we agreethat a single solution, all-or-nothing attemptat geoengineering is crazy. But there are scenarios where the worldlooks at emissions and just sees, in 10 years’ time, let’s say, that they are just notcoming down fast enough and that we are at riskof several other liftoff events where this train will justget away from us, and we will see temperature risesof three, four, five, six, seven degrees, and all of civilization is at risk. Surely, there is an approachto geoengineering that could be modeled, in a way,on the way that we approach medicine. Like, for hundreds of years,we don’t really understand the human body, people would try interventions, and some of them would work,and some of them wouldn’t. No one says in medicine, “You know, go in and take an all-or-nothing decision on someone’s life,” but they do say, “Let’s try some stuff.” If an experiment can be reversible, if it’s plausible in the first place, if there’s reason to thinkthat it might work, we actually owe it tothe future health of humanity to try at least some types of teststo see what could work.So, small tests to seewhether, for example, seeding of something in the ocean might create, in a nonthreatening way, carbon sinks. Or maybe, rather than fillingthe atmosphere with sulfur dioxide, a smaller experimentthat was not that big a deal to see whether, cost-effectively, youcould reduce the temperature a little bit. Surely, that isn’t completely crazy and is at least somethingwe should be thinking about in case these other measures don’t work? AG: Well, there’ve already beensuch experiments to seed the ocean to see if that can increasethe uptake of CO2. And the experimentswere an unmitigated failure, as many predicted they would be.But that, again, is the kind of approach that’s very different from putting tinfoil stripsin the atmosphere orbiting the Earth. That was the way that solargeoengineering proposal started. Now they’re focusing on chalk, so we have chalk dust all over everything. But more serious than that is the factthat it might not be reversible. CA: But, Al, that’s the rhetoric response. The amount of dust that you need to drop by a degree or two wouldn’t result in chalk dustover everything. It would be unbelievably — like, it would be less than the dustthat people experience every day, anyway. I mean, I just — AG: First of all, I don’t knowhow you do a small experiment in the atmosphere. And secondly, if we were to take that approach, we would have to steadilyincrease the amount of whatever substance they decided. We’d have to increaseit every single year, and if we ever stopped, then there would be a sudden snapback, like “The Picture of Dorian Gray,”that old book and movie, where suddenly all of the thingscaught up with you at once.The fact that anyone is evenconsidering these approaches, Chris, is a measure of a feeling of desperation that some have begun to feel, which I understand, but I don’t think it should drive ustoward these reckless experiments. And by the way, using your analogyto experimental cancer treatments, for example, you usually get informed consentfrom the patient. Getting informed consentfrom 7.8 billion people who have no voice and no say, who are subject to the potentiallycatastrophic consequences of this wackadoodle proposalthat somebody comes up with to try to rearrangethe entire Earth’s atmosphere and hope and pretendthat it’s going to cancel out, the fact that we’re putting152 million tons of heat-trapping, manmadeglobal warming pollution into the sky every day.That’s what’s really insane. A scientist decades ago compared it this way. He said, if you had two peopleon a sinking boat and one of them says, “You know, we could probably usesome mirrors to signal to shore to get them to build a sophisticated wave-generating machine that will cancel outthe rocking of the boat by these guys in the back of the boat.” Or you could get themto stop rocking the boat.And that’s what we need to do.We need to stop what’s causing the crisis. CA: Yeah, that’s a great story, but if the effort to stop the peoplerocking in the back of the boat is as complex as the scientificproposal you just outlined, whereas the experiment to stop the waves is actually as simple as tellingthe people to stop rocking the boat, that story changes. And I think you’re right thatthe issue of informed consent is a really challenging one, but, I mean, no one gave informed consent to do all of the other thingswe’re doing to the atmosphere. And I agree that the moral hazard issue is worrying, that if we became dependenton geoengineering and took away our efforts to do the rest, that would be tragic. It just seems like, I wish it was possibleto have a nuanced debate of people saying, you know what, there’s multiple dialsto a very complex problem. We’re going to have to adjustseveral of them very, very carefully and keep talking to each other. Wouldn’t that be a goal to just try and havea more nuanced debate about this, rather than all of that geoengineering can’t work? AG: Well, I’ve said some of it, you know, the benign formsthat I’ve mentioned, I’m not ruling those out.But blocking the Sun’s raysfrom the Earth, not only do you affect 7.8 billion people, you affect the plants and the animals and the ocean currents and the wind currents and natural processes that we’re in dangerof disrupting even more. Techno-optimism is somethingI’ve engaged in in the past, but to latch on to somebrand-new technological solution to rework the entire Earth’snatural system because somebody thinks he’s clever enough to do it in a waythat precisely cancels out the consequences of usingthe atmosphere as an open sewer for heat-trapping manmade gases. It’s much more important to stop usingthe atmosphere as an open sewer. That’s what the problem is. CA: All right, well, we’ll agree that thatis the most important thing, for sure, and speaking of which, do you believe the worldneeds carbon pricing, and is there any prospectfor getting there? AG: Yes.Yes to both questions. For decades, almost every economist who is asked about the climate crisis says, “Well, we just needto put a price on carbon.” And I have certainly beenin favor of that approach. But it is daunting. Nevertheless, there are43 jurisdictions around the world that already have a price on carbon. We’re seeing it in Europe. They finally straightened outtheir carbon pricing mechanism. It’s an emissions trading version of it. We have places that have puta tax on carbon. That’s the approach the economists prefer. China is beginning to implementits national emissions trading program. California and quite a few other statesin the US are already doing it.It can be given back to peoplein a revenue-neutral way. But the opposition to it, Chris,which you’ve noted, is impressive enoughthat we do have to take other approaches, and I would say most climate activistsare now saying, look, let’s don’t make the bestthe enemy of the better. There are other ways to do this as well. We need every solutionwe can rationally employ, including by regulation. And often, when the political difficultyof a proposal becomes too difficult in a market-oriented approach, the fallback is with regulation, and it’s been givena bad name, regulation, but many places are doing it. I mentioned phasing outinternal combustion engines. That’s an example. There are 160 cities in the US that have already by regulation orderedthat within a date certain, 100 percent of all their electricitywill have to come from renewable sources. And again, the market forces thatare driving the cost of renewable energy and sustainability solutionsever downward, that gives us the wind at our back. This is working in our favor. CA: I mean, the pushback on carbon pricing often goes further from partsof the environmental movement, which is to a pushbackon the role of business in general.Business is actually — well,capitalism — is blamed for the climate crisis because of unrelenting growth, to the point where many peopledon’t trust business to be part of the solution. The only way to go forwardis to regulate, to force businesses to do the right thing. Do you think that businesshas to be part of the solution? AG: Well, definitely, because the allocation of capitalneeded to solve this crisis is greater than whatgovernments can handle. And businesses are beginning, many businesses are beginningto play a very constructive role. They’re getting a demand that they do so from their customers,from their investors, from their boards, from their executive teams,from their families.And by the way, the rising generation is demandinga brighter future, and when CEOs interviewpotential new hires, they find that the new hiresare interviewing them. They want to make a nice income, but they want to be able to telltheir family and friends and peers that they’re doing somethingmore than just making money. One illustration of howthis new generation is changing, Chris: there are 65 colleges in the US right now where the College Young Republican Clubshave joined together to jointly demand thatthe Republican National Committee change its policy on climate, lest they lose that entire generation. This is a global phenomenon. The Greta Generation is now leading this in so many ways, and if you look at the polling, again, the vast majorityof young Republicans are demanding a change on climate policy.This is really a movement that is building still. CA: I was going to ask you about that, because one of the most painful thingsover the last 20 years has just been how climatehas been politicized, certainly in the US. You’ve probably felt yourselfat the heart of that a lot of the time, with people attacking you personally in the most merciless,and unfair ways, often. Do you really see signsthat that might be changing, led by the next generation? AG: Yeah, there’s no question about it. I don’t want to rely on polls too much.I’ve mentioned them already. But there was a new one that came out that looked at the waveringTrump supporters, those who supported himstrongly in the past and want to do so again. The number one issue,surprisingly to some, that is giving them pause, is the craziness of President Trumpand his administration on climate. We’re seeing big majoritiesof the Republican Party overall saying that they’re readyto start exploring some real solutions to the climate crisis.I think that we’re really getting there,no question about it. CA: I mean, you’ve beenthe figurehead for raising this issue, and you happen to be a Democrat. Is there anythingthat you can personally do to — I don’t know — to open the tent,to welcome people, to try and say, “This isbeyond politics, dear friends”? AG: Yeah. Well, I’ve triedall of those things, and maybe it’s made a littlepositive difference. I’ve worked withthe Republicans extensively. And, you know, well afterI left the White House, I had Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson and other prominent Republicans appear on national TV ads with me saying we’ve got to solvethe climate crisis. But the petroleum industry has really doubled down enforcing disciplinewithin the Republican Party. I mean, look at the attacksthey’ve launched against the Pope when he came out with his encyclical and was demonized, not by all for sure, but there were hawksin the anti-climate movement who immediately startedtraining their guns on Pope Francis, and there are many other examples.They enforce discipline and try to make it a partisan issue, even as Democrats reach out to try to make it bipartisan. I totally agree with youthat it should not be a partisan issue. It didn’t use to be, but it’s been artificiallyweaponized as an issue. CA: I mean, the CEOsof oil companies also have kids who are talking to them. It feels like some of them are moving and are trying to invest and trying to find waysof being part of the future. Do you see signs of that? AG: Yeah. I think that business leaders,including in the oil and gas companies, are hearing from their families. They’re hearing from their friends. They’re hearing from their employees. And, by the way, we’ve seenin the tech industry some mass walkouts by employees who are demandingthat some of the tech companies do more and get serious.I’m so proud of Apple. Forgive me for parentheticallypraising Apple. You know, I’m on the board,but I’m such a big fan of Tim Cook and my colleagues at Apple. It’s an example of a tech company that’s really doing fantastic things. And there’s some others as well. There are others in many industries. But the pressures onthe oil and gas companies are quite extraordinary. You know, BP just wrote down12 and a half billion dollars’ worth of oil and gas assets and said that they’re nevergoing to see the light of day. Two-thirds of the fossil fuelsthat have already been discovered cannot be burned and will not be burned.And so that’s a big economic riskto the global economy, like the subprime mortgage crisis. We’ve got 22 trillion dollarsof subprime carbon assets, and just yesterday,there was a major report that the fracking industry in the US is seeing now a wave of bankruptcies because the priceof the fracked gas and oil has fallen below levelsthat make them economic. CA: Is the shorthandof what’s happened there that electric cars and electrictechnologies and solar and so forth have helped drive down the price of oil to the point wherehuge amounts of the reserves just can’t be developed profitably? AG: Yes, that’s it. That’s mainly it. The projections for energy sourcesin the next several years uniformly predict that electricityfrom wind and solar is going to continue to plummet in price, and therefore using gas or coal to make steam to turn the turbines is just not going to be economical. Similarly, the electrificationof the transportation sector is having the same effect. Some are also looking at the trend in national, regionaland local governance.I mentioned this before, but they’re predictinga very different energy future. But let me come back, Chris, because we talked about business leaders. I think you were getting in a questiona moment ago about capitalism itself, and I do want to say a word on that, because there are a lot of people who say maybe capitalism is the basic problem. I think the current form of capitalismwe have is desperately in need of reform.The short-term outlook is often mentioned, but the way we measurewhat is of value to us is also at the heart of the crisisof modern capitalism. Now, capitalism is at the baseof every successful economy, and it balances supply and demand, unlocks a higher fractionof the human potential, and it’s not going anywhere, but it needs to be reformed, because the way we measurewhat’s valuable now ignores so-called negative externalities like pollution. It also ignores positive externalities like investmentsin education and health care, mental health care, family services. It ignores the depletion of resourceslike groundwater and topsoil and the web of living species. And it ignores the distributionof incomes and net worths, so when GDP goes up, people cheer, two percent, three percent — wow! –four percent, and they think, “Great!” But it’s accompaniedby vast increases in pollution, chronic underinvestment in public goods, the depletion of irreplaceablenatural resources, and the worst inequality crisis we’ve seenin more than a hundred years that is threatening the futureof both capitalism and democracy.So we have to change it.We have to reform it. CA: So reform capitalism,but don’t throw it out. We’re going to need it as a toolas we go forward if we’re to solve this. AG: Yeah, I think that’s right,and just one other point: the worst environmental abusesin the last hundred years have been in jurisdictionsthat experimented during the 20th century with the alternatives to capitalismon the left and right. CA: Interesting. All right. Two last community questions quickly. Chadburn Blomquist: “As you are reading the tea leavesof the impact of the current pandemic, what do you think in regard toour response to combatting climate change will be the most impactfullesson learned?” AG: Boy, that’s a verythoughtful question, and I wish my answer could riseto the same level on short notice. I would say first, don’t ignore the scientists. When there is virtual unanimity among the scientific and medical experts, pay attention.Don’t let some politician dissuade you. I think President Trump is slowly learning that’s it’s kind of difficultto gaslight a virus. He tried to gaslight the virus in Tulsa. It didn’t come off very well, and tragically, he decidedto recklessly roll the dice a month ago and ignore the recommendationsfor people to wear masks and to socially distance and to do the other things, and I think that lessonis beginning to take hold in a much stronger way. But beyond that, Chris, I think that this period of timehas been characterized by one of the most profound opportunities for people to rethinkthe patterns of their lives and to consider whether or notwe can’t do a lot of things better and differently. And I think that this risinggeneration I mentioned before has been even more profoundly affected by this interlude, which I hope ends soon, but I hope the lessons endure.I expect they will. CA: Yeah, it’s amazing how many thingsyou can do without emitting carbon, that we’ve been forced to do. Let’s have one more question here. Frank Hennessy: “Are you encouragedby the ability of people to quickly adapt to the newnormal due to COVID-19 as evidence that people can and willchange their habits to respond to climate change?” AG: Yes, but I think we haveto keep in mind that there is a crisis within this crisis. The impact on the African Americancommunity, which I mentioned before, on the Latinx community, Indigenous peoples. The highest infection rateis in the Navajo Nation right now. So some of these questionsappear differently to those who are reallygetting the brunt of this crisis, and it is unacceptablethat we allow this to continue. It feels one way to you and me and perhaps to many in our audience today, but for low-income communities of color, it’s an entirely different crisis, and we owe it to them and to all of us to get busy and to startusing the best science and solve this pandemic.You know the phrase “pandemic economics.” Somebody said, the first principleof pandemic economics is take care of the pandemic, and we’re not doing that yet. We’re seeing the presidenttry to goose the economy for his reelection, never mind the prediction of tens of thousandsof additional American deaths, and that is justunforgivable in my opinion. CA: Thank you, Frank. So Al, you, along with othersin the community played a key role in encouraging TED to launchthis initiative called “Countdown.” Thank you for that, and I guess this conversationis continuing among many of us.If you’re interestedin climate, watching this, check out the Countdown website,, and be part of 10/10/2020, when we are tryingto put out an alert to the world that climate can’t wait, that it really matters, and there’s going to besome amazing content free to the world on that day. Thank you, Al, for your inspirationand support in doing that. I wonder whether youcould end today’s session just by painting us a picture, like how might things roll outover the next decade or so? Just tell us whether there is stilla story of hope here. AG: I’d be glad to.I’ve got to get one plug in.I’ll make it brief. July 18 through July 26, The Climate Reality Projectis having a global training. We’ve already had 8,000 people register. You can go to Now, a bright future. It begins with all of the kinds of efforts that you’ve thrown yourself intoin organizing Countdown. Chris, you and your team have been amazing to work with, and I’m so excitedabout the Countdown project. TED has an unparalleled ability to spread ideas that are worth spreading, to raise consciousness, to enlighten people around the world, and it’s needed for climateand the solutions to the climate crisis like it’s never been needed before, and I just want to thank youfor what you personally are doing to organize this fantasticCountdown program.CA: Thank you. And the world? Are we going to do this? Do you think that humanityis going to pull this off and that our grandchildren are going to have beautiful lives where they can celebrate natureand not spend every day in fear of the next tornado or tsunami? AG: I am optimistic that we will do it, but the answer is in our hands. We have seen dark timesin periods of the past, and we have risen to meet the challenge. We have limitations of our longevolutionary heritage and elements of our culture, but we also have the abilityto transcend our limitations, and when the chips are down, and when survival is at stake and when our childrenand future generations are at stake, we’re capable of more than we sometimesallow ourselves to think we can do. This is such a time. I believe we will rise to the occasion, and we will create a bright, clean, prosperous, just and fair future.I believe it with all my heart. CA: Al Gore, thank youfor your life of work, for all you’ve done to elevate this issue and for spending this time with us now. Thank you. AG: Back at you. Thank you..

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