Al Gore on Climate Change, Extreme Weather and Keystone XL
On whether Obama’s re-election and the aftermath of Sandy represent a moment for climate change action
I think it definitely is a time when more and more people are focused on the extreme weather that has disrupted so many lives. People who have not really devoted a lot of time to thinking about the climate crisis in the past are now saying to their family and friends: “this is clearly a new time. The weather is just not what it used to be”.
We call it dirty weather because dirty energy creates dirty weather. As the leading edge scientists have been telling us for a few years now, we are long past the point where it is sufficient to say that you can not connect one storm to the climate crisis.
In fact, all weather events are now effected by global warming pollution. There is a difference, as others have said, between systemic causality and linear causality – just as you can’t often say that a person with lung cancer got it definitely because he or she smoked cigarettes throughout their life. You can say smoking cigarettes does cause lung cancer. The fact that the oceans are warmer due to man-made climate change means that storms have more strength and force from the ocean heat energy.
So the connection is as clear as between smoking and cancer?
Absolutely. To extend that analogy to this day you can get to a level of detail in questioning cancer specialists where they can’t always say precisely how the cancer is triggered by cigarettes – but they know that it is. They know not only do the ocean feed more energy into storms but that warmer air holds much more water vapour, meaning that when there is a precipitation event either rain or snow much more on average falls at one time.
The sea levels have been rather gently rising over the last century but enough already so that these surges start from a higher base and of course the observed speed-up in melting and the destabilization in Greenland and Antarctica means that sea-level rise in the decade ahead is expected to be far more rapid, and reach much higher levels, than scientists had believed would be the case just a decade ago.
On the Dirty Weather event starting 14 November
We will have a lot of highly produced content that connects the dots between extreme weather and the climate crisis. This is the second annual 24 hours of reality … This one is different from the first one because last year the focus was on explaining the science underlining the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. This year we are bringing that story to life…
We are focusing on the reality of what is happening in peoples’ lives all around world as a result of the human alteration of the climate balance
What would he consider a success on 14 November?
We want to solve the climate crisis and the pathway towards a solution runs right through public opinion that results in public pressure on public officials … Many elected officials have been frightened of the reaction should they even talk about the climate crisis – much less propose the obvious solution: we need to put a price on carbon. It is just as plain as day. But the only way to give these elected officials more backbone is to ensure that they hear more from their constituents who are deeply and rightly concerned that we are not doing anything to stop this accelerating destruction of the global climate balance and the destruction of conditions on earth that has been conducive to rise of human civilization and the process is happening rather quickly.
On climate science
Science has a culture that is inherently cautious and that is normally not a bad thing. You could even say conservative, because of the peer review process and because the scientific method prizes uncertainty and penalises anyone who goes out on any sort of a limb that is not held in place by abundant and well-documented evidence.
But the culture of caution has made it difficult for these scientists to play the role that political leaders with vision should be playing themselves. It is obvious what is going on. It has been for a long time. Every national academy of science on the planet confirms the consensus. Every professional scientific society in every field related to earth science confirms the evidence. Ninety-seven to 98% of the most published climate scientists agree with the consensus and now mother nature is providing the most undeniable evidence of all.
On Obama’s mandate for climate change action
Mandates are sometimes in the eye of the beholder but I think all who look at these circumstances should agree that president Obama does have a mandate, should he choose to use it, to act boldly to solve the climate crisis, to begin solving it.
On whether he believes Obama will indeed act boldly
I hope so. He has the mandate. He has the opportunity, and he has the inherent ability to provide the leadership needed, and I really hope that he will and I will respectfully ask him to do exactly that.
On the causes of climate silence
There is an old saying in Tennessee, my home state: If you see a turtle on a fence post, you can be fairly certain that it didn’t get there by itself. When you see climate silence you can be pretty sure there is an active cause and the fossil fuel carbon polluters – not all but many – have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year in a very carefully and lavishly financed effort to condition public thinking on this issue to say that coal is clean and that oil companies have the solutions well in hand and not to worry.
And then rather more quietly they have financed legions of these pseudo-scientific think tanks that are chartered for the specific purpose of creating false doubt… So I think that is one of the probably the single largest cause …
On media and climate silence
Every single news program in the United States on television with one exception – Current TV [which was founded by Gore] does not accept their money – but every other network, all of the commentary programmes and news programs, are sponsored generously by the coal, oil and gas companies. And every viewer who is interested in the political dialogue or the workings of democracy is bathed in a constant shower of misleading propaganda …
Now there are other factors at work. There is the natural tendency that all of us are vulnerable to, to deny unpleasant realities and to look for any excuse to push them away and resolve to think about them another day long in the future. That tendency is compounded by the realization that the solutions to the climate crisis will require taking some steps which, while ultimately good for us in every way, are nevertheless discomfiting in the sense that some patterns have to change. We can’t continue putting 90m tonnes of global warming pollution into the atmosphere of the planet every 24 hours. It’s self destructive. It’s insane and yet when something is so powerful and so common it’s difficult to contemplate changing it.
On his own experience in the climate wars
They attack whoever speaks out. They vilify the scientists themselves and accuse them of corruption. They vilify any political figure or cultural participant who speaks up on climate.
But again whoever speaks out is going to attract the same fire. That is why so many virtually all the political leaders in both parties are frightened to speak out. They call Obama polarising. Well I mean he has reached out so much that he frustrates his supporters. But they are going to attack anyone who tells the truth about this issue.
It’s not about me. It’s about the truth. It’s about the best truth that we as human beings are capable of arriving at using the tried and true methods that civilization has refined. Seek out the best available evidence, examine it and test it in free democratic discourse. Test it against reality, test it against the evidence offered by contrarians. But then apply the rule of reason and, when the weight of evidence is as overwhelming as it is in this case, then act. The truth has a force of its own.
I watched Ahmedinejad last night or maybe it was the night before last on one of the interview shows on CNN and he was asked if he believes the Holocaust was a historical fact and he said: ‘Why are you against debating the truth. We need more research. We need investigators to go and look at the evidence’.
Well you know it’s always dangerous to draw an analogy that even indirectly invokes the Holocaust and that is not my purpose directly. But the idea that facts, having been accumulated painstakingly by scientists in dozens of different disciplines over decades, yield a degree of certainty that leads the National Academies all over the world to say that the evidence is now and I quote them indisputable at same point then, you know, the game is up and it is time for reasonable people of good will to say: OK let’s get on. Now what should we do about it.”
On what environmental groups should do. What does he think of Keystone XL protests?
This is not a solo. It’s a symphony and lots of groups will pick different points of entry and different approaches. I do agree with those who are trying to stop the Keystone pipeline. The tar sands are just the dirtiest source of liquid fuel you can imagine. And at a time when we are desperately trying to bend the emissions curve downwards it is quite literally insane to open up a whole new source that is much more carbon intensive and makes the problem worse.
But for me, I believe that my efforts are best expended on the central challenge of building a sufficient support for action to solve the climate crisis. It’s not that complicated ultimately. We have to put a price on carbon. We have two great instruments in this world to bring about big changes. One is democracy. The other is capitalism. Both systems are in a state of disrepair. Both need reform.
On the carbon tax and the fiscal cliff
It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time…One way is with a carbon tax. You can offset it with reductions in the payroll tax but you can then gain revenue with tax reform as part of a solution that raises revenue as well as cuts some of the spending … By including the carbon tax in the solution to the fiscal cliff we can back away from the climate cliff.
Have you lobbied Obama and others about a carbon tax?
I have not been in any smoke-filled back rooms but I have talked with friends and I have made speeches and written articles. I will speak again over the course of this 24-hour event that starts on Wednesday and concludes on Thursday.
Article appearing courtesy ecopolitology.
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