by Gord Coulson
Al Gore was Bill Clinton’s vice president, and after Clinton finished his second term in January 2001, ran for president himself against George W. Bush. Although Gore won the popular vote, Bush won the Electoral College after a drawn out and bitter battle over disputed votes in Florida, where Bush’s brother Jeb was Governor. Gore never ran for office again but was back in the public eye in 2006 with the publishing of An Inconvenient Truth – The Crisis of Global Warming, along with a documentary of the same name. The response was divided. Those concerned about climate change greeted it with cheers, but a British high court ruled that it contained significant errors and should not be shown in classrooms without guidance to counteract Gore’s “one sided” views. Bush himself said that Gore, “is so far out in the environmental extreme we’ll be up to our necks in owls and outta work for every American.” Gore had become a lightning rod for climate change deniers but a welcomed voice for those who were convinced, or had become convinced after reading his book or seeing the movie.
In 2017 Gore’s new book, An Inconvenient Sequel – Truth to Power, was published along with an updated documentary. At the outset, he asks three questions: Must we change? Can we change? And, Will we change? He answers yes to the first two—unequivocally—based on climate science and the rapid development of green technology. He predicts the answer to the third question will also be a yes, but worries if, “[we can] change rapidly enough to avoid the catastrophic damage we must avoid.”
Inconvenient Predictions Surpassed
Many of Gore’s original predictions, to his surprise, were surpassed. For example, he was harshly criticized for suggesting in 2006 that rising sea levels could put the World Trade Center Memorial under water. Yet in 2012, when hurricane Sandy struck, the memorial site was flooded with over seven feet of sea water. In 2006, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 382 parts per million (ppm), up from 280 ppm prior to the industrial age. By 2017 it had reached 409.5 ppm (350 ppm is considered a safe level). 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the past 17 years. In 2016, Texas was hit by two 1-in-500-year floods and a 1-in-1,000 year downpour. (And we have just witnessed several record setting hurricanes recently in Texas, Florida, and the islands of the Caribbean.) Extreme temperatures, droughts, famines, fires, flooding, mudslides and storms are increasing so quickly the past cannot be used to predict them, he writes. Climate refugees and conflicts are now the norm. For example, the little told story of the Syrian civil war, Gore points out, was a severe drought that sent people from the countryside into the cities causing unrest and conflict. Climate refugees and climate-based conflicts will increase, he predicts. Diseases, like the Zika virus, are being spread into regions that were never exposed to it. Glaciers are melting faster than predicted causing sea levels to rise and warming the planet further. The northern tundra is thawing, releasing methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Gore’s follow-up book is a frightening confirmation of the warnings he had issued ten years earlier.
Recently, in a CNN town hall, Gore was asked what we should say to climate change deniers. His reply was that, back in 2006, it was a hard sell—there was a lot of skepticism—but now, “[w]e have Mother Nature as a witness, and she’s pretty convincing.” Watching the news today, he says, “is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.” Even so, when the mayor of Tangier Island, Virginia, claimed he had seen no evidence of sea levels rising, Gore calmly reminded him that two-thirds of his island had been lost to sea level rise already, and that scientists were predicting more of it. The mayor, however, was unconvinced, which tells us there is much more to this issue than logic and evidence: there are ideological and political commitments. Nevertheless, Gore encourages us to engage deniers and presents a section in the book with common objections and responses. There is a renewed resolve and a sober tone to his new book. Gore not only makes the case and lays out a road-map, but he instills—at least for this reader—a sense of urgency and responsibility.
A Call to Action
In 2006, Gore presented a detailed case for human-induced climate change. He devotes one short chapter to opportunities and potential solutions, and just two pages at the very end of the book on possible actions. Ten years later, he spends about a third of the book reviewing and updating the science, and then devotes about 40 pages to various green technologies and initiatives that are taking off—in some cases exponentially—beyond expectations. For example, the best projections predicted that global wind energy would increase by 30 gigawatts by 2010. By 2016, it was 487 gigawatts. Solar technology is decreasing in price rapidly and installations are going up exponentially. The cost of battery storage is dropping while the sale of electric cars is rising quickly: Tesla is now the number one car manufacturer in the US by valuation. These developments, according to Gore, provide the “yes” for the “Can we change?” question.
Gore sees the Paris agreement, which was signed by 195 countries, as very significant. Even though the Trump administration has now withdrawn from it, US businesses, many US cities, and 36 US state governments are continuing to address the problem with energy standards or goals, and so Gore is hopeful. He devotes the last 140 pages to the “Will we change?” question by giving us the tools we need to answer it ourselves. Although he assumes the American political system, the ideas can be adapted to any democracy. He begins by exposing the political-fossil-fuel-business partnership as a corrupt arrangement that uses deception to maintain oil company profits at the expense of earth’s ecosystems and then presents an array of tools for the citizen to use against this common enemy. As a previous White House insider, you know he knows what he’s talking about here.
Gore then implores individuals to band together and to act. It is a call to revolution—although a non-violent one based on evidence and sound arguments. He includes templates, examples, references, and personal stories. There is a ten slide presentation from the Climate Reality Project that can be downloaded and customized. The Climate Reality Project also has training sessions to certify “Climate Reality Leaders” and he encourages the reader to get this training. How to get press coverage, write articles for online consumption, start petitions, organize marches and other events, and even how to talk to climate change deniers is all covered in this section. This last part of the book is an indispensable toolkit for climate activists, and he argues that we all need to be climate activists now.
The first book was a passionate plea to accept and heed the science of climate change. This book is a call to action by a man who is a gifted communicator and exceptional leader, who has spent most of his life on this issue. Truth to Power goes beyond convincing us that climate change is real and devastating. It offers a way forward, and calls us all to stand up and take action wisely, strategically, passionately, and together. It is a hopeful book, but at the same time, a book of hope that depends on us, the reader, to make it so.