English subtitles

← The new urgency of climate change

Get Embed Code
28 Languages

Showing Revision 25 created 07/06/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. Chris Anderson: Al, welcome.
  2. So look, just six months ago --
  3. it seems a lifetime ago,
    but it really was just six months ago --
  4. climate seemed to be on the lips
    of every thinking person on the planet.
  5. Recent events seem to have swept it
    all away from our attention.
  6. How worried are you about that?
  7. Al Gore: Well, first of all Chris,
    thank you so much for inviting me

  8. to have this conversation.
  9. People are reacting differently
  10. to the climate crisis
  11. in the midst of these
    other great challenges
  12. that have taken over our awareness,
  13. appropriately.
  14. One reason is something
    that you mentioned.
  15. People get the fact
    that when scientists are warning us
  16. in ever more dire terms
  17. and setting their hair
    on fire, so to speak,
  18. it's best to listen
    to what they're saying,
  19. and I think that lesson
    has begun to sink in in a new way.
  20. Another similarity, by the way,
  21. is that the climate crisis,
    like the COVID-19 pandemic,
  22. has revealed in a new way
  23. the shocking injustices
    and inequalities and disparities
  24. that affect communities of color
  25. and low-income communities.
  26. There are differences.

  27. The climate crisis has effects
    that are not measured in years,
  28. as the pandemic is,
  29. but consequences that are measured
    in centuries and even longer.
  30. And the other difference is that
    instead of depressing economic activity
  31. to deal with the climate crisis,
  32. as nations around the world
    have had to do with COVID-19,
  33. we have the opportunity to create
    tens of millions of new jobs.
  34. That sounds like a political phrasing,
  35. but it's literally true.
  36. For the last five years,
  37. the fastest-growing job in the US
    has been solar installer.
  38. The second-fastest has been
    wind turbine technician.
  39. And the "Oxford Review of Economics,"
    just a few weeks ago,
  40. pointed the way to
    a very jobs-rich recovery
  41. if we emphasize renewable energy
    and sustainability technology.
  42. So I think we are crossing
    a tipping point,
  43. and you need only look
    at the recovery plans
  44. that are being presented
    in nations around the world
  45. to see that they're very much
    focused on a green recovery.
  46. CA: I mean, one obvious impact
    of the pandemic

  47. is that it's brought the world's economy
    to a shuddering halt,
  48. thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  49. I mean, how big an effect has that been,
  50. and is it unambiguously good news?
  51. AG: Well, it's a little bit
    of an illusion, Chris,

  52. and you need only look back
    to the Great Recession in 2008 and '09,
  53. when there was a one percent
    decline in emissions,
  54. but then in 2010,
  55. they came roaring back during the recovery
  56. with a four percent increase.
  57. The latest estimates are that emissions
    will go down by at least five percent
  58. during this induced coma,
  59. as the economist Paul Krugman
    perceptively described it,
  60. but whether it goes back the way it did
    after the Great Recession
  61. is in part up to us,
  62. and if these green recovery plans
    are actually implemented,
  63. and I know many countries
    are determined to implement them,
  64. then we need not repeat that pattern.
  65. After all, this whole process is occurring
  66. during a period when
    the cost of renewable energy
  67. and electric vehicles, batteries
  68. and a range of other
    sustainability approaches
  69. are continuing to fall in price,
  70. and they're becoming
    much more competitive.
  71. Just a quick reference
    to how fast this is:

  72. five years ago, electricity
    from solar and wind
  73. was cheaper than electricity
    from fossil fuels
  74. in only one percent of the world.
  75. This year, it's cheaper
    in two-thirds of the world,
  76. and five years from now,
  77. it will be cheaper in virtually
    100 percent of the world.
  78. EVs will be cost-competitive
    within two years,
  79. and then will continue falling in price.
  80. And so there are changes underway
  81. that could interrupt the pattern
    we saw after the Great Recession.
  82. CA: The reason those pricing differentials
    happen in different parts of the world

  83. is obviously because there's different
    amounts of sunshine and wind there
  84. and different building costs and so forth.
  85. AG: Well, yes, and government policies
    also account for a lot.

  86. The world is continuing
    to subsidize fossil fuels
  87. at a ridiculous amount,
  88. more so in many developing countries
    than in the US and developed countries,
  89. but it's subsidized here as well.
  90. But everywhere in the world,
  91. wind and solar will be cheaper
    as a source of electricity
  92. than fossil fuels,
  93. within a few years.
  94. CA: I think I've heard it said
    that the fall in emissions

  95. caused by the pandemic
  96. isn't that much more than, actually,
    the fall that we will need
  97. every single year
  98. if we're to meet emissions targets.
  99. Is that true, and, if so,
  100. doesn't that seem impossibly daunting?
  101. AG: It does seem daunting,
    but first look at the number.

  102. That number came from a study
    a little over a year ago
  103. released by the IPCC
  104. as to what it would take to keep
    the Earth's temperatures from increasing
  105. more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  106. And yes, the annual reductions
    would be significant,
  107. on the order of what we've seen
    with the pandemic.
  108. And yes, that does seem daunting.
  109. However, we do have the opportunity
    to make some fairly dramatic changes,
  110. and the plan is not a mystery.
  111. You start with the two sectors that are
    closest to an effective transition --
  112. electricity generation, as I mentioned --
  113. and last year, 2019,
  114. if you look at all of the new
    electricity generation built
  115. all around the world,
  116. 72 percent of it was from solar and wind.
  117. And already, without the continuing
    subsidies for fossil fuels,
  118. we would see many more of these plants
  119. being shut down.
  120. There are some new
    fossil plants being built,
  121. but many more are being shut down.
  122. And where transportation is concerned,

  123. the second sector ready to go,
  124. in addition to the cheaper prices
    for EVs that I made reference to before,
  125. there are some 45 jurisdictions
    around the world --
  126. national, regional and municipal --
  127. where laws have been passed
    beginning a phaseout
  128. of internal combustion engines.
  129. Even India said that by 2030,
    less than 10 years from now,
  130. it will be illegal to sell
    any new internal combustion engines
  131. in India.
  132. There are many other examples.
  133. So the past small reductions

  134. may not be an accurate guide
    to the kind we can achieve
  135. with serious national plans
  136. and a focused global effort.
  137. CA: So help us understand
    just the big picture here, Al.

  138. I think before the pandemic,
  139. the world was emitting
  140. about 55 gigatons of what
    they call "CO2 equivalent,"
  141. so that includes other greenhouse gases
  142. like methane dialed up
    to be the equivalent of CO2.
  143. And am I right in saying that the IPCC,
  144. which is the global
    organization of scientists,
  145. is recommending that
    the only way to fix this crisis
  146. is to get that number from 55 to zero
  147. by 2050 at the very latest,
  148. and that even then, there's a chance
    that we will end up with temperature rises
  149. more like two degrees Celsius
    rather than 1.5?
  150. I mean, is that approximately
    the big picture
  151. of what the IPCC is recommending?
  152. AG: That's correct.

  153. The global goal established
    in the Paris Conference
  154. is to get to net zero on a global basis
  155. by 2050,
  156. and many people quickly add
  157. that that really means a 45
    to 50 percent reduction by 2030
  158. to make that pathway
    to net zero feasible.
  159. CA: And that kind of timeline
    is the kind of timeline

  160. where people couldn't even imagine it.
  161. It's just hard to think
    of policy over 30 years.
  162. So that's actually a very good shorthand,
  163. that humanity's task is to cut
    emissions in half by 2030,
  164. approximately speaking,
  165. which I think boils down to about
    a seven or eight percent reduction a year,
  166. something like that, if I'm not wrong.
  167. AG: Not quite. Not quite that large

  168. but close, yes.
  169. CA: So it is something like the effect
    that we've experienced this year

  170. may be necessary.
  171. This year, we've done it
    by basically shutting down the economy.
  172. You're talking about a way of doing it
    over the coming years
  173. that actually gives some
    economic growth and new jobs.
  174. So talk more about that.
  175. You've referred to
    changing our energy sources,
  176. changing how we transport.
  177. If we did those things,
  178. how much of the problem does that solve?
  179. AG: Well, we can get to --

  180. well, in addition to doing
    the two sectors that I mentioned,
  181. we also have to deal with manufacturing
    and all the use cases
  182. that require temperatures
    of a thousand degrees Celsius,
  183. and there are solutions there as well.
  184. I'll come back and mention an exciting one
    that Germany has just embarked upon.
  185. We also have to tackle
    regenerative agriculture.
  186. There is the opportunity
    to sequester a great deal of carbon
  187. in topsoils around the world
  188. by changing the agricultural techniques.
  189. There is a farmer-led movement to do that.
  190. We need to also retrofit buildings.
  191. We need to change our management
    of forests and the ocean.
  192. But let me just mention
    two things briefly.

  193. First of all, the high
    temperature use cases.
  194. Angela Merkel, just 10 days ago,
  195. with the leadership of
    her minister Peter Altmaier,
  196. who is a good friend
    and a great public servant,
  197. have just embarked on
    a green hydrogen strategy
  198. to make hydrogen
  199. with zero marginal cost renewable energy.
  200. And just a word on that, Chris:
  201. you've heard about the intermittency
    of wind and solar --
  202. solar doesn't produce electricity
    when the sun's not shining,
  203. and wind doesn't
    when the wind's not blowing --
  204. but batteries are getting better,
  205. and these technologies are becoming
    much more efficient and powerful,
  206. so that for an increasing number
    of hours of each day,
  207. they're producing often way more
    electricity than can be used.
  208. So what to do with it?
  209. The marginal cost
    for the next kilowatt-hour is zero.
  210. So all of a sudden,
  211. the very energy-intensive process
    of cracking hydrogen from water
  212. becomes economically feasible,
  213. and it can be substituted
    for coal and gas,
  214. and that's already being done.
  215. There's a Swedish company
    already making steel with green hydrogen,
  216. and, as I say, Germany has just embarked
    on a major new initiative to do that.
  217. I think they're pointing the way
    for the rest of the world.
  218. Now, where building retrofits
    are concerned, just a moment on this,

  219. because about 20 to 25 percent
    of the global warming pollution
  220. in the world and in the US
  221. comes from inefficient buildings
  222. that were constructed
    by companies and individuals
  223. who were trying to be competitive
    in the marketplace
  224. and keep their margins acceptably high
  225. and thereby skimping on insulation
    and the right windows
  226. and LEDs and the rest.
  227. And yet the person or company
    that buys that building
  228. or leases that building,
  229. they want their monthly
    utility bills much lower.
  230. So there are now ways
  231. to close that so-called
    agent-principal divide,
  232. the differing incentives
    for the builder and occupier,
  233. and we can retrofit buildings with
    a program that literally pays for itself
  234. over three to five years,
  235. and we could put tens of millions
    of people to work
  236. in jobs that by definition
    cannot be outsourced
  237. because they exist
    in every single community.
  238. And we really ought to get serious
    about doing this,
  239. because we're going to need all those jobs
  240. to get sustainable prosperity
    in the aftermath of this pandemic.
  241. CA: Just going back
    to the hydrogen economy

  242. that you referred to there,
  243. when some people hear that,
  244. they think, "Oh, are you talking
    about hydrogen-fueled cars?"
  245. And they've heard that that
    probably won't be a winning strategy.
  246. But you're thinking much more
    broadly than that, I think,
  247. that it's not just hydrogen
    as a kind of storage mechanism
  248. to act as a buffer for renewable energy,
  249. but also hydrogen could be essential
  250. for some of the other processes
    in the economy like making steel,
  251. making cement,
  252. that are fundamentally
    carbon-intensive processes right now
  253. but could be transformed if we had
    much cheaper sources of hydrogen.
  254. Is that right?
  255. AG: Yes, I was always skeptical
    about hydrogen, Chris,

  256. principally because it's been
    so expensive to make it,
  257. to "crack it out of water," as they say.
  258. But the game-changer has been
  259. the incredible abundance
    of solar and wind electricity
  260. in volumes and amounts
    that people didn't expect,
  261. and all of a sudden,
    it's cheap enough to use
  262. for these very energy-intensive processes
  263. like creating green hydrogen.
  264. I'm still a bit skeptical
    about using it in vehicles.
  265. Toyota's been betting on that for 25 years
    and it hasn't really worked for them.
  266. Never say never, maybe it will,
  267. but I think it's most useful for these
    high-temperature industrial processes,
  268. and we already have a pathway
    for decarbonizing transportation
  269. with electricity
  270. that's working extremely well.
  271. Tesla's going to be soon the most valuable
    automobile company in the world,
  272. already in the US,
  273. and they're about to overtake Toyota.
  274. There is now a semitruck company
    that's been stood up by Tesla
  275. and another that is going to be a hybrid
    with electricity and green hydrogen,
  276. so we'll see whether or not
    they can make it work in that application.
  277. But I think electricity is preferable
    for cars and trucks.
  278. CA: We're coming to some
    community questions in a minute.

  279. Let me ask you, though, about nuclear.
  280. Some environmentalists
    believe that nuclear,
  281. or maybe new generation nuclear power
  282. is an essential part of the equation
  283. if we're to get to a truly clean future,
  284. a clean energy future.
  285. Are you still pretty skeptical
    on nuclear, Al?
  286. AG: Well, the market's skeptical
    about it, Chris.

  287. It's been a crushing disappointment
    for me and for so many.
  288. I used to represent Oak Ridge,
    where nuclear energy began,
  289. and when I was a young congressman,
  290. I was a booster.
  291. I was very enthusiastic about it.
  292. But the cost overruns
  293. and the problems in building these plants
  294. have become so severe
  295. that utilities just don't have
    an appetite for them.
  296. It's become the most expensive
    source of electricity.
  297. Now, let me hasten to add
    that there are some older nuclear reactors
  298. that have more useful time
    that could be added onto their lifetimes.
  299. And like a lot of environmentalists,
  300. I've come to the view
    that if they can be determined to be safe,
  301. they should be allowed to continue
    operating for a time.
  302. But where new nuclear
    power plants are concerned,

  303. here's a way to look at it.
  304. If you are -- you've been a CEO, Chris.
  305. If you were the CEO of --
    I guess you still are.
  306. If you were the CEO
    of an electric utility,
  307. and you told your executive team,
  308. "I want to build a nuclear power plant,"
  309. two of the first questions
    you would ask are, number one:
  310. How much will it cost?
  311. And there's not a single
    engineering consulting firm
  312. that I've been able to find
    anywhere in the world
  313. that will put their name on an opinion
  314. giving you a cost estimate.
  315. They just don't know.
  316. A second question you would ask is:
  317. How long will it take to build it,
    so we can start selling the electricity?
  318. And again, the answer you will get is,
  319. "We have no idea."
  320. So if you don't know
    how much it's going to cost,
  321. and you don't know
    when it's going to be finished,
  322. and you already know that
    the electricity is more expensive
  323. than the alternate ways to produce it,
  324. that's going to be a little discouraging,
  325. and, in fact, that's been the case
    for utilities around the world.
  326. CA: OK.

  327. So there's definitely
    an interesting debate there,
  328. but we're going to come on
    to some community questions.
  329. Let's have the first
    of those questions up, please.
  330. From Prosanta Chakrabarty:
  331. "People who are skeptical
    of COVID and of climate change
  332. seem to be skeptical
    of science in general.
  333. It may be that the singular
    message from scientists
  334. gets diluted and convoluted.
  335. How do we fix that?"
  336. AG: Yeah, that's
    a great question, Prosanta.

  337. Boy, I'm trying to put this
    succinctly and shortly.
  338. I think that there has been
  339. a feeling that experts in general
  340. have kind of let the US down,
  341. and that feeling is much more pronounced
    in the US than in most other countries.
  342. And I think that the considered opinion
    of what we call experts
  343. has been diluted over the last few decades
  344. by the unhealthy dominance
    of big money in our political system,
  345. which has found ways
    to really twist economic policy
  346. to benefit elites.
  347. And this sounds a little radical,
  348. but it's actually what has happened.
  349. And we have gone for more than 40 years

  350. without any meaningful increase
    in middle-income pay,
  351. and where the injustice experienced
    by African Americans
  352. and other communities
    of color are concerned,
  353. the differential in pay between
    African Americans and majority Americans
  354. is the same as it was in 1968,
  355. and the family wealth,
  356. the net worth --
  357. it takes 11 and a half so-called
    "typical" African American families
  358. to make up the net worth of one
    so-called "typical" White American family.
  359. And you look at the soaring incomes
  360. in the top one
    or the top one-tenth of one percent,
  361. and people say, "Wait a minute.
  362. Whoever the experts were
    that designed these policies,
  363. they haven't been doing
    a good job for me."
  364. A final point, Chris:

  365. there has been an assault on reason.
  366. There has been a war against truth.
  367. There has been a strategy,
  368. maybe it was best known as a strategy
    decades ago by the tobacco companies
  369. who hired actors and dressed them up
    as doctors to falsely reassure people
  370. that there were no health consequences
    from smoking cigarettes,
  371. and a hundred million people
    died as a result.
  372. That same strategy of diminishing
    the significance of truth,
  373. diminishing, as someone said,
    the authority of knowledge,
  374. I think that has made it
    kind of open season
  375. on any inconvenient truth --
    forgive another buzz phrase,
  376. but it is apt.
  377. We cannot abandon our devotion
    to the best available evidence
  378. tested in reasoned discourse
  379. and used as the basis
  380. for the best policies we can form.
  381. CA: Is it possible, Al,
    that one consequence of the pandemic

  382. is actually a growing number of people
  383. have revisited their opinions
    on scientists?
  384. I mean, you've had a chance
    in the last few months to say,
  385. "Do I trust my political leader
    or do I trust this scientist
  386. in terms of what they're saying
  387. about this virus?"
  388. Maybe lessons from that
    could be carried forward?
  389. AG: Well, you know, I think
    if the polling is accurate,

  390. people do trust their doctors
    a lot more than some of the politicians
  391. who seem to have a vested interest
    in pretending the pandemic isn't real.
  392. And if you look at the incredible bust
  393. at President Trump's rally in Tulsa,
  394. a stadium of 19,000 people
    with less than one-third filled,
  395. according to the fire marshal,
  396. you saw all the empty seats
    if you saw the news clips,
  397. so even the most loyal Trump supporters
  398. must have decided to trust their doctors
    and the medical advice
  399. rather than Dr. Donald Trump.
  400. CA: With a little help from
    the TikTok generation, perchance.

  401. AG: Well, but that didn't
    affect the turnout.

  402. What they did, very cleverly,
    and I'm cheering them on,
  403. what they did was affect
    the Trump White House's expectations.
  404. They're the reason why he went out
    a couple days beforehand
  405. and said, "We've had
    a million people sign up."
  406. But they didn't prevent --
  407. they didn't take seats that others
    could have otherwise taken.
  408. They didn't affect the turnout,
    just the expectations.
  409. CA: OK, let's have our next question here.

  410. "Are you concerned the world will rush
    back to the use of the private car
  411. out of fear of using
    shared public transportation?"
  412. AG: Well, that could actually be
    one of the consequences, absolutely.

  413. Now, the trends on mass transit
  414. were already inching
    in the wrong direction
  415. because of Uber and Lyft
    and the ridesharing services,
  416. and if autonomy ever reaches the goals
    that its advocates have hoped for
  417. then that may also have a similar effect.
  418. But there's no doubt that some people
  419. are going to be probably
    a little more reluctant
  420. to take mass transportation
  421. until the fear of this pandemic
    is well and truly gone.
  422. CA: Yeah. Might need
    a vaccine on that one.

  423. AG: (Laughs) Yeah.

  424. CA: Next question.

  425. Sonaar Luthra, thank you
    for this question from LA.
  426. "Given the temperature rise
    in the Arctic this past week,
  427. seems like the rate
    we are losing our carbon sinks
  428. like permafrost or forests
  429. is accelerating faster than we predicted.
  430. Are our models too focused
    on human emissions?"
  431. Interesting question.
  432. AG: Well, the models are focused
    on the factors that have led

  433. to these incredible temperature spikes
  434. in the north of the Arctic Circle.
  435. They were predicted,
    they have been predicted,
  436. and one of the reasons for it
  437. is that as the snow and ice cover melts,
  438. the sun's incoming rays are no longer
    reflected back into space
  439. at a 90 percent rate,
  440. and instead, when they fall on
    the dark tundra or the dark ocean,
  441. they're absorbed at a 90 percent rate.
  442. So that's a magnifier
    of the warming in the Arctic,
  443. and this has been predicted.
  444. There are a number of other consequences
    that are also in the models,
  445. but some of them
    may have to be recalibrated.
  446. The scientists are freshly concerned

  447. that the emissions of both CO2 and methane
  448. from the thawing tundra
  449. could be larger than they
    had hoped they would be.
  450. There's also just been a brand-new study.
  451. I won't spend time on this,
  452. because it deals with a kind of geeky term
    called "climate sensitivity,"
  453. which has been a factor in the models
    with large error bars
  454. because it's so hard to pin down.
  455. But the latest evidence
    indicates, worryingly,
  456. that the sensitivity may be
    greater than they had thought,
  457. and we will have
    an even more daunting task.
  458. That shouldn't discourage us.
  459. I truly believe that once
    we cross this tipping point,
  460. and I do believe we're doing it now,
  461. as I've said,
  462. then I think we're going
    to find a lot of ways
  463. to speed up the emissions reductions.
  464. CA: We'll take one more question
    from the community.

  465. Haha. "Geoengineering
    is making extraordinary progress.
  466. Exxon is investing in technology
    from Global Thermostat
  467. that seems promising.
  468. What do you think of these air and water
    carbon capture technologies?"
  469. Stephen Petranek.
  470. AG: Yeah. Well, you and I have
    talked about this before, Chris.

  471. I've been strongly opposed
  472. to conducting an unplanned
    global experiment
  473. that could go wildly wrong,
  474. and most are really
    scared of that approach.
  475. However, the term "geoengineering"
    is a nuanced term that covers a lot.
  476. If you want to paint roofs white
    to reflect more energy
  477. from the cityscapes,
  478. that's not going to bring a danger
    of a runaway effect,
  479. and there are some other things
  480. that are loosely called "geoengineering"
    like that, which are fine.
  481. But the idea of blocking out
    the sun's rays --
  482. that's insane in my opinion.
  483. Turns out plants need sunlight
    for photosynthesis
  484. and solar panels need sunlight
  485. for producing electricity
    from the sun's rays.
  486. And the consequences of changing
    everything we know
  487. and pretending that the consequences
    are going to precisely cancel out
  488. the unplanned experiment of global warming
    that we already have underway,
  489. you know, there are
    glitches in our thinking.
  490. One of them is called
    the "single solution bias,"
  491. and there are people
    who just have a hunger to say,
  492. "Well, that one solution, we just need
    to latch on to that and do that,
  493. and damn the consequences."
  494. Well, it's nuts.
  495. CA: But let me push back on this
    just a little bit.

  496. So let's say that we agree
    that a single solution,
  497. all-or-nothing attempt
    at geoengineering is crazy.
  498. But there are scenarios where the world
    looks at emissions and just sees,
  499. in 10 years' time, let's say,
  500. that they are just not
    coming down fast enough
  501. and that we are at risk
    of several other liftoff events
  502. where this train will just
    get away from us,
  503. and we will see temperature rises
    of three, four, five, six, seven degrees,
  504. and all of civilization is at risk.
  505. Surely, there is an approach
    to geoengineering
  506. that could be modeled, in a way,
    on the way that we approach medicine.
  507. Like, for hundreds of years,
    we don't really understand the human body,

  508. people would try interventions,
  509. and some of them would work,
    and some of them wouldn't.
  510. No one says in medicine, "You know,
  511. go in and take an all-or-nothing decision
  512. on someone's life,"
  513. but they do say, "Let's try some stuff."
  514. If an experiment can be reversible,
  515. if it's plausible in the first place,
  516. if there's reason to think
    that it might work,
  517. we actually owe it to
    the future health of humanity
  518. to try at least some types of tests
    to see what could work.
  519. So, small tests to see
    whether, for example,
  520. seeding of something in the ocean
  521. might create, in a nonthreatening way,
  522. carbon sinks.
  523. Or maybe, rather than filling
    the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide,
  524. a smaller experiment
    that was not that big a deal
  525. to see whether, cost-effectively, you
    could reduce the temperature a little bit.
  526. Surely, that isn't completely crazy
  527. and is at least something
    we should be thinking about
  528. in case these other measures don't work?
  529. AG: Well, there've already been
    such experiments

  530. to seed the ocean
  531. to see if that can increase
    the uptake of CO2.
  532. And the experiments
    were an unmitigated failure,
  533. as many predicted they would be.
  534. But that, again, is the kind of approach
  535. that's very different
  536. from putting tinfoil strips
    in the atmosphere orbiting the Earth.
  537. That was the way that solar
    geoengineering proposal started.
  538. Now they're focusing on chalk,
  539. so we have chalk dust all over everything.
  540. But more serious than that is the fact
    that it might not be reversible.
  541. CA: But, Al, that's the rhetoric response.

  542. The amount of dust that you need
  543. to drop by a degree or two
  544. wouldn't result in chalk dust
    over everything.
  545. It would be unbelievably --
  546. like, it would be less than the dust
    that people experience every day, anyway.
  547. I mean, I just --
  548. AG: First of all, I don't know
    how you do a small experiment

  549. in the atmosphere.
  550. And secondly,
  551. if we were to take that approach,
  552. we would have to steadily
    increase the amount
  553. of whatever substance they decided.
  554. We'd have to increase
    it every single year,
  555. and if we ever stopped,
  556. then there would be a sudden snapback,
  557. like "The Picture of Dorian Gray,"
    that old book and movie,
  558. where suddenly all of the things
    caught up with you at once.
  559. The fact that anyone is even
    considering these approaches, Chris,
  560. is a measure of a feeling of desperation
  561. that some have begun to feel,
  562. which I understand,
  563. but I don't think it should drive us
    toward these reckless experiments.
  564. And by the way, using your analogy
    to experimental cancer treatments,
  565. for example,
  566. you usually get informed consent
    from the patient.
  567. Getting informed consent
    from 7.8 billion people

  568. who have no voice and no say,
  569. who are subject to the potentially
    catastrophic consequences
  570. of this wackadoodle proposal
    that somebody comes up with
  571. to try to rearrange
    the entire Earth's atmosphere
  572. and hope and pretend
    that it's going to cancel out,
  573. the fact that we're putting
    152 million tons
  574. of heat-trapping, manmade
    global warming pollution
  575. into the sky every day.
  576. That's what's really insane.
  577. A scientist decades ago
  578. compared it this way.
  579. He said, if you had two people
    on a sinking boat
  580. and one of them says,
  581. "You know, we could probably use
    some mirrors to signal to shore
  582. to get them to build
  583. a sophisticated wave-generating machine
  584. that will cancel out
    the rocking of the boat
  585. by these guys in the back of the boat."
  586. Or you could get them
    to stop rocking the boat.
  587. And that's what we need to do.
    We need to stop what's causing the crisis.
  588. CA: Yeah, that's a great story,

  589. but if the effort to stop the people
    rocking in the back of the boat
  590. is as complex as the scientific
    proposal you just outlined,
  591. whereas the experiment to stop the waves
  592. is actually as simple as telling
    the people to stop rocking the boat,
  593. that story changes.
  594. And I think you're right that
    the issue of informed consent
  595. is a really challenging one,
  596. but, I mean, no one gave informed consent
  597. to do all of the other things
    we're doing to the atmosphere.
  598. And I agree that the moral hazard issue
  599. is worrying,
  600. that if we became dependent
    on geoengineering
  601. and took away our efforts to do the rest,
  602. that would be tragic.
  603. It just seems like,
  604. I wish it was possible
    to have a nuanced debate
  605. of people saying, you know what,
  606. there's multiple dials
    to a very complex problem.
  607. We're going to have to adjust
    several of them very, very carefully
  608. and keep talking to each other.
  609. Wouldn't that be a goal
  610. to just try and have
    a more nuanced debate about this,
  611. rather than all of that geoengineering
  612. can't work?
  613. AG: Well, I've said some of it,

  614. you know, the benign forms
    that I've mentioned,
  615. I'm not ruling those out.
  616. But blocking the Sun's rays
    from the Earth,
  617. not only do you affect 7.8 billion people,
  618. you affect the plants
  619. and the animals
  620. and the ocean currents
  621. and the wind currents
  622. and natural processes
  623. that we're in danger
    of disrupting even more.
  624. Techno-optimism is something
    I've engaged in in the past,
  625. but to latch on to some
    brand-new technological solution
  626. to rework the entire Earth's
    natural system
  627. because somebody thinks he's clever enough
  628. to do it in a way
    that precisely cancels out
  629. the consequences of using
    the atmosphere as an open sewer
  630. for heat-trapping manmade gases.
  631. It's much more important to stop using
    the atmosphere as an open sewer.
  632. That's what the problem is.
  633. CA: All right, well, we'll agree that that
    is the most important thing, for sure,

  634. and speaking of which,
  635. do you believe the world
    needs carbon pricing,
  636. and is there any prospect
    for getting there?
  637. AG: Yes. Yes to both questions.

  638. For decades, almost every economist
  639. who is asked about the climate crisis
  640. says, "Well, we just need
    to put a price on carbon."
  641. And I have certainly been
    in favor of that approach.
  642. But it is daunting.
  643. Nevertheless, there are
    43 jurisdictions around the world
  644. that already have a price on carbon.
  645. We're seeing it in Europe.
  646. They finally straightened out
    their carbon pricing mechanism.
  647. It's an emissions trading version of it.
  648. We have places that have put
    a tax on carbon.
  649. That's the approach the economists prefer.
  650. China is beginning to implement
    its national emissions trading program.
  651. California and quite a few other states
    in the US are already doing it.
  652. It can be given back to people
    in a revenue-neutral way.
  653. But the opposition to it, Chris,
    which you've noted,

  654. is impressive enough
    that we do have to take other approaches,
  655. and I would say most climate activists
    are now saying, look,
  656. let's don't make the best
    the enemy of the better.
  657. There are other ways to do this as well.
  658. We need every solution
    we can rationally employ,
  659. including by regulation.
  660. And often, when the political difficulty
    of a proposal becomes too difficult
  661. in a market-oriented approach,
  662. the fallback is with regulation,
  663. and it's been given
    a bad name, regulation,
  664. but many places are doing it.
  665. I mentioned phasing out
    internal combustion engines.
  666. That's an example.
  667. There are 160 cities in the US
  668. that have already by regulation ordered
    that within a date certain,
  669. 100 percent of all their electricity
    will have to come from renewable sources.
  670. And again, the market forces that
    are driving the cost of renewable energy
  671. and sustainability solutions
    ever downward,
  672. that gives us the wind at our back.
  673. This is working in our favor.
  674. CA: I mean, the pushback on carbon pricing

  675. often goes further from parts
    of the environmental movement,
  676. which is to a pushback
    on the role of business in general.
  677. Business is actually -- well,
    capitalism -- is blamed
  678. for the climate crisis
  679. because of unrelenting growth,
  680. to the point where many people
    don't trust business
  681. to be part of the solution.
  682. The only way to go forward
    is to regulate,
  683. to force businesses to do the right thing.
  684. Do you think that business
    has to be part of the solution?
  685. AG: Well, definitely,

  686. because the allocation of capital
    needed to solve this crisis
  687. is greater than what
    governments can handle.
  688. And businesses are beginning,
  689. many businesses are beginning
    to play a very constructive role.
  690. They're getting a demand that they do so
  691. from their customers,
    from their investors,
  692. from their boards,
  693. from their executive teams,
    from their families.
  694. And by the way,
  695. the rising generation is demanding
    a brighter future,
  696. and when CEOs interview
    potential new hires,
  697. they find that the new hires
    are interviewing them.
  698. They want to make a nice income,
  699. but they want to be able to tell
    their family and friends and peers
  700. that they're doing something
    more than just making money.
  701. One illustration of how
    this new generation is changing, Chris:
  702. there are 65 colleges in the US right now
  703. where the College Young Republican Clubs
    have joined together
  704. to jointly demand that
    the Republican National Committee
  705. change its policy on climate,
  706. lest they lose that entire generation.
  707. This is a global phenomenon.
  708. The Greta Generation is now leading this
  709. in so many ways,
  710. and if you look at the polling,
  711. again, the vast majority
    of young Republicans
  712. are demanding a change on climate policy.
  713. This is really a movement
  714. that is building still.
  715. CA: I was going to ask you about that,

  716. because one of the most painful things
    over the last 20 years
  717. has just been how climate
    has been politicized,
  718. certainly in the US.
  719. You've probably felt yourself
    at the heart of that a lot of the time,
  720. with people attacking you personally
  721. in the most merciless,
    and unfair ways, often.
  722. Do you really see signs
    that that might be changing,
  723. led by the next generation?
  724. AG: Yeah, there's no question about it.

  725. I don't want to rely on polls too much.
  726. I've mentioned them already.
  727. But there was a new one that came out
  728. that looked at the wavering
    Trump supporters,
  729. those who supported him
    strongly in the past
  730. and want to do so again.
  731. The number one issue,
    surprisingly to some,
  732. that is giving them pause,
  733. is the craziness of President Trump
    and his administration on climate.
  734. We're seeing big majorities
    of the Republican Party overall
  735. saying that they're ready
    to start exploring some real solutions
  736. to the climate crisis.
  737. I think that we're really getting there,
    no question about it.
  738. CA: I mean, you've been
    the figurehead for raising this issue,

  739. and you happen to be a Democrat.
  740. Is there anything
    that you can personally do
  741. to -- I don't know -- to open the tent,
    to welcome people,
  742. to try and say, "This is
    beyond politics, dear friends"?
  743. AG: Yeah. Well, I've tried
    all of those things,

  744. and maybe it's made a little
    positive difference.
  745. I've worked with
    the Republicans extensively.
  746. And, you know, well after
    I left the White House,
  747. I had Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson
  748. and other prominent Republicans
  749. appear on national TV ads with me
  750. saying we've got to solve
    the climate crisis.
  751. But the petroleum industry
  752. has really doubled down
  753. enforcing discipline
    within the Republican Party.
  754. I mean, look at the attacks
    they've launched against the Pope
  755. when he came out with his encyclical
  756. and was demonized,
  757. not by all for sure,
  758. but there were hawks
    in the anti-climate movement
  759. who immediately started
    training their guns on Pope Francis,
  760. and there are many other examples.
  761. They enforce discipline
  762. and try to make it a partisan issue,
  763. even as Democrats reach out
  764. to try to make it bipartisan.
  765. I totally agree with you
    that it should not be a partisan issue.
  766. It didn't use to be,
  767. but it's been artificially
    weaponized as an issue.
  768. CA: I mean, the CEOs
    of oil companies also have kids

  769. who are talking to them.
  770. It feels like some of them are moving
  771. and are trying to invest
  772. and trying to find ways
    of being part of the future.
  773. Do you see signs of that?
  774. AG: Yeah.

  775. I think that business leaders,
    including in the oil and gas companies,
  776. are hearing from their families.
  777. They're hearing from their friends.
  778. They're hearing from their employees.
  779. And, by the way, we've seen
    in the tech industry
  780. some mass walkouts by employees
  781. who are demanding
    that some of the tech companies
  782. do more and get serious.
  783. I'm so proud of Apple.
  784. Forgive me for parenthetically
    praising Apple.
  785. You know, I'm on the board,
    but I'm such a big fan of Tim Cook
  786. and my colleagues at Apple.
  787. It's an example of a tech company
  788. that's really doing fantastic things.
  789. And there's some others as well.
  790. There are others in many industries.
  791. But the pressures on
    the oil and gas companies
  792. are quite extraordinary.
  793. You know, BP just wrote down
    12 and a half billion dollars' worth
  794. of oil and gas assets
  795. and said that they're never
    going to see the light of day.
  796. Two-thirds of the fossil fuels
    that have already been discovered
  797. cannot be burned and will not be burned.
  798. And so that's a big economic risk
    to the global economy,
  799. like the subprime mortgage crisis.
  800. We've got 22 trillion dollars
    of subprime carbon assets,
  801. and just yesterday,
    there was a major report
  802. that the fracking industry in the US
  803. is seeing now a wave of bankruptcies
  804. because the price
    of the fracked gas and oil
  805. has fallen below levels
    that make them economic.
  806. CA: Is the shorthand
    of what's happened there

  807. that electric cars and electric
    technologies and solar and so forth
  808. have helped drive down the price of oil
  809. to the point where
    huge amounts of the reserves
  810. just can't be developed profitably?
  811. AG: Yes, that's it.

  812. That's mainly it.
  813. The projections for energy sources
    in the next several years
  814. uniformly predict that electricity
    from wind and solar
  815. is going to continue to plummet in price,
  816. and therefore using gas or coal
  817. to make steam to turn the turbines
  818. is just not going to be economical.
  819. Similarly, the electrification
    of the transportation sector
  820. is having the same effect.
  821. Some are also looking at the trend
  822. in national, regional
    and local governance.
  823. I mentioned this before,
  824. but they're predicting
    a very different energy future.
  825. But let me come back, Chris,
  826. because we talked about business leaders.
  827. I think you were getting in a question
    a moment ago about capitalism itself,

  828. and I do want to say a word on that,
  829. because there are a lot of people who say
  830. maybe capitalism is the basic problem.
  831. I think the current form of capitalism
    we have is desperately in need of reform.
  832. The short-term outlook is often mentioned,
  833. but the way we measure
    what is of value to us
  834. is also at the heart of the crisis
    of modern capitalism.
  835. Now, capitalism is at the base
    of every successful economy,
  836. and it balances supply and demand,
  837. unlocks a higher fraction
    of the human potential,
  838. and it's not going anywhere,
  839. but it needs to be reformed,
  840. because the way we measure
    what's valuable now
  841. ignores so-called negative externalities
  842. like pollution.
  843. It also ignores positive externalities

  844. like investments
    in education and health care,
  845. mental health care, family services.
  846. It ignores the depletion of resources
    like groundwater and topsoil
  847. and the web of living species.
  848. And it ignores the distribution
    of incomes and net worths,
  849. so when GDP goes up, people cheer,
  850. two percent, three percent -- wow! --
    four percent, and they think, "Great!"
  851. But it's accompanied
    by vast increases in pollution,
  852. chronic underinvestment in public goods,
  853. the depletion of irreplaceable
    natural resources,
  854. and the worst inequality crisis we've seen
    in more than a hundred years
  855. that is threatening the future
    of both capitalism and democracy.
  856. So we have to change it.
    We have to reform it.
  857. CA: So reform capitalism,
    but don't throw it out.

  858. We're going to need it as a tool
    as we go forward
  859. if we're to solve this.
  860. AG: Yeah, I think that's right,
    and just one other point:

  861. the worst environmental abuses
    in the last hundred years
  862. have been in jurisdictions
    that experimented during the 20th century
  863. with the alternatives to capitalism
    on the left and right.
  864. CA: Interesting. All right.

  865. Two last community questions quickly.
  866. Chadburn Blomquist:
  867. "As you are reading the tea leaves
    of the impact of the current pandemic,
  868. what do you think in regard to
    our response to combatting climate change
  869. will be the most impactful
    lesson learned?"
  870. AG: Boy, that's a very
    thoughtful question,

  871. and I wish my answer could rise
    to the same level on short notice.
  872. I would say first,
  873. don't ignore the scientists.
  874. When there is virtual unanimity
  875. among the scientific and medical experts,
  876. pay attention.
  877. Don't let some politician dissuade you.
  878. I think President Trump is slowly learning
  879. that's it's kind of difficult
    to gaslight a virus.
  880. He tried to gaslight the virus in Tulsa.
  881. It didn't come off very well,
  882. and tragically, he decided
    to recklessly roll the dice a month ago
  883. and ignore the recommendations
    for people to wear masks
  884. and to socially distance
  885. and to do the other things,
  886. and I think that lesson
    is beginning to take hold
  887. in a much stronger way.
  888. But beyond that, Chris,
  889. I think that this period of time
    has been characterized
  890. by one of the most profound opportunities
  891. for people to rethink
    the patterns of their lives
  892. and to consider whether or not
    we can't do a lot of things better
  893. and differently.
  894. And I think that this rising
    generation I mentioned before
  895. has been even more profoundly affected
  896. by this interlude,
  897. which I hope ends soon,
  898. but I hope the lessons endure.
  899. I expect they will.
  900. CA: Yeah, it's amazing how many things
    you can do without emitting carbon,

  901. that we've been forced to do.
  902. Let's have one more question here.
  903. Frank Hennessy: "Are you encouraged
    by the ability of people
  904. to quickly adapt to the new
    normal due to COVID-19
  905. as evidence that people can and will
    change their habits
  906. to respond to climate change?"
  907. AG: Yes, but I think we have
    to keep in mind

  908. that there is a crisis within this crisis.
  909. The impact on the African American
    community, which I mentioned before,
  910. on the Latinx community,
  911. Indigenous peoples.
  912. The highest infection rate
    is in the Navajo Nation right now.
  913. So some of these questions
    appear differently
  914. to those who are really
    getting the brunt of this crisis,
  915. and it is unacceptable
    that we allow this to continue.
  916. It feels one way to you and me
  917. and perhaps to many in our audience today,
  918. but for low-income communities of color,
  919. it's an entirely different crisis,
  920. and we owe it to them
  921. and to all of us
  922. to get busy and to start
    using the best science
  923. and solve this pandemic.
  924. You know the phrase "pandemic economics."
  925. Somebody said, the first principle
    of pandemic economics
  926. is take care of the pandemic,
  927. and we're not doing that yet.
  928. We're seeing the president
    try to goose the economy
  929. for his reelection,
  930. never mind the prediction
  931. of tens of thousands
    of additional American deaths,
  932. and that is just
    unforgivable in my opinion.
  933. CA: Thank you, Frank.

  934. So Al, you, along with others
    in the community played a key role
  935. in encouraging TED to launch
    this initiative called "Countdown."
  936. Thank you for that,
  937. and I guess this conversation
    is continuing among many of us.
  938. If you're interested
    in climate, watching this,
  939. check out the Countdown website,
  940. countdown.ted.com,
  941. and be part of 10/10/2020,
  942. when we are trying
    to put out an alert to the world
  943. that climate can't wait,
  944. that it really matters,
  945. and there's going to be
    some amazing content
  946. free to the world on that day.
  947. Thank you, Al, for your inspiration
    and support in doing that.
  948. I wonder whether you
    could end today's session
  949. just by painting us a picture,
  950. like how might things roll out
    over the next decade or so?
  951. Just tell us whether there is still
    a story of hope here.
  952. AG: I'd be glad to.

  953. I've got to get one plug in.
    I'll make it brief.
  954. July 18 through July 26,
  955. The Climate Reality Project
    is having a global training.
  956. We've already had 8,000 people register.
  957. You can go to climatereality.com.
  958. Now, a bright future.
  959. It begins with all of the kinds of efforts
  960. that you've thrown yourself into
    in organizing Countdown.
  961. Chris, you and your team have been amazing
  962. to work with,
  963. and I'm so excited
    about the Countdown project.
  964. TED has an unparalleled ability
  965. to spread ideas that are worth spreading,
  966. to raise consciousness,
  967. to enlighten people around the world,
  968. and it's needed for climate
    and the solutions to the climate crisis
  969. like it's never been needed before,
  970. and I just want to thank you
    for what you personally are doing
  971. to organize this fantastic
    Countdown program.
  972. CA: Thank you.

  973. And the world? Are we going to do this?
  974. Do you think that humanity
    is going to pull this off
  975. and that our grandchildren
  976. are going to have beautiful lives
  977. where they can celebrate nature
    and not spend every day
  978. in fear of the next tornado or tsunami?
  979. AG: I am optimistic that we will do it,

  980. but the answer is in our hands.
  981. We have seen dark times
    in periods of the past,
  982. and we have risen to meet the challenge.
  983. We have limitations of our long
    evolutionary heritage
  984. and elements of our culture,
  985. but we also have the ability
    to transcend our limitations,
  986. and when the chips are down,
  987. and when survival is at stake
  988. and when our children
    and future generations are at stake,
  989. we're capable of more than we sometimes
    allow ourselves to think we can do.
  990. This is such a time.
  991. I believe we will rise to the occasion,
  992. and we will create a bright,
  993. clean, prosperous, just and fair future.
  994. I believe it with all my heart.
  995. CA: Al Gore, thank you
    for your life of work,

  996. for all you've done to elevate this issue
  997. and for spending this time with us now.
  998. Thank you.
  999. AG: Back at you. Thank you.