Renewable energy gains, increased public awareness, and smart investment opportunities make former U.S. vice president Al Gore optimistic that climate change will stabilize in time to avoid catastrophic outcomes.
“We are going to win this,” Gore said at last Thursday’s Climate Action 2016 Summit in Washington, D. C., which came on the heels of the recent Paris climate agreement. He added that “it matters a lot how quickly we win it.”
Gore said key obstacles remain and called for “a price on carbon in the markets and a price on [climate change] denial in politics.”
He said climate change already has taken a toll, noting that the nightly television news is like a “haiku Book of Revelation,” with stories about recent flooding in Houston, Texas; raging fires in Alberta, Canada; and other extreme events. He warned that fossil-fuel-caused heating that is temporarily trapped in the ocean also could result in climate-related hardships when it’s released in the future. It amounts to “more damage [that] has been baked into the international climate system,” he said.
The Era of Renewables
Gore pointed to the increased production and use of renewables, including solar energy, and the sharp decrease in their costs as reasons for optimism. He noted that on 3 May, Bloomberg News reported a new record low price for solar energy, with developers bidding as little as 2.99 cents a kilowatt hour for a project in Dubai, 15% below a price record set last month in Mexico. Gore said the cost of electricity generated by solar photovoltaics “is now crossing below the ‘grid parity threshold,’ and at that point it’s cheaper than electricity from coal.”
“We are entering the era of renewables,” he said, noting that solar and wind comprised nearly two thirds of all new electricity-generating capacity in the United States last year, with gas making up much of the balance and virtually no coal. “Coal is dead in the U.S.,” he said.
Responding to climate change “is the biggest business opportunity in the history of the world,” Gore added, pointing not only to the growing renewables market but also to the increasing need for energy storage, building efficiency, and sustainable agriculture.
“We have to integrate sustainability into the values spectrum and start deploying capital in search of these opportunities,” said Gore, cofounder and chair of Generation Investment Management, a firm integrating sustainability with investment. He added that financial institutions that do not take sustainability into account “are violating [their] fiduciary duty.”
Gore pointed to the revolution in social media as another cause for optimism because of the new medium’s ability to provide people with easy access to public discourse. He said that given the way that political systems work around the world, legacy industries, including fossil fuels, have built up wealth and political connections. “They have an outsized influence on the way that decisions are made in political systems,” he said. “But I think that the power of informed public opinion is now gaining the upper hand where the climate crisis is concerned.”
—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer
Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Gore upbeat on climate stabilizing; Question is, how soon?, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO052145. Published on 10 May 2016.