Al Gore's Groundbreaking Film ... 10 Years Later
If you saw An Inconvenient Truth featuring former Vice President Al Gore back in 2006, chances are you left the theater a little stunned and asking a whole lot of questions. Questions like, “What can we do?" “What can I do?"
If so, you weren't the only one. Fortunately.
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the groundbreaking film that prompted millions to start asking questions about climate change and doing something about it, helping shape the modern climate movement we know today. And in the decade since, a lot has changed as a result.
Climate science has made major advances, helping us better understand the challenge we face. Renewable energy, such as solar and wind, is cheaper than fossil fuel-based electricity in many parts of the world. Electric cars are even becoming mainstream (well, for some).
But as much progress as we've seen over the past decade, there's still a lot of work to do to build the sustainable future our planet needs. Let's take a look at what's changed—for better or for worse—in the fight against climate change over the past 10 years.
Solar Power is Booming
One of the biggest success stories in climate solutions is the growth of solar power. In 2015, the U.S. installed 7,260 megawatts direct current (MWdc) of photovoltaic solar which was the largest annual total in history and a giant leap from the 105 MWdc installed in 2006. That's more than a 6,800 percent increase.
It gets better. Solar reached a new record in early 2016 when the one-millionth solar installation came online in the U.S. And according to a report by GTM Research, the U.S. solar market is projected to to grow 119 percent in 2016 alone—adding more than double the amount of capacity installed last year. We could go on (and on) about the rapid growth and benefits of solar energy, but you get the idea: solar is here to stay.
Carbon Emissions are Rising
Carbon emissions account for between 65-76 percent of the greenhouse gases from human activity, causing the Earth's temperature to rise at its fastest rate in millions of years. While natural variance in the Earth's carbon cycle leads to some fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, overall, we can see a clear connection between fossil fuels and these levels, which have increased about 40 percent since pre-industrial times. But what's scary is that in the last 10 years alone, CO2 levels have increased 5.5 percent, jumping from 382 parts-per-million (PPM) in July 2006 to 404 PPM in April 2016. Which means more heat trapped in our atmosphere.
Electric Cars have Taken the World by Storm
You might have started spotting electric cars on the road more and more in recent years as both major manufacturers like Chevrolet and Nissan and boutique firms like Tesla Motors have seen their real market potential. But while electric cars have gained exceptional notoriety in the past decade, they're actually a novelty of the past.
British engineer, Thomas Parker, invented the first electric car in 1884, which used rechargeable batteries. Gasoline-powered cars hadn't gained much traction yet, but by the 1930s, engine improvements and the invention of the electric starter made gasoline-fueled cars a better, cheaper option. You know what happens after that.
Fast forward to 2003 when Tesla Motors launched, a company that set out to prove electric cars could be a more efficient and environmentally-friendly option than gasoline-powered cars. Tesla's first electric car, the Tesla Roadster, launched to the public in 2008 and dramatically shifted how consumers views these vehicles. Since then, more and more manufacturers from BMW to Kia to Mercedes Benz have launched their own electric vehicles, taking the technology mainstream and reaching 1 million sales globally in September 2015.
Global Surface Temperatures Are Increasing
These record-breaking temperatures become crystal clear when they're displayed visually. The chart below shows how global surface temperatures have varied from the long-term averages since 1880. Look at the trend beginning around 1950 and you'll see temperature changes steadily increasing throughout the second half of the twentieth century. And within the past decade alone, global temperatures have deviated from the long-term average by 0.63 degrees Celsius (33.14 degrees Fahrenheit) in 2006 to 0.87 degrees Celsius (33.57 degrees Fahrenheit) in 2015.￼ All of this to say our planet is warming like never before in recent history—and it's only getting hotter.
Sea Levels Are Rising
Sea levels have been rising for the past century—and the pace has only increased in the past decade as glaciers melt faster and water temperatures increase, causing oceans to expand. The chart below shows sea-level changes from 1993–2006 where, from June 2006 to January 2016, sea levels increased about 41.24 millimeters (1.62 inches).
You can imagine how this change would affect the half of the global population that lives in towns and cities within 60 kilometers (37 miles) of the coast, including eight of the world's 10 largest cities. These rising sea levels puts millions of people at risk worldwide as storms intensify and more extreme flooding occurs.
World Leaders Signed the Paris Agreement
In 2006, concerted international action on climate change was still just sputtering along. The Kyoto Protocol—the first serious attempt at setting international targets for reducing emissions—had gone into effect the year before, but the U.S. never ratified the agreement and splits between developed and developing nations meant it never worked quite as well as had been hoped. But what these failings did was kickstart a search for a better model of international cooperation on climate action. It wasn't smooth sailing all the way, as the heartbreak of Copenhagen showed in 2009, when negotiators simply walked out and talks on a new climate treaty dissolved. But in the years that followed, countries kept talking and kept working on a new kind of framework that could bring nations at every stage of development together to solve our common challenge, leading to the landmark Paris Agreement last December.
It wasn't easy getting there, but the Paris agreement represents a real turning point. Formally signed this Earth Day, the deal is the first of its kind to set global targets for reducing carbon emissions and includes commitments from major carbon emitters like the U.S., China and India.
Our Future is Bright
Yes, we have a lot of work ahead to stop climate change. But in the past 10 years, the world has made incredible progress in areas like advancing climate science, rapidly growing renewable energy technologies and international cooperation. And while we're not going to claim An Inconvenient Truth was solely responsible for all these developments, what the film did was bring the challenge of climate change out into the open and into mainstream culture like never before. The result was people in every time zone started asking themselves what they could do—and got working on the answers.
Thanks to their answers and all the breakthroughs above, today we know we can solve it, if we stay committed to this path—and if our world leaders follow through with their commitments to reducing emissions in the Paris agreement. And that's a truth worth sharing.
Ready to take action for the future of our planet? Sign up with Climate Reality and recommit to climate action on the 10th anniversary of An Inconvenient Truth.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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