Al Gore’s Important Article on Climate Change and Fossil Fuels
Al Gore has written an important article, “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate,” published June 18 in Rolling Stone magazine. The subhead of the article: “It’s time to accelerate the shift toward a low-carbon future." It’s a comprehensive piece whose primary point is that the clean energy forces are winning: “We are witnessing the beginning of a massive shift to a new energy-distribution model—from the ‘central station’ utility-grid model that goes back to the 1880s to a ‘widely distributed’ model with rooftop solar cells, on-site and grid battery storage, and microgrids.”
Coal, oil and gas, Gore believes, are in deep trouble, while wind and solar are growing rapidly, in large part because of the major drop in prices for them that the world has seen over the past half-decade or so.
Gore seems to be coming down firmly against all fossil fuels, not just coal and oil. Here’s what he has to say about shale gas drilling and fracking: “This year, Citigroup reported that the widespread belief that natural gas—the supply of which has ballooned in the U.S. with the fracking of shale gas—will continue to be the chosen alternative to coal is mistaken, because it too will fall victim to the continuing decline in the cost of solar and wind electricity.”
Gore sees the need for government to intervene if this shift is not to slow down: “We have the policy tools that can dramatically accelerate the transition to clean energy that market forces will eventually produce at a slower pace. The most important has long since been identified: We have to put a price on carbon in our markets, and we need to eliminate the massive subsidies that fuel the profligate emissions of global-warming pollution.”
He concludes by giving this response to the very big question: are we too late? “Is there enough time? Yes. Damage has been done, and the period of consequences will continue for some time to come, but there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future. Each of the trends described above—in technology, business, economics and politics—represents a break from the past. Taken together, they add up to genuine and realistic hope that we are finally putting ourselves on a path to solve the climate crisis.”
Gore is not the only person who has been saying or writing along these lines in the last year or so, but for someone of his stature to do so is no small thing, and he has done a very good job of putting information and analysis together in a readable, accessible format. For him do so now, to give people around the world hope that we can eventually replace fossil fuels with renewables based primarily on very concrete developments in the world’s energy systems, is a real morale boost.
Saying that, I do have reservations about some of what he has written.
I’m in the midst of organizing towards the first-ever national march against fracked gas exports, happening July 13 in Washington, D.C. The call is to stop fracked gas exports at Cove Point and beyond. Instead of expanding fracking via the building of export terminals to ship gas to Asia and Europe where prices are higher, we are calling for a halt to the gas rush and a renewables first energy policy.
I hope Citigroup’s projection about wind and solar preventing the rise of gas as an alternative to coal is accurate, but I question if that is the case right now. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently processing 14 proposals to build export terminals along U.S. coastlines. Two have been approved so far, with a Cove Point approval in a couple months a distinct possibility. The Obama Administration, at the same time that it is proposing carbon regulations for power plants and President Obama is giving stirring speeches about the need for action, continues to publicly support the dramatic rise on his watch of U.S. oil and gas production, and they continue to take steps to advance the export of fracked gas, coal and oil from the U.S.
This leads to my second main reservation. Although Gore mentions the divestment movement and the importance of citizen activism, reading this article it would be easy to believe that the primary reason for these hopeful developments is the drop in the prices of solar and wind without a reference to the work that climate activists have done over the last decade or so. Thanks in no small part to their work, there are state Renewable Energy Standards in about 30 states that mandate a growing amount of renewable energy in a state’s power generation, a definite factor in the growth of renewable use. The climate movement through its grassroots organizing, its actions and demonstrations, its work with the media and more has built broad-based political support for the shift to wind and solar. And the movements against mountaintop removal and new coal plants, the tar sands and their pipelines, fracking and offshore oil and gas drilling have showed staying power and won victories.
Given the power and wealth of the fossil fuel industry—three of the five largest U.S. corporations are oil and gas companies, and five of the 10 internationally are—we can’t slacken up with the absolutely essential movement-building to fight their power over not just Republicans but Democrats in Washington.
Finally, about “democratic capitalism,” which Gore briefly references both to support the need for more democracy and for reforms of capitalism given the “corruption of the system by obscene amounts of money” and “growing levels of inequality worldwide.” It is good to hear him making these calls for such reforms, but it seems to me that since it is big business capitalism, the system which dominates the world, which has a great deal to do with the mess we are in, we need to be open to considering other possibilities.
I’m reading Thomas Berry’s The Great Work. At one point he calls for the world to “move from our human-centered to an Earth-centered norm of reality and value. Only in this way can we fulfill our human role within the functioning of the planet we live on. We might begin [to achieve this] by recognizing that the life community, the community of all living species, including the human, is the greater reality and greater value. The primary concern of the human community must be the preservation and enhancement of this comprehensive community, even for the sake of its own survival.”
It seems to me that, as we prioritize a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, we must also be about building alternatives to the dominant values and institutions based on greed, me-first and power-over-others. We need new ways of doing business, making government decisions and working and living together that move in the direction Berry calls for. Fortunately, from what I can see, that work, particularly on local levels, is well underway, also.
There is, indeed, future hope.
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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By Stuart Braun
"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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