I jumped at the chance to see Al Gore speak at the Museum of Natural History last night. It was the launch of his new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. My roomie, in her first year of grad school, scored a couple of student tickets earlier in the summer. Thankfully, she had the foresight because the event was sold out. And rightly so, Gore is perhaps one of the most influential global leaders of our time.
I can't say his talk was the most dynamic of his career — no fancy projected images or graphs; it was just Al walking a little stiffly across an empty stage speaking extemporaneously about his newly released book. Gore’s grasp of his material coupled with his personal failures and triumphs, including the many years he’s spent politicking, gives even his paired-down talk a compelling gravitas you don’t see in most public speakers.
Our Choice is a follow-up to the globe-altering An Inconvenient Truth, and in it he focuses on the solutions to the global warming crisis that he so terrifyingly laid out previously and in his Oscar-winning movie. In the presentation last night, Al summarized the chapters of Our Choice beginning with population growth.
Accepting the fact that human energy consumption is the primary factor in the emissions of greenhouse gasses, one of the questions posed to the environmentalists is how to control population growth. More people equals more CO2. But, more importantly, the effects of a growing world population amidst dwindling resources with environmental imbalances will be the source of future global conflicts (if they aren’t already) resulting in hundreds of thousands of environmental refugees.
Gore explained that while planetary population almost doubled in the last 100 years, the populations in industrialized countries have tapered off. Three of the four factors contributing to population have to do with women. If girls are educated, if women are empowered in the work force, and if women have the ability to control the amount and frequency of their pregnancies, population will stabilize. Simply put, the future of the planet’s population hinges on the empowerment of women.
Gore reiterated the greenhouse gas prognosis from An Inconvenient Truth, and then offered possible scientific solutions. Besides the old favorites of harnessing the sun, wind and geothermal, he discussed soil. Nutrient-rich soil is dark, almost black in color due to the presence of CO2. If we are able to take the CO2 out of the atmosphere and infuse it back into soil, this will contribute to agricultural growth in parts of the world where soil is so poor nothing can grow. Industrialized farming has ruined arable land, and in the U.S. we use petroleum (hello?!) to fertilize our depleted dirt. What resounds over and again is how senseless and destructive our carbon economy is.
At the end of his talk, Al took a few questions from the audience. One questioner posed, “What do you say to someone who still doesn’t believe in global warming?” Gore paused for a moment and said, “I’d say to them, join us in our effort to stop our dependence on foreign oil. Join us in our effort to create new jobs at home in the renewable energy sector.” It's worth noting here that earlier in the day the New York Times published an article on how Gore is “cashing in” on the new green economy under the Obama administration. Gore fired back at the Times on ABC-TV saying, "I am proud to have put my money where my mouth is for the past 30 years. I absolutely believe in investing in accordance with my beliefs and my values."
Gore ended the evening with a reference to his last book, The Assault on Reason, and how the political process has been kidnapped by ideology and corporate money. He used the Birther conspiracy as an example, citing the absolutely undeniable facts presented by the State of Hawaii for President Obama’s citizenship, and yet the irresponsibility of the media to perpetuate falsehoods.
Al became impassioned reflecting on the manipulations of sentiments, facts and reason by politicians, lobbyists and the media. He thumped his chest and said we absolutely have the means to change the course of our impending destruction; we only lack the political will. Once we see the health of our planet as a moral imperative, we then must put the democratic processes to use through free speech aided by the Internet. He ended by saying, “politics is a renewable resourse.”
Al continues his book tour and will be on The Rachel Maddow Show tonight.