Former-Vice President Al Gore discussed the imminent climate crisis and the importance of the current generation’s actions to solving it on April 23 in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University. Gore’s keynote address was part of Georgetown’s Core Pathway Initiative, which focuses the school’s events and curriculum on a single, interdisciplinary theme; this year’s theme is climate change.
Gore started his speech with three key questions: Must we change? Can we change? Will we change? He presented the audience with facts and statistics about global warming that proved that it threatens the habitability of Earth. The makeup of the atmosphere is changing each day with the same effects as if 400 Hiroshima atomic bombs were released. Although Earth is big enough for 7 billion people, a daily release of energy, chemicals, and carbon dioxide at current rates changes the climate dramatically. One prominent example he used to demonstrate this drastic change was the North Pole: the temperature at the North Pole was 50 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal; due to the constant movement of heat waves, a one degree increase in temperature around the equator can be a 12 degree increase at the poles. The effects of global warming are, therefore, amplified. Gore stated, “scientists no longer debate if the arctic will be iceless, but when.”
This glacier loss causes rising sea levels, which, in turn, causes floods. Simultaneously, the higher temperature causes droughts. Gore stated that the indisputable consequences of climate change will lead to prolonged natural disasters. The greater amount of water vapor trapped in the atmosphere causes extreme rainfall, yet in areas of extreme dryness—including the African continent, Brazil, and Iran, where 96 percent of the land experiences drought—millions of people are suffering from hunger and water stress. In 2017, there was a $320 billion economic loss due to overall weather-related crises. So, Gore’s answer to whether we must change was an emphatic yes.
However, on a more hopeful note, Gore spoke of the growing global capacity to produce and use sustainable energy, which, he said, will lead to a cumulative reduction in the factors that cause climate change. Gore said, “the best projections 18 years ago about wind power as an alternative energy source was 30 gigawatts, and we have exceeded that goal by 18 times and over with a continuous exponential growth.” Another fact Gore gave was that it was once predicted that “by 2010, solar energy [will]produce one gigawatt annually, but we beat that goal 98 times last year.” As the cost of these sustainable energies decreases and accessibility improves, the potential of moving away from energy sources that exacerbate climate change cannot be underestimated.
Gore claimed, “Experts say grid parity is already here. Grid parity is the line below which unsubsidized renewable electricity—particularly solar—is cheaper than electricity made by burning fossil fuels.” In energy markets, the smallest price gap can make a significant difference in people’s purchasing decisions. Gore used the analogy of how telecommunication companies’ initial expectations of phone sales were once exceeded in just three days to show that people’s use of sustainable energy on even smaller scales will also soon explode. So, Gore’s answer to whether we can change was an also yes.
Regarding the future of environmental policies under the Trump administration, Gore explained that he was initially worried that if the United States were to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, other countries would use this as an excuse to follow suit. However, the reaction to Trump’s decision was strong, international condemnation, and Gore predicts positive change through innovation at home and abroad, regardless of who is occupying the White House.
As a closing remark, Gore quoted the poem “After the Final No” by Wallace Stevens, saying, “After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends.” Although today’s trends are not all encouraging, he added, “We are not here to provide information but recruit students for active participation. A final no followed by a yes—we must, we can, and we will change.”