Al Gore had been up all night for his organization’s third annual 24 Hours of Reality event before taking the podium at the Center for American Progress’ 10th Anniversary Policy Conference. True to form, he explained the imperative of acting to reduce carbon pollution.
But Gore was fired up, more so than many had ever seen him.
He spoke about how income inequality threatened the American Dream, subprime mortgage systems helped start the Great Recession, and how the world is still dealing with the credit crisis as a fallout.
“Now we have, on the books of the large, public multinational energy companies, $7 trillion of subprime carbon assets,” he said. “Their valuation is based on an assumption that is even more ridiculous and absurd than the assumption that these people that couldn’t make a downpayment or monthly payments were good risks for home mortgages. The assumption is that those $7 trillion can be sold and burned.”
“They will not be sold and burned. They cannot be sold and burned.”
Gore went on to describe how humans are putting 90 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day, “as if it is an open sewer.” That pollution traps the same amount of heat as the energy from “400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs going off every 24 hours.”
He talked about how Superstorm Sandy wasn’t just an isolated event, and that Hurricane Irene 14 months earlier had caused $15 billion in damage. He walked the audience through his “nature hike through the Book of Revelation” — wildfires in the West, floods in Nashville, drought in California. “This is part of the cost of carbon, and it’s not included on the balance sheets. It’s not included in the way we calculate profit and loss and productivity, and ‘growth,’ which is the Holy Grail, only it is defined in a totally insane way. It excludes the so-called negative externalities like pollution and the extreme weather events connected to the climate.”
Video of the whole speech here:
“Why are we failing to act?” He talked about how American democracy has been hacked, which is the subject of his latest book, The Future. One symptom of this is the influence of the largest corporations, and he brought up the now-famous quote by ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson: “what good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”
“I get the fact that their business model, and the other large carbon polluters’ business models are based on extending this artificial valuation of their subprime carbon assets for as long as they possibly can,” he said. “Our job, as American citizens, is to work for the formation of public policy based on reality. Based on logic. Based on reason. In support of the public interest, not private special interest. And because they have achieved so much control over the operations of our democracy, doesn’t mean that we cannot take it back.”
“You think I’m passionate about this?” he asked, his voice rising and visibly energized. “You’re damn right I’m passionate about this!”
“You will hear people say, almost like it’s a throwaway line, ‘I love this country.’ I do love this country, dammit. And our country is in very deep trouble. This dysfunction? What happened there on Capitol Hill — is pathetic. It is absolutely pitiful. Now it is not enough to just throw an epithet their way. There are good people there, trapped in a bad system.” He talked about “the hack,” how Representatives and Senators have to spend so much of their days raising money, which certainly must affect their professional behavior.
He briefly touched on the Keystone XL pipeline, calling its possible completion an “atrocity.”
How ridiculous is that? It is an atrocity. It is an atrocity. I’m a big fan of President Obama, I appreciate his speeches on climate. I appreciated what he’s directed-slash-allowed Gina McCarthy to do on regulating CO2. Fantastic, and I think he means it, I think it’s a legacy issue for him now. But I hope as he gets down to the lick-log and the decision on this XL pipeline, that he really understands very clearly what is at stake here. This should be vetoed. It is an atrocity, it is a threat to our future. Our addiction to these high-intensity, dirty carbon-based fuels? You know, junkies find veins in their toes when the ones in their arms and legs give out. We are now at the point where we’re going after these ridiculously dirty and dangerous carbon-based fuels, and we’ve got to stop that.
“Let me tell you why, in spite of all this, I’m hopeful.” The audience couldn’t help but chuckle. Gore told the story about how AT&T did a long-term study in the 1980s of how many people would use cellular phones by 2000 — 900,000 people. Linking that same misunderstanding of how ubiquitous mobile phones would become to the same growth in low-cost solar technology
He concluded: “We have got to accelerate this transition and move with the tides that are already carrying us in the right direction.”