It was a cloudy October Tuesday, cool on the edge of chilly and blessedly so after the hottest summer ever recorded and a morning filled with news of a once-in-a-1,000-years rain in South Carolina. Seventh Generation had invited one of their star investors, former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore for a visit, and arranged for him to give his now famous climate crisis presentation to the public while he was here.
Admission was free and the University of Vermont’s Ira Allen Chapel was packed with over 1,000 people, from students and citizens to elected officials to the team at Seventh Generation, whose offices were a ghost town. After an introduction by company president John Replogle, the man of the hour took the stage to rapt applause.
It was well deserved. No one has done more to fight the climate crisis than Al Gore. He is a true hero of our age. You don’t often get an audience with an environmental legend. And you should listen closely when you do.
“Set your expectations,” he said at the start. “You will see a lot of the damage that’s being done by the climate crisis, but don’t give in to the temptation to say, ‘oh, woe is us.’ Because the whole last part of this is filled with hope that is justified. We are going to win this struggle.”
I was dubious, and indeed the first half of Mr. Gore’s talk was a Halloween horror show. Every single day, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap an amount of extra heat equal to 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs. And we’re starting to feel it.
Global temperatures are literally off the charts. Extreme heat days are now 100 times common than they were just 30 years ago. The last decade was the warmest ever measured, and this July was the most sweltering month in history. In the Middle East, the heat index hit a dangerous 165°F. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. And the hottest year ever? You’re in it right now.
The results, Mr. Gore graphically demonstrated, are apocalyptic. Terrifying droughts in some places. Cataclysmic rainfall in others. And it’s not only California and Charleston. It’s not just Sandy and Irene, Katrina and Joaquin. Extreme weather happens almost every day now in places from Asia to South America that don’t make the evening news.
But is there any evidence that it’s related to a hotter world? Mr. Gore says yes. Because all weather takes place in an atmosphere that virtually all climate scientists agree is overheating, all weather is therefore connected to global warming. When 500-year floods happen every five years, something’s wrong. Mr. Gore compared it to baseball: Players started taking steroids and suddenly the incidence of home runs skyrocketed like never before. Can we ascribe any one home run to steroids? No. But we can confidently blame the dramatic increase in their overall numbers on the widespread use of these performance enhancers.
A gloomy forecast, yes, but Mr. Gore introduced some sunshine. Fifteen years ago, experts predicted that by 2010 global solar power use would be increasing by one gigawatt per year. But by 2010, it was growing at 17 times that rate. This year it will increase 62 times faster. Wind power is beating projections 12-fold. Meanwhile, we’ve shut down 40% of all the coal-fired power stations we had in the U.S. just five years ago, and worldwide energy-related carbon emissions flatlined in 2014 even as the global economy grew.
I was wrong, and Mr. Gore is right. We are winning. And the reason is simple: Individuals and communities, and businesses and markets are acting on their own from Alaska to Zambia.
You can keep the good climate news coming with steps like these:
- Eat less meat and dairy. They’re a major source of greenhouse emissions. Fruits and veggies have an exponentially reduced impact on the atmosphere.
- Weatherize your house. Sealing doors, windows, holes, and cracks while adding insulation saves far more than such steps cost—in money, fuel, and emissions.
- Go solar. It’s no longer a lofty goal. Costs have plummeted and today you can get a system installed for zero cost and pay only for the cheaper power it produces, or look at tapping into a community solar array.
- Save energy. Wash laundry in cold water and line-dry the result. Don’t raise your thermostat, put on a sweater. Tune up your car and never drive it when you can walk. Take showers not baths. Use LED light bulbs. Buy less. Recycle.
But here’s the most important act of all: Cast your vote for climate. Mr. Gore said “we must put a price on [climate] denial in politics” and vote out the naysayers. With elections coming, let’s all make climate action the only issue that matters at the ballot box and vote as if the fate of civilization depends on it. Because Al Gore says it does. And once again, he’s right.
- Act locally and Join in the People’s Climate Movement. Join the movement and join the march on October 14.
- Act globally, join millions who are calling on global leaders to tackle climate change at the upcoming UN summit in Paris.