Al Gore’s climate optimism
Earlier this year, a new talk by Al Gore was posted on the TED site: The case for optimism on climate change. The 20-minute talk and subsequent short interview with TED-meister Chris Anderson is well worth a look. Much of his optimism centers on the rapid shift in electricity production:
The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt of solar per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we’re on track to beat it 68 times over. We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where (the growth curve for solar) was (see arrow on image at top of post). We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.
Gore quotes economist Rudi Dornbusch, who said, “Things take longer to happen then you think they will, and then they happen much faster than you thought they could.” Importantly, the business community has been quick to jump onto the bandwagon, and in fact has been crucial to the rate at which its been gathering steam. “This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector,” notes Gore. “We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since.”
Beyond these trends, Gore stresses the underlying nature of humanity, and of fundamental social changes:
We now have a moral challenge that is in the tradition of others that we have faced. One of the greatest poets of the last century in the US, Wallace Stevens, wrote a line that has stayed with me: “After the final ‘no,’ there comes a ‘yes,’ and on that ‘yes’, the future world depends.” When the abolitionists started their movement, they met with no after no after no. And then came a yes. The Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Rights Movement met endless no’s, until finally, there was a yes. The Civil Rights Movement, the movement against apartheid, and more recently, the movement for gay and lesbian rights here in the United States and elsewhere. After the final “no” comes a “yes.”
When any great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is fore-ordained because of who we are as human beings. Ninety-nine percent of us, that is where we are now and it is why we’re going to win this. We have everything we need. Some still doubt that we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.
As an added note, this bit was new to me, and especially inspiring:
When I was 13 years old, I heard that proposal by President Kennedy to land a person on the Moon and bring him back safely in 10 years. And I heard adults of that day and time say, “That’s reckless, expensive, may well fail.” But eight years and two months later, in the moment that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, there was great cheer that went up in NASA’s mission control in Houston. Here’s a little-known fact about that: the average age of the systems engineers, the controllers in the room that day, was 26, which means, among other things, their age, when they heard that challenge, was 18.