Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Al Gore says the Earth is winning

In a very surprising — to me at least — new assessment in Rolling Stone, former Vice President Al Gore expresses astonishing levels of optimism about the campaign against global climate change and that it is “now clear that we will ultimately prevail.” He writes:

In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place. The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail. The only question is how quickly we can accelerate and complete the transition to a low-carbon civilization. There will be many times in the decades ahead when we will have to take care to guard against despair, lest it become another form of denial, paralyzing action. It is true that we have waited too long to avoid some serious damage to the planetary ecosystem – some of it, unfortunately, irreversible. Yet the truly catastrophic damages that have the potential for ending civilization as we know it can still – almost certainly – be avoided. Moreover, the pace of the changes already set in motion can still be moderated significantly.

It’s a long piece, and not all of it is so happy. But the big deal, Gore says, is that solar and wind power are fairly quickly demonstrating that they are economically competitive with carbon-based fuels. Writes Gore:

Our ability to convert sunshine into usable energy has become much cheaper far more rapidly than anyone had predicted. The cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries. By 2020 — as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline — more than 80 percent of the world’s people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.

If that’s true, the shift from oil, gas and coal to wind and solar will not just be for those who care about the future of the environment. The clean sources will become the option of choice for anyone who wants to save money. In his conclusion, Gore writes:
Is there enough time? Yes. Damage has been done, and the period of consequences will continue for some time to come, but there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future. Each of the trends described above – in technology, business, economics and politics – represents a break from the past. Taken together, they add up to genuine and realistic hope that we are finally putting ourselves on a path to solve the climate crisis.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 06/19/2014 - 10:03 am.


    Well, good. If wind and solar (particularly solar) can be used widespread at competitive rates, that’s wonderful. Particularly so in developing areas. One of the biggest weaknesses in the ‘use less energy’ argument is that it’s almost an impossible argument to make to poor countries that are trying to make the leap to wealth.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/19/2014 - 12:33 pm.

      I agree that for most of the world

      the source of energy used is more important than the quantity.
      The two come together when we talk about energy use efficiency. Emerging countries (I was just in Turkey) are using more alternative sources in place of coal and oil, which has environmental advantages even if total energy use increases.
      China, which had been relying on cheap coal (ever been in Beijing?) is also starting to switch to solar; they’ve discovered that the costs of coal air pollution (such as worker productivity) make it less desirable in the long run.
      A lot of factors interacting.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/19/2014 - 10:04 am.

    Economics trumps ecology every time

    so people are doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
    Gore may still be over optimistic; he may also have decided that trying to scare people just elicits denial, so that positivity may be the best tactic to keep people involved.

  3. Submitted by Lance Groth on 06/19/2014 - 04:53 pm.

    I hope so

    I hope he’s right. The message, at least, is refreshing. I’m not as sanguine about the already baked-in (sorry) ecological effects, but Gore may know more.

    I’m reminded of a line from the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Prof. Barnhardt, John Cleese’s character, said: “It’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.” Perhaps that is so. Perhaps we will find the will to change in time to avoid the worst outcomes, for whatever reason. I hope so.

Leave a Reply