Former Vice President Says Environmental Sustainability Promises Many Profits
Al Gore Heats Up a New Kind of Campaign
It was November 7, 2006, and Los Angeles, California, had just set another record high temperature (97 degrees). That fact was not lost on Al Gore. "It shouldn't be this hot in November," he said. It was also Election Day, and the former U.S. vice president was on the campaign trail again. These days he is no longer a candidate, but he is still campaigning. This time, his battle is waged against global warming. He wants to alert people to the seriousness of this crisis, and with his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, a book of the same title, and his traveling slide show, Gore is trying to reach as many people as possible with his message.
This night Gore was giving his presentation to a packed audience at the Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Redlands, California. For nearly two hours, he explained how humans are the cause and how they can be the cure of this impending environmental disaster. Gore was bullish on the prospects of curbing global warming, and he pointed to a silver lining of healthy profits from investments in sustainability issues.
The science of global warming is simple. Solar energy penetrates the earth's atmosphere and warms it. In normal circumstances, some of the solar rays are trapped to keep temperatures from fluctuating too greatly, but human-generated carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are trapping more radiation and the earth's atmosphere is getting dangerously warmer. While these are easily understood concepts, when they are mixed with many of the misconceptions about global warming and stirred with a lot of indifference, human consciousness about this grave danger seems to be lost. Gore's presentation offers a compelling case for the public to wake up to the facts.
His slide show is a mix of photographs, charts, and graphs that reveal overwhelming evidence of the dramatic changes taking place around the globe. He showed historic and contemporary shots of glaciers. They are all rapidly melting. The snows of Kilimanjaro are all but gone; wildfires have increased in size and number; temperatures are spiking, causing more heat waves; and more catastrophic storms the size and intensity of Hurricane Katrina can be expected. Gore said that atmospheric temperatures have been increasing relentlessly with the 10 hottest years on record all occurring within the last 14 years. Ocean temperatures have diverged outside the bounds of variability. These disruptions have caused changes in the locations of precipitation, resulting in soil/moisture evaporation and thousands of climate refugees. The sea ice extent in Greenland, the Arctic, and Antarctica is in rapid decline. All of these shifts throw delicate ecological balances into disarray with dire consequences, such as declining populations of species and the spread of vectors and infectious diseases. The facts are there, and among the scientific community, the consensus is one of agreement.
A Moral Issue
Gore did not recently crack the books on the environment. He has been studying it since his undergraduate days at Harvard where he studied under Roger Revelle, one of the first people to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When he went to the U.S. Congress in 1976, Gore held the first congressional hearings on global warming and continued to raise public awareness of this issue while he served as a U.S. senator and vice president. His first book about global warming, Earth in the Balance, was a bestseller in 1992. Gore also developed a slide show, which he says he has presented more than 1,000 times.
Gore says our political system is paralyzed, and he has launched a different kind of campaign. "This is not a political issue," he said. "It's a moral, ethical, and spiritual issue." Saying it is time to reclaim our moral authority, he has set out to change the public's way of thinking. Largely targeting young people, Gore is enlisting folks in a "generational mission" that shares a compelling vision. He told the audience that they should be concerned about other threats to the future besides terrorism. His slides offered gripping details of how the edges of the world's landmasses would have to be redrawn if one of the ice caps were to melt and slip into the ocean, increasing sea levels by as much as 20 feet.
Human activities have collided with nature on three fronts (in population growth, advances in science and technology, and in people's thinking). In one generation, the earth's human population has grown from two billion to nine billion. This dramatic change has created tremendous pressure on the natural resources of the world. Technological advances, combined with old habits, often bring unintended and spectacular consequences that transform the planet. "We need to apply a new kind of wisdom to the new technologically enhanced power we have acquired," he said.
Addressing these issues can become the driver of change, especially in the public's way of thinking, which has become crippled with indifference, confusion, and a false notion that economic prosperity cannot coexist with a healthy environment. Rather than view global warming as a remote and abstract concept, Gore urges everyone to think of it as concrete and real.
To start the dialog and open up what he called the "conversation of democracy," Gore launched Current TV, an independent media company. The news and information cable and satellite network was designed for young people who can pick their favorite videos and receive online instructions about how to construct and submit their own segments.
Gore's other business venture, Generation Investment Management, is a global fund that invests in entrepreneurs who integrate sustainable environmental practices into their organizations. The firm embodies Gore's strategy of investing in companies that have the ability to create and sustain value over the long term rather than just the short term. His firm is part of a movement within the investment community that is abandoning a short-term focus. Gore says adopting long-range thinking will help business leaders weigh the effects of their decisions. Looking at how businesses can sustain profitability over time will force managers to examine the effects on the environment, the impacts on a community, and how to foster long-term employees. Considering intangible aspects, such as social, environmental, and geopolitical issues, promises to improve economic viability rather than diminish it. As governments start mandating caps on carbon emissions, companies that have implemented environmental sustainability into their business plans stand to profit.
Taking Action Now
Gore said the earth is our only home, and "we have everything we need to save it. Policy matters," he said, and as mindsets change, policy will follow. He bases his hope on evidence of a growing environmental movement and developments in the marketplace where a system for buying and selling carbon emissions is being implemented. Large businesses, such as Ford, IBM, and Motorola, have voluntarily pledged to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, which are converted to tradable credits. Other companies, including Wal-Mart and General Electric, have announced initiatives to reduce global warming.
While most countries have ratified the groundbreaking Kyoto Treaty to regulate global warming pollution, the United States has not. Instead, more than 300 U.S. cities have individually ratified the treaty and implemented policies to comply with it. That night as Gore spoke, residents of Boulder, Colorado, voted to tax themselves for carbon use. The tax on coal is aimed at reducing global warming emissions. In 2005, the Montana legislature passed a law requiring utilities to make at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewables.
In his book, An Inconvenient Truth, Gore says, "The truth about the climate crisis is an inconvenient one that means we are going to have to change the way we live our lives." To make that job easier, he provides pages of advice on what to do and how to start. They include going to his Web page www.climatecrisis.net to calculate your personal impact on climate, reducing your energy consumption, choosing energy-efficient appliances, conserving water, participating in your community's recycling program, driving smarter, consuming less, reusing, and letting others know about global warming.
Gore's speech at the University of Redlands was sponsored in part by Esri. Many of Esri's software users are participating in efforts to abate global warming. GIS professionals from varied disciplines around the world are working together on projects that include studying the impact of climate variations on water and other natural resources, measuring the effects of population displacement, and implementing community protection plans.