Part 6 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Case For Optimism
About Al Gore's TED Talk
Vice President Al Gore explains how human ingenuity can solve our climate crisis.
About Al Gore
Vice President Al Gore spends the majority of his time chairing The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit devoted to solving the climate crisis. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management.
Starting in 1993, he served two terms as the 45th Vice President of the United States. Prior to this, he served in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
In 2006, he was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. In 2007, he became the co-recipient, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gore is also the author of several books, including Earth In The Balance, An Inconvenient Truth, The Assault On Reason, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, and most recently, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
Today on the show, The Case For Optimism and why despite the drumbeat of doom and gloom and bad news in the world, there are reasons to be optimistic - even about climate change. And even if you're...
AL GORE: Al Gore. I used to be vice president of the United States. I spend most of my time working to catalyze solutions to the climate crisis.
RAZ: Yeah, I think those are pretty good credentials.
RAZ: So before we get back to it, Vice President Gore - by the way, is that OK if I call you - should I call you Vice President Gore?
GORE: Well, Your Adequacy is the preferred designation.
RAZ: OK, I'll do that.
GORE: No, no, no. No, whatever you want.
RAZ: Anyway, you might remember earlier in the show we heard from Al Gore. And he laid out this incredibly terrifying scenario, you know, explaining what's happening right now as a result of climate change. And yet...
GORE: I am optimistic by nature. And the climate crisis has been a challenge to my default view of optimism. But I have come around to a very optimistic view. There is no longer any question that we will ultimately prevail - again, assuming that we get our act together and start making these changes. And there are very powerful signs that we do have the tools we need to get this in hand. We just need to deploy them as quickly as possible.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RAZ: And Al Gore says there's evidence that shows we are using these tools. We're actually making some of the necessary changes to avert complete doom - and that the tide is shifting. And it's starting with investing in renewable resources, which Al Gore is definitely optimistic about.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GORE: This is the exciting news. The best projections in the world's 16 years ago were that by 2010, the world would be able to install 30 gigawatts of wind capacity. We beat that marked by 14 and a half times over. We see an exponential curve for wind installations now. We see the costs coming down dramatically.
Some countries - take Germany, an industrial powerhouse, one day last December got 81 percent of all of its energy from renewable sources, mainly solar and wind. With solar, the news is even more exciting. The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt 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. The exponential curve on solar is even steeper and more dramatic. We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.
GORE: And the cost has come down 10 percent per year for 30 years. And it's continuing to come down. Now, the business community has certainly noticed this because it's crossing the grid parity point. Grid parity is understood as that line, that threshold below which renewable electricity is cheaper than electricity from burning fossil fuels.
That threshold is a little bit like the difference between 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 33 degrees Fahrenheit or zero and 1 Celsius. It's a difference of more than one degree. It's a difference between ice and water. And in markets, it's the difference between markets that are frozen up and liquid flows of capital into new opportunities for investment. This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world. And two-thirds of it is in the private sector.
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. But nations aren't waiting. They're going ahead. China has already announced that starting next year, they're adopting a nationwide cap and trade system. That will likely link up with the European Union. The United States has already been changing. We're going to win this. We are going to prevail.
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RAZ: So Mr. Vice President...
RAZ: I just want to understand something that you mentioned in the talk. You talk about something called grid parity.
GORE: Yeah, exactly.
RAZ: And so just to clarify, this means that we're reaching the point where energy from renewables costs the same or even less than fossil fuels?
GORE: Yes, that's a gobbledygook phrase that means it's suddenly cheaper than the average cost of electricity from burning coal and burning gas, which is most of what we get now. And it turns out that the difference between more expensive than and cheaper than is not a trivial difference. When we go below this grid parity threshold - as is happening in place after place - the shift to renewable energy becomes unstoppable.
RAZ: I mean, I hear you on all this. But at the same time, you said a lot of this damage has been done, right? I mean, sea-levels are rising. They're going to keep rising no matter what we do.
GORE: Probably there will be a quote, unquote, "orderly retreat" from places that are in low-lying coastal areas. Miami Beach already you have this - Galveston, Texas, not to mention Mumbai and Kolkata, Ho Chi Minh City. There are lots of areas around the world where people will have to move inland.
RAZ: I mean, that's not making me feel very optimistic.
GORE: (Laughter) Well, I - look, I mean, there's a difference between optimism and pollyannaism. You can't dump all of this heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere and pretend that it's going to immediately go away. But acknowledging there are consequences we can deal with is one thing. Feeling the legitimate hope that we are ultimately going to turn this around is something else. Again, optimism blended with courage to face the changes now necessary is just a mature and healthy way of approaching the future.
GORE: ...That we'll go through a rough patch until we turn the corner, that's just a healthy brand of optimism that has always been basic part of human nature.
RAZ: I mean, it is amazing that we have this capacity as a species to wreak havoc over our planet and our ecosystem. But I mean, ultimately we have the capacity and the power to heal it and to repair it if we choose to go down that path.
GORE: Absolutely. Recognizing that the task is urgent and mobilizing to confront it - that's really the challenge. And, you know, I think that rather than seeing it as an oppressive burden, we are better off seeing it as a potential source of real joy to have a - to have work before us that justifies every ounce of energy and commitment we can put into it. This is a task for the generation of people alive today that is really something worth devoting our energies to.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GORE: I am extremely optimistic. We are going to win this. The only question is, how long will it take to get there? So it matters that a lot of people are organizing to insist on this change now. Almost 400,000 people marched in New York City before the U.N. special session on this. Many thousands - tens of thousands - marched in cities around the world.
And so I'll finish with this story. When I was 13 years old, I heard that proposal by President Kennedy to land a person on the moon and bring them 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 a great cheer that went up in NASA's Mission Control in Houston.
Here is 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. 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 U.S, 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 and then came a yes. The Women's Suffrage and Women's Rights Movement met endless noes 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 the outcome is foreordained because of who we are as human beings - 99 percent percent of us. That is where we are now. And it is why we are 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. Thank you very much.
RAZ: That's Al Gore, former vice president. You can check out all of his TED Talks at ted.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.