An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
July 25, 2017
Al Gore's new book exposes the reality of how humankind has aided in the destruction of our planet, along with groundbreaking information on what we can do now.
The inconvenient truth, of Al Gore's book and documentary of that same name, has been proven to be just as much of an opportunity as it is an existential crisis for humanity. Addressing the crisis has given rise to new opportunities, new industries, and a jobs boom—especially in solar. As John F. Kennedy famously proclaimed on the campaign trail: "In the Chinese language, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity." It is a quote Al Gore himself has referenced when speaking about climate change, and I think we can forgive the fact that it is based on a largely incorrect translation of the Chinese character, because the truth it speaks to is real.
It's been just over a decade since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, and a lot has changed in that time. The one thing that hasn't changed is the inexorable march of climate change, and the fact that we could, and should, be doing a lot more to address it. So, Al Gore has written An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. In this much-needed and timely update on the science and potential consequences of climate change, he tells us that:
At this point in the fight to solve the climate crisis, there are only three remaining questions:
- Must we change?
- Can we change?
- Will we change?
In the pages that follow, you will find the best available evidence supporting the overwhelming conclusion that the answer to the first two of these three questions is a resounding "Yes."
I am convinced that the answer to the third question—"Will we change?—is also "Yes," but that conclusion, unlike the answer to the first two questions, is in the nature of a prediction.
Seeing that big business in America is now largely on board, I think it's a pretty good prediction. There's a reason that hundreds of major businesses in the U.S., including energy giants like Chevron and ExxonMobil, back the Paris Climate Accord, and urged the 45th president of the United States to stay in it. The fact that he pulled out in spite of that, as disappointing as it is, should not cause us despair:
Despair, after all, is simply another form of denial, and can serve to paralyze the will we need to fight our way out of the crisis.
What it should lead to is a renewed commitment on the part of individuals and organizations to do our part. It is up to us to inform ourselves, absorb the evidence, and do something tangible about it. Yes, simply talking about climate change, just broaching the topic, can get you dismissed and shut down in some circles—with no sense of irony on the part of those complaining that they themselves are being silenced by a pernicious wave of political correctness. Climate change is still, unfortunately, still too often a partisan issue—maybe even more so today than it was a decade ago. So, it is still as much a personal and political mountain to climb as it was when An Inconvenient Truth was released, which is why combatting climate change, even with the improved institutional support, still requires a grassroots movement.
Luckily, that grassroots movement is already growing rapidly, not only amongst activists and leaders of civil society but also among business leaders, investors, mayors, and other elected officials who recognize that the stakes have never been higher.
The current administration's budget for 2018 aims to slash spending on The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by seventy percent. "Perhaps most surprising of all," writes Chris Mooney of the Washington Post, "the budget outlines harsh cuts to research on so-called 'clean coal,' even though this is a professed Trump administration priority." Meanwhile, figures from the nonprofit Solar Foundation show that one in 50 new jobs created in the U.S. last year was in solar, and the industry now employs twice as many people as coal. The cost has fallen, the technology is improving, and renewable energy now creates jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.
To disinvest from renewable energy in favor of coal at this point would be akin to cutting off electricity when it was invented to save the whaling industry.
Still, Energy Secretary Rick Perry has asked the staff at the Department of Energy "to undertake a critical review of regulatory burdens placed by the previous administration" in an effort to prove that renewable energy is undermining the reliability of the energy grid, and prove coal's superiority. A leaked draft of that report found that power plants using coal and nuclear are increasingly uneconomic to run, and energy efficiency is a huge money saver. Of course:
Since the leaked draft was put together by career staff, it is subject to change by Perry and his team of Trump appointees. So the American public will have to wait and see if the Trump administration erases these facts in the final draft, the way they appear to be erasing so many other inconvenient truths.
If they decide to do so, it will be to the detriment of American innovation and competition in the world, which is rushing into the renewable energy sector. If we fail to invest in that future, we may miss a boom in renewable energy technology that outstrips even that of consumer technology. To illustrate it, Gore shares the story of AT&T hiring McKinsey in 1980 to help them determine the future market for cell phones. They asked the company to predict how many phones they'd be able to sell by the year 2000.
They were excited to get the answer that they could probably count on selling 900,000 such phones. When the year 1999 arrived, the telephone industry did sell 900,000 mobile phones—in the first three days of the year! By the end of the year, 109 million phones had been sold—120 times more than predicted.
The same thing is happening in solar energy production today, and like mobile phone adoption, it's not limited to advanced economies. Similar to the phenomenon of developing countries "leapfrogging" technologies and adapting mobile phones—skipping altogether phone landlines and their associated infrastructure—solar panels are now being implemented directly in places that don't have power grids, bringing clean, cheap electricity to the developing world on an individual scale. As the trends that have shaped consumer technology take hold in renewable energy, the future is clear. "Just as the early predictions of growth in the number of cell phones were badly wrong," Gore warns, "so were the best predictions made 15 years ago on the spread of solar and wind energy."
We have a choice to make—to be a part of the future, or try to resurrect our dirty energy past. It is a choice rooted in hope rather than fear, one made stark and clear, in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.
We have 20 copies available.