The United States is at the brink of a widespread environmental revolution, former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore said at an event Monday afternoon in Gaston Hall.
The event featured an introduction by Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, who discussed the university’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and educate students on complex global challenges. DeGioia cited educational programs, such as the Core Pathways project, an interdisciplinary collection of courses offered to students, as examples of ongoing initiatives at Georgetown to address climate change. Core Pathways and the Designing the Future(s) of the University Initiative co-hosted the event.
Expansive developments in renewable energy sources and storage are akin to an environmental transformation, Gore said.
“We are now in the beginning stages of a global sustainability revolution,” Gore said. “It has the magnitude of the industrial revolution but the speed of the digital revolution.”
Gore attributed the prospect of a high-speed environmental revolution to increased technological capabilities.
“It’s powered by new digital tools like the Internet of Things and machine learning and artificial intelligence that are giving CEOs and executive teams the ability to manage electrons and atoms and molecules with the same precision the IT companies have used in managing bits of information,” Gore said.
Since his eight-year term as vice president, Gore has founded and chaired The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit dedicated to combatting climate change. He wrote The New York Times best-selling book and Academy Award-winning film both titled “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 and was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy on the dangers of global warming.
Gore’s optimism for combatting environmental change stems from the fact that investments in renewable sources of energy are outperforming those in fossil fuels, he said.
“The bankers and investors are now saying grid parity is here. Grid parity is the line below which unsubsidized renewable electricity, particularly solar, is cheaper than electricity made from burning fossil fuels,” Gore said. “Since 2010, global investments in renewable energy have exceeded investments in fossil.”
The trend has shifted away from nonrenewable resources, according to Gore, who specifically noted that coal use is declining.
“Coal is on the way out in the U.S.,” Gore said. “The famous coal museum in Kentucky just decided to put solar panels on its roof. A sign of the times, I think.”
Despite concerns that President Donald Trump’s administration will dismantle environmental programs, Gore assured that the environmental actions spearheaded by local governments and businesses will allow for sustained environmental change.
“We are going to meet and exceed the commitments the U.S. made under the Paris Agreement because innovation and global markets are driving this progress regardless of who occupies the White House,” Gore said.
While Gore expressed optimism for the reversal of climate change in the future, he stressed the importance of remaining active — and not complacent — on the issue, calling the risks that climate change poses as the most pressing challenge of this generation. Gore underlined the growing issues associated with rising temperatures and extreme weather changes, particularly the fires, which serve as evidence of climate change.
“The fire season in the American West has started much earlier,” Gore said. “The season is now 105 days-per-year longer than it used to be just 30 to 40 years ago.”
Gore addressed the underlying impact of climate change on civil unrest around the world, citing current instability in Syria as an example of environmental concerns exacerbating political problems.
“The worst drought in the 900 years of record-keeping destroyed 60 percent of the farms in Syria and killed 80 percent of their livestock well before the civil war opened the gates of hell in Syria,” Gore said. “The connection between the climate crisis and political stability and the viability of self-governance is again an under-recognized risk associated with the climate crisis.”
At the conclusion of his speech, Gore emphasized the role that individual actions can have on creating environmental change.
“If you are concerned about the climate crisis and you want to play a part in solving it, the single most meaningful thing you can do is to vote, participate, advocate for candidates whose positions reflect your values,” Gore said. “It’s important to change the light bulbs, the windows and the technology, and it’s important to change the laws and the policies.”