Al Gore: Jaden, thanks for all the work you're doing on the environment. It's very inspiring to me.
Jaden: I really appreciate it. Honestly, without you, I wouldn't be able to go out into the world with the information that you offer and talk to other young people about these problems, and also talk to adults about these problems to help actually create solutions for the real world. I just want to say thank you to you, leading into my first question.
Jaden: [laughs] I want to get right to it.
Al: Smooth segue.
Al: You've been in show business a long time.
Jaden: Yes. [laughs] In 2006 when An Inconvenient Truth came out, that really sparked, I would say, a rebellion in the world where we started to wake up and grow and in so many ways inspiring so many different ideas. Now, in the state of the world that we are now, dealing with the amount of problems that we have in the world and the amount of optimism that I hear from you when you're speaking, why should we still be optimists in this time? What do we still have to be optimistic about in the environmental challenges that we all face?
Al: Well, it's a great question. Of course, in a time of great danger-- We do have a global emergency. Some people hear that phrase and just say, "Calm down, it can't be that bad," but it is that bad, it's very urgent. Since the latest IPCC report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this fantastic group of scientists around the world, since their latest report it's ever clearer that this emergency is quite dire. Even since it came out, there's another new study showing that the oceans are heating up even more than we had previously thought.
So, how can you find cause for optimism in those circumstances? Well, one simple answer is, because we have the solutions now. 10, 12 years ago, when An Inconvenient Truth came out, we could see the solutions on the horizon and respected analysts were predicting confidently that they would come down in cost pretty quickly, but now they have and they're available. There are five times more jobs in solar here in the U.S. than in coal already. The fastest growing--
62% of the new electricity generation installed in the U.S. last year was solar and wind. The fastest growing job in the U.S. is solar installer. Second fastest growing job is wind turbine technician. A lot of the new jobs that are being created in the economy now are coming as part of this sustainability revolution. I want to temper my optimism. I am genuinely optimistic because we have the solutions and because your generation, so many of you are here, are helping to awaken the rest of the folks as to how quickly we have to move.
We also don't want to run the risk of being Pollyannaish on this, because still to this day, 80% of all the energy we use in the global economy comes from burning fossil fuels, and taxpayers around the world are being forced by bad policies to subsidize fossil fuels at a rate 38 times more than the meager subsidies for solar and wind and renewables. We have to change policies, we have to change investment practices. We have to change so many things. Agriculture, the preservation of our forests and reforestation, sustainable agriculture is coming on strong, but not fast enough.
We have to address the built environment to stop wasting so much energy. About a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions come from just inefficient buildings. That's another opportunity to create jobs in fixing the built environment. Of course, we have to speed up the transformation of the way we produce electricity and we have to shift over to electric vehicles. Diesel is the new coal, and we have got to get rid of the internal combustion engine, we've got to shift completely away from burning fossil fuels, and we have to do it quickly.
The task in front of us is really a daunting one. We can't minimize how serious it is and how quickly we have to move, but I'm optimistic simply because I do believe that we have the ability to match this rising determination to bring change with the solutions that are already available. We don't need any new breakthroughs. It'll be great if we get some new technology breakthroughs, maybe fusion several years out, I don't know how many years out. What we have already, if you look at solar and wind, particularly solar, you know what a cost reduction curve is. We found out about it with computer chips a long time ago. You look at smartphones and flat-screen TVs, they get cheaper every year with higher performance.
That's happening with solar now to the point where it is now more economical to produce electricity from renewables. My final point on this about optimism, and I often end my formal speeches with this phrase because I believe it deeply, never forget that political will is itself a renewable resource and it's up to us to renew it and apply it to this global emergency and solve this crisis.
Jaden: Wow. Through this journey that you have been taking and through preaching and being able to express this information to the entire world, have you ever had a time that you felt defeated or that you just couldn't do any more, and if so, what was your lowest time?
Al: [chuckles] Well--
Al: You're too good at this, man. I would say that the election a couple years ago was-
Al: -not necessarily a high point-
Al: -but I really believe very deeply that we are now in the early stages of a sustainability revolution that has the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution, but the speed of the Digital Revolution. These new technology solutions are absolutely stunning. I think that the Sustainability Revolution and the climate movement should be seen in the context of other great moral revolutions, like the civil rights movement in our country, abolition long before that, the women's suffrage movement, women's rights. Women's rights, civil rights, of course, we still have a long way to go, but if you look at the accomplishments-- Again, lesbian rights. If somebody had told me eight years ago that in the year 2018 gay marriage would be legal in all 50 U.S. states and honored and celebrated by more than two-thirds of the American people, I would have said-
Al: "Wow, that's great." All of these great revolutions have followed a similar pattern. The advocates in every one of these movements have encountered setbacks, they have struggled with despair at times, they've had to fight their way through bleak times, but because their cause was just and because of who we are as human beings, ultimately, when the underbrush is cleared away the central choice is revealed between what's right and what's wrong. That's the tipping point when hearts change, and then minds change, and then solutions are pushed with the vigor that's appropriate. I think that we're at that tipping point right now in the climate movement, and I think it's unstoppable. I think we're going to solve this.
Jaden: Something that's been very, very close to my heart since the first time that I watched the first documentary that you made is plastic. It's something that I think about and trash is something that I think about a lot. We hear statistics floating around on Instagram like, "In 2050 there's going to be more plastic in the ocean than fish."
Al: By weight, yes.
Jaden: You have people like Boyan Slat who are creating things to pull plastic out the ocean. How do you feel about the trash epidemic and what's happening with plastic, and how involved the youth is getting with these movements, is getting behind. "Let's get the plastic off the oceans, let's get the plastic out of the ocean," and sometimes it distracts people from CO2 and the rising of the temperatures globally being the real problem. How do you feel about people advocating for cleaning plastic out of the ocean? Do you have any ideas for ways that we could do this more efficiently?
Al: Yes. Well, it's all connected and the efforts to remove plastic from the ocean are congruent with the efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions. It's part of the petrochemical industry that is producing both of these terrible afflictions. Most of the plastics come out of the mouths of the rivers and for all of the incredible volume in the oceans, and you just gave that statistic, that represents only 11% of the total plastic production around the world each year. We need to shift to what's called the circular economy with recyclable components.
The good news is we can do that. We're seeing with the small initial steps like the banning of plastic straws and really innovative products like Just Water sharply reducing plastics and CO2 emissions, that's how that kind of revolution begins, but it's all part of the same movement toward a sustainable world. Your generation is rightly and justly demanding a better world, and companies that want to hire the best and brightest-
Al: -of the new generation need to hear you or they're not going to get the brightest and best young women and men coming to work for them. Entrepreneurs like you are starting brand new business models that have this commitment to sustainability at the core of it. We can win this, we will win this, it's just a matter of how quickly we will win it. We don't have a lot of time to waste. It starts right now, and maybe at the summit in LA will be where it goes over the tipping point.
Jaden: I'm sorry that I'm asking so many rapid questions, I'm just [inaudible 00:14:14].
Al: No, I'm going to have some questions for you too.
Jaden: Wow, okay.
Al: Absolutely. What do you think is different about your generation?
Al: The polling and public opinion surveys clearly show that your generation has a significantly higher level of commitment and knowledge on sustainability and climate than the two generations that came before you. Why do you think that is?
Jaden: I think that's something that is really helping my generation being able to be aware about all these different causes is the internet. I feel like the internet can be used positively and negatively.
Al: Negatively? Do you have any evidence?
Al: I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Jaden: Too much evidence. I feel like something that is very positive is short-form content on the internet. 60 seconds of saying, "Hey, here's what's going on. This is being polluted, this is not okay, this is happening, here's ocean statistics, here's CO2 and other greenhouse gases statistics." It's something that the youth can just go flip on their phone, 60 seconds of learning, "Boyan Slat is doing this, Al Gore is doing this, Just Water is doing this, Elon is doing this." I feel like it's almost a way for the youth to receive content in a way that they can digest it.
It's 60 seconds of this idea, 60 seconds of this idea, 60 seconds of this idea, and that's why I feel like we have so many young people who, "I'm passionate about this, but I'm also passionate about this, I'm passionate about this." I feel as though it's the versatility of the exposure that they are getting from the internet that is allowing them to be aware and to also be passionate about all of these different subjects.
Al: Yes, I strongly agree with that. We've had an evolution in, forgive the geeky term, the information ecosystem of our democracy, the main ways in which we share ideas. When America was founded, the printing press was completely dominant and it had low entry barriers, two-way flows of information, kind of a meritocracy of ideas, not always perfect by any means, but it lifted the role of reason in public discussions. Then broadcast came in, first radio, and then the big kahuna, television and video, in various delivery media is still dominant.
That set up gatekeepers so that people and corporations with a lot of money that wanted to impose their will on the conversation of democracy were able to dominate that conversation and it wasn't two-way anymore. People just sat back and absorbed all these commercial messages and content that was often twisted. I had great hopes when the internet and social media came in that it would restore a democracy-friendly public square. The internet has been hacked long before the Russians hacked it, it was hacked by big money and our democracy has suffered. Whether it's a search engine or a social media site, we have got to stop this stalker economy where they collect all the private data and build dossiers on everybody.
Al: We have got to restore a sense of integrity and fairness and respect to the internet because alongside the very positive manifestations you just talked about, which are great, there has also been a lot of downside. We have the ability to fix that. I don't want to dwell on this, but I've long since come to the view that the solution to the climate crisis requires a solution to the democracy crisis.
The solution to the democracy crisis means new vigorous efforts to create a virtual public square with social media that operates in favor of the meritocracy of ideas and facilitates the kind of learning experience and dialogue that you've described while protecting us against Russian bots and the alt-right groups that try to spread hate. We've got a big job there on our hands as well. Again, I think we're up to it, but we're counting on your generation, Jaden. You know this stuff.
Jaden: We're going to try not to let you down. We're definitely going to try not to let you down. I hear you talking about big money a lot and that always interested me. I have a question. Why do you feel like these major corporations do not make the switches just immediately when they hear the news? "Something bad is happening and we could switch to fully solar," or, "We could deploy robots to clean all of our plastic out the ocean," or, "We can make all of our fleet trucks these new Tesla model trucks." Why do these major companies not just immediately make the switch for the better world?
Al: Well, the easy answer is that so many of them have business models that lead them to fear that if they switch away from what they know how to do and the assets they have in abundance like oil and coal and gas, then their share prices are going to go down and their bonuses will go down and their business models will collapse. It's not that complicated, but there are examples of companies that are trying to change.
Just last week, the current administration proposed rolling back the clean air standards for cars and trucks. The largest manufacturer-- Well, General Motors, Tesla, they go back and forth now, but General Motors said they were opposed to the administration's proposal and they came out for a shift on all-electric vehicles which is great.
Al: Now, the market is beginning to express a preference for EVs just as it is for solar and wind electricity, but the future additions each year that's great but the installed base is still a huge problem. How we switch away from the internal combustion engine and fossil fuel burning electricity and so forth, that's a challenge. Now, here's another way to unpack the answer to your question. I want to draw an analogy to the subprime mortgage crisis. You may remember that, you were pretty young when that-- You're pretty young now, but when that happened-
Al: -10 years ago, the large banks and financial services groups, they started seeing how they could make a ton of money by doing away with credit checks for people who wanted home mortgages. They gave millions of them to people who not only could not make a down payment, they couldn't make the monthly payments. They became known as subprime mortgages. They fooled people and maybe fooled themselves a little bit by saying that if they just put millions of them together and attached a phony insurance-like product to it and sold it off into the global market, everything would be fine. The risk would magically disappear.
Then some people who were careful in analyzing these products said, "Wait a minute." They dug a little deeper and they said, "These things are worthless." That's when the subprime mortgages collapsed in value. That created a credit crisis, run on the banks, and that's what caused the Great Recession, which in turn has fueled this terrible move toward populist authoritarianism in the White House, in Russia, in places as diverse as Hungary and the Philippines.
Now, here's the analogy. We now have a subprime carbon asset crisis, except it's much bigger. What I mean by that is we have 22 trillion dollars worth of carbon assets like oil, gas, and coal, that are already discovered, already on the books of these major energy companies marked at a value that assumes that they're all going to be put to their intended use and burned, but they're not going to be burned. Not only because there's going to be new policy, I'm hoping and expecting, but also because of the sharp reduction in the cost of the competition because of the efficiency wave that's reducing demand for energy. They're not going to be burned.
At some point, and it's already started, smart people are looking at the real value of these carbon assets and some are saying, "Whoa, this is a crisis about to explode in the financial markets. We better get rid of these carbon assets." The largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, the Norwegian fund, just announced that it's about to decide to get rid of 100% of all the oil and gas holdings in their fund. Their money came 100% from oil and gas, so they know what they're talking about. A lot of other investors are doing the same thing.
Now, when the psychology of the market shifts like that, then it can also reach a tipping point where people say, "Wait a minute, we don't want to be the last ones holding on to these nearly worthless assets when they have a book value up here and their real value is down here." A lot of these companies are trying to hold off the light bulb going off in people's heads. They're trying to hold off the recognition of the truth. That's why New York State and Massachusetts are suing ExxonMobil and they just got the green light to go ahead to a trial on this.
Al: Because they have told their investors according to this allegation, they've given false information about the prospective value of these assets. The scenario I just described, they've been hiding information that they have that would queue in investors to what the real situation is. Now, when more and more people realize that, we're going to get to a quick-change where it's no longer competitive to get 80% of our energy from fossil fuels and burn petrol and diesel and gasoline in cars.
Al: Sooner the better.
Jaden: Yes, sooner the better, for sure. I feel like a lot of people in my generation definitely have this question that they always constantly ask me and I don't know how to answer. It's that, all right, let's say that every car in the world becomes a electric vehicle. Are all of our problems solved at that point?
Al: No, but that's a big chunk of it. First of all, we have to change the global energy system. That change has already begun, it needs to be accelerated. As I mentioned earlier, we have to get rid of the subsidies for fossil fuels, that's keeping it in place. We have to change the transportation systems. We have to move to electric cars, electric trucks, electric scooters, electric trains. That, we're already seeing. The electric vehicles that are on the road now are just amazing to drive. The cost, again, there is coming down very rapidly.
In the next couple years you're going to see the drive train, the power train for these vehicles become much cheaper than those for internal combustion engines. That's part of why GM made their announcement last week. Then we have to take on agriculture, because agriculture is very petroleum-intensive and it operates too often now on a model that strips the carbon out of the soil with synthetic nitrogen fertilizer that's 90% natural gas. This is a deeper subject and we can go into it more if you want, but we have to shift to organic regenerative agriculture. It's better for farmers, it's better for what we eat.
Al: Forest management, we have to stop the destruction of forest land, we have to do a better job of regrowing forests and not just cut down the trees for woodchips. That's absolutely insane. Then they replant with monoculture that doesn't support biodiversity. We haven't mentioned the sixth great extinction now, but the biologists say almost to a person that the most serious part of the climate crisis is that half of all the living species on earth are in danger of extinction in this century. The forest management and wetlands management is a big part of it.
Then something I mentioned earlier also, the built environment, to make our buildings zero carbon. Some countries are already starting to do that. By the way, it not only creates jobs in every community with the retrofit jobs, it leaves the owners and renters with lower utility bills. So, what's not to like? It's a win-win-win strategy. Why aren't we moving simultaneously on all five of these fronts? The answer comes back to something I mentioned ago. Those with these potentially stranded assets, with business models that make them defend past practices and hope that they can continue them indefinitely, they have used big money to hack our political system.
A lot of the big fossil fuel companies say publicly that they're no longer giving money to climate deniers but with the other hand, they're funneling money to opponents of these state referenda and local measures. In the state of Washington right now, they have an historic proposal on the ballot Tuesday to put a carbon fee in that's really well-designed, but the big oil companies are funneling money into misleading TV ads to try to fool people into voting against it.
We need to have truth in lobbying, we need to call out these firms that are working against our future just because of pure greed and fear. Fear that they won't be able to change fast enough. But the future is ours. The future is your generation, and if all of you will join with what Jaden and his colleagues are doing, we're gonna win this sooner rather than later.
Jaden: You are such an inspiration to me, to all of us in this room, to all of my friends. I just want to say thank you so much, because without what you have done, everybody that is coming out with these new technologies right now and being aware of what's happening in the climate, they owe so much of that information to you. So, I just want to say thank you and please, just give a round of applause to you.
Al: You're nice to say that. Hold on, hold on. [chuckles] I want to spread that around, because I get my inspiration from the millions of people at the grassroots level. You're one of them my friend, but there are millions of people who are out there organizing, starting new businesses, bringing the solutions that we need. There are a lot of other people besides me doing this, and I appreciate your kind words.
Jaden: Speaking of the other people that are out there making a difference and making a change, I would love to talk about your professor for a second. You were telling all of us at the last event that I saw you at that your professor was the first person to measure CO2 in the atmosphere.
Al: In the global atmosphere, yes.
Jaden: In the global atmosphere. How did that inspire you and how was that growing up with a professor that was such an advocate?
Al: Well, that made all the difference for me. His name was Roger Revelle, he was from here in Southern California. I went to school on the East Coast and I didn't even major in science, but I had an opportunity to take an elective and I signed up for his course not really having much of any idea of what I was going to experience there. He designed the first experiment to measure CO2 in the global atmosphere. A little bit of ancient history, back in 1957 and '58, there was something called the International Geophysical Year. In the decade following World War II, there was a lot of optimism and a lot of progress, and this was part of it.
That's when he designed this experiment. David Keeling was the one who implemented it for 50 years out on the Big Island of Hawaii. They would send up measuring instruments several times a day. Now they have them in multiple locations around the world. When I walked into this professor's class, he shared with us the first few years of the CO2 increase in the atmosphere. That is still the foundation of modern climate scientists.
All the great climate sciences today, that's where it really started. There were discoveries of the basic chemistry and physics before then, but seeing that it was real and it was happening on a dramatic current basis, that's what opened my eyes.
He sketched out what this would mean. I kept in touch with my professor when I graduated, went into the army, came back, got elected to Congress a few years after that and asked immediately, "What are we doing about global warming and crickets?" I helped organize the first congressional hearing on global warming back in the '70s and-
Al: -invited my professor to come and be the lead-off witness. I was so naive that I actually held the hope in my heart sitting up on the dais with the other members of Congress that when he spoke they would have the same epiphany from a 20-minute congressional statement that I had from a full college course. It didn't happen, to say the least, and that's really the first time that I asked myself the question, "How can this be communicated to others the way he communicated it to me in a way that would be accessible in a shorter period of time, and produce in the minds and hearts of millions of people the same aha realization that he gave me?"
By the way, he died many years after that, but on the 100th anniversary of his birth, I went to a celebration of his life at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. I really boned up to try to do justice to this great man. In the course of learning more about him, [chuckles] I learned that when he had been my age, I took his course when he was your age now, he had been inspired by a great professor who had changed the course of his life. I thought to myself, "Wow, how many chains of intergenerational inspiration are there going way, way back and how far in the future will they continue?" We've got to accelerate that process now, that's what the climate reality project is all about, by the way.
I do these regular training sessions around the world to get the facts about the crisis, the solutions to the crisis, communications skills, how to persuade legislators and other policymakers to make changes, but we have to gear this up. I started by giving you the reasons for my optimism, Jaden, and they're real, but my optimism is premised on the assumption that this aha realization about the danger we're in and the fact that we do have the solutions that this will spread rapidly, your generation is helping to lead the way. By the way, there is an election on Tuesday, everybody who hasn't voted yet go out and vote on Tuesday.
Jaden: Yes, I'm telling all of my friends to go out and vote, I signed up for my ballot. I want to make sure that this generation really knows that they now have the power. It's a hard switch to go from being a teenager like, "I'm 16, 17 to being 18, turning 20 and realizing now, I'm a young adult and I actually have a say, and I need to express my opinions and how I feel about the world, because if I don't then my side of the story may never be heard for the rest of history."
Al: Now, that's great. Let me ask you another question, Jaden. When you encounter somebody in your generation who is not in sync, doesn't really get this and actually fights against it, what strategies have you discovered are most effective in changing their minds?
Jaden: Honestly, I try to scare them as bad as I can.
Jaden: Honestly, because the kids in my generation they're just like, "I'm tough. I don't care. I'll be fine, I'm just going to skate for the rest of my life and I'm going to be fine." I'm just going to be like, "Well bro, if the skatepark floods, you're going to have to learn how to surf and that's not it."
Al: Let me add to that a little bit, because--
Al: I do put hope first and emphasize the hope and the solutions, but I don't want to miss the opportunity to do what you just said works for you and that is to lay out how serious this is. We're using the sky as an open sewer, and the sky is different in reality from the way it appears to us when we go outside of this building and look up. From the ground it looks like a vast and limitless expanse, but the pictures from the astronauts confirm what the scientists have long known. It's actually a very very thin shell of atmosphere encasing and surrounding the planet.
If you could drive a car at normal interstate highway speed straight up in the air, you get to the top of the sky in about 10 minutes. It's that thin. We are now spewing 110 million tons of man-made heat-trapping pollution into that thin space every single day. A good portion of it will stay there for more than a 1,000 years. The cumulative amount that is up there now traps as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima class atomic bombs exploding on the earth every 24 hours, day in and day out. It's a big planet, but that's a lot of energy.
More than 90% of it goes into the oceans. Now, the remaining 7% to 10% heats up the air, of course, the oceans heat up the air too, but the fact that the oceans are warming so much that has consequences of it's own. That's what makes these hurricanes, and cyclones, and typhoons so much stronger than they were in the past. They intensify so rapidly, and they're moving north by the way, into the latitudes that cover Southern California. Not yet, but they're moving. We saw with hurricane Harvey last year, how much water that did that dump on Texas.
If you think of Niagara Falls and imagine the full flow of Niagara Falls for 500 days, that's how much water dumped on Texas in Louisiana, in five days. Five feet of water in Houston, Texas. We've had eight once in 1,000-year events in the US in the last 12 months. Well, statistically that doesn't work out so well. The other thing that warming the oceans up, heating the oceans this much also does, is it disrupts the water cycle that's at the basis of life. We all learned in school that water evaporates off the ocean and comes over the land and falls as rain or snow, and then works its way back to the sea.
Well, we're putting a huge increased amount of water vapor off the oceans into the sky. We have these atmospheric rivers that come in this region across from the Pacific, over the land. In the case of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, off the Gulf of Mexico. These atmospheric rivers can be 30 times larger than the Mississippi. When storm conditions release a downpour, the downpours are much, much bigger, so the floods are much bigger, and the mudslides are much worse. Same thing, by the way with droughts, because the extra heat evaporates the moisture out of the land, so that right now in the southwestern part of the United States, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, we have a huge drought going on right no.
Also in Central America. By the way, there are a lot of causes for the exodus of refugees looking for safe lives, coming from Honduras and Guatemalan et cetera. The so-called [unintelligible 00:41:34] that is impacted by global warming has meant they have gone for long periods of time, two years in some cases without rain, so they don't have a harvest. Same thing happened in Syria, the worst drought in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. There were other causes for all of the migration from the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria into Europe and the neighboring countries, but they had the worst drought in history there 2006 to 2010, definitely caused by the climate crisis. It's been studied very thoroughly and many peer-reviewed papers written about it. It killed 80% of their livestock, 80% of their goats died, 60% of their farms were destroyed. All these refugees were driven into the cities, and WikiLeaks released the conversations among the Syrian ministers before the civil war started saying, "All hell's going to break loose. We can't handle this." There were other causes there too, just as there are for the Central American refugees. My point is, the knock-on consequences of the climate crisis has political effects.
Some of these nations have difficulty governing themselves in the best of seasons, but when they have the added pressure of these tremendous climate consequences, some of them tip over the edge and the gates of hell did open in Syria. Russia, they had the worst drought in their history 2010, and the worst fires ever, 55,000 people killed. They canceled all their grain exports and there were food riots in 60 countries, including in Tunisia where at the peak of food prices a food vendor set himself on fire. That's what touched off the Arab Spring. His last words were not down with the tyrant, his last words were, "How am I supposed to live?"
We have these crises in West Africa, we have them in Southeast Asia. The water crisis brewing in northern China, in Bangladesh it's sea level rise and the stronger ocean based storms. Farmers that were used to rebuilding their lives over 20 years, now have to rebuild them every six or seven years, and they can't do that. India's just completed the largest steel fence in the world on its southern border with Bangladesh. I could go on and give you other examples-- The health consequences, we were talking about that in the green room upstairs. The mosquitoes spreading and diseases I never heard of when I was your age, Jayden, Zika, chikungunya, not to mention malaria and these other tick and mosquito-borne diseases.
Heat stress, food shortages. All of the crops that we use as our food today, were patiently selected by Neolithic women 10,000 years ago. They saved the seeds of the best producing plants and then generation after generation they kept on replanting the best ones. That's where our broccoli, and cauliflower, and lettuce, and carrots, and potatoes, and everything we eat, came from. They were optimized for a climate that we're now changing. We're seeing crop yields decline because of heat stress, and the change in the periodicity of rainfall, coming at planning time or at harvest time, or not coming at all for long stretches.
For many years we were really encouraged by the fact that hunger in the world has been going down, and poverty has been going down, yay. Well, the last four years it started going up again because of the climate crisis. Now, I won't even try to go through the rest of the list of these consequences, but it is a whole system crisis, and it is at our doorstep right now. It is a global emergency facing us at this very moment. The time for complacency is over. The time for political activism and a demand for changes in policies is right now, and we've got to do it.
Jaden: It's right now, it's right now. You're the best, you're the best. It is right now. Right now is when we have to make the change, and I feel like a lot of people in the world, everybody cares. Everybody cares about themselves, about their well-being, about happiness, about their neighbors, but not everybody knows the videos, for example, that you are playing. What you were showing us of the countless amounts of videos of the streets just flooding, people being trapped in cars and just what should be a main street of the city, just being run by water, cars being stripped down the road. I'm not trying to scare people, I'm just trying to give the reality.
Al: You told us that you are trying to scare people.
Jaden: No, I am trying to scare people.
Al: That was my cue, man. Don't pull it out from me. You got to give them the hope too. We do have the solutions, the missing ingredient is the political will. Those videos, every night on the television news is like a nature hike through the book of Revelation, honestly. I get people sending me videos every single day from cities that don't even show up in the news at all, where they have these 1,000-year downpours. In parts of Texas it was a once in 250,000-year downpour. By the way, have you had any fires this year in California? That's also climate related.
The Mendocino complex fire was the largest fire in the history of California. There's practically a year-round fire season here now, that's because of the drying of the land and the vegetation. Now, we can solve this, but we have got to face the danger without letting it tip you into despair. Despair is just another form of denial. There's some people that go straight from denial to despair without pausing on the intermediate step of solving the damn crisis. Which we have the ability to do. Here's the thing, it's really challenging, the complexity of it is challenging.
I think maybe we're getting past the point where the complexity is so much that people don't want to understand. I think more and more people really do, because they're seeing these things. Mother Nature has a pretty powerful voice and she's hard to argue with. The complexity has been a barrier. The fact that it is a global in its dimension, also is something we're not used to dealing with. The fact that it seems to be a longer term threat when it's really present now, also gives people a chance to say, "Well, I'll just wait on this."
By the way, these climate deniers, funded by mainly the fossil fuel companies, they count on all of the psychological tricks they can use to convince people to say, "We can wait on that. You mean, wait a minute, 1/10 of 1% of the scientists still don't agree? Let's wait on the other 1/10 of 1%, or its maybe sun spots." It's not sunspots, it's all this gaseous garbage that we're putting into the atmosphere trapping, "I don't want to get wound up again." I wish there was a magic wand that I could wave. I wish there were magic words I could use. I wish that I knew a better and more effective way to transfer. Zap. What I feel in my heart, having studied this intensely for more than 40 years, right into your heart and head, I believe in democracy. I believe in a reformed version of capitalism. I believe in humanity. I know we have limitations from our long period of development. We're ready to fight the things that our ancestors survived. More modern complex threats that are more deadly, we got to think about those and it doesn't come naturally and viscerally, but in spite of our limitations we also have the ability to rise above those limitations and we have done it before.
This is the biggest challenge we've ever faced. Nuclear war is the only one in the same category, and we've held that at bay for quite a while now, pretty successfully. Don't get me started on. This one is an existential threat to the future of our civilization, and potentially to the future of our species. Do not get discouraged, do not despair. Yes, Donald Trump announced that he wants to pull us out of the Paris Agreement, but what people often don't know is that the first day we could legally leave the Paris Agreement is the day after the next presidential election two years from now.
Al: If there's a new president, excuse me for a moment, then a new president could give 30 days notice and we're back in the Paris Agreement. This is still in our hands. By the way, this experiment with Trumpism is not going very well and in science and medicine some experiments are terminated early for ethical reasons.
Jaden: We can only pray.
Jaden: This is amazing. We've talked a lot today about putting CO2 emissions into the air, but we haven't really talked about just pulling them straight out. I've been seeing a lot of growing technologies around the world where people are developing machines where you can just pull CO2 directly out of the air. I've actually never thought about that. When I look at these developing technologies and I see that people are actually saying, "I can build a machine this size and it can pull the same amount of CO2 out of the air as a rainforest, but it's not the size of a rainforest." Do you see that being in our future, do you see that being hopeful for us in the future? Of us being able to just build things that just take CO2 out of the air and turn it back into some type of material that we can create plastic into, or turn into ink or?
Al: I hope so. As of right now the most advanced and effective technology we have for pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere is called a tree.
Jaden: Yes, yes.
Al: When you take that technology to scale it's called a forest, but the really smart women and men, and the scientific and engineering communities that have put pencil to paper and have really delved deeply into this, they all reach basically the same conclusion and that is, the Paris Agreement is a great start, it's not nearly enough but it's a really encouraging start. It has built into it a five-year review period every five years for nations to ratchet up their commitments, so that's great. Then they go further and they say, "Look, when we do all the numbers it's hard to solve this without coming up with some way to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere."
I hope there are technology breakthroughs that make that affordable. I wouldn't bet against it, but we have to start now with what we have already in place. By the way, we are still seeing the destruction of forest land at the rate of about one football field per second, and this populist authoritarian wave that I mentioned before has just captured Brazil, and some worry that the Amazon may now be at risk because of Bolsonaro, that's a guy just elected president. His platform, maybe he'll moderate that I don't know, I hope so, but yes, we have to find a way to do it.
Now, there's another thing related to this, Jaden, called carbon capture and sequestration which doesn't pull it out of the air but it hovers above the smokestacks where they're generating a lot of it, and it captures it there, and then compresses it and puts it deep underground in a form that makes it safe. Everything works, every part of that technology works but here's the trick to it. If you are the CEO of a major utility generating electricity and you say, "That's what I want to do," you install that, you have to take 1/3 of the electricity you're now selling to your customers and use it to power that technology instead. No utility can survive doing that.
The volumes are so large that it's almost impossible to socialize that cost, but maybe there will be some breakthroughs there too, and maybe that will become cheaper and more politically acceptable. What we already have at our disposal that creates jobs, that saves us money, that also cleans the air pollution out of the sky, that's also produced when we burn fossil fuels, killing more than 9 million people a year. "Air pollution's the new smoking," they say now and that comes from burning fossil fuels too mainly. Mercury, which is also a persistent poison, we've got to stop putting that in the environment. All of these things we can start doing right now.
I know we're coming to the end of our hour here, but I want to close for my part, Jaden, by thanking you and your generation. What you personally have been doing is great, keep at it. You're getting better at it everyday, you're inspiring more people in your generation. I'll close with a line that I previewed in one of my first answers, and that is for anybody who thinks that we don't have the political will to do this please remember that political will is really and truly a renewable resource in and of itself. We have the capacity in our hearts to solve this crisis if we decide that it is the morally correct, economically advantageous and politically feasible decision to make. I hope that each of you will make that decision.
Jaden: Ladies and gentlemen, Al Gore.
Al: Thank you, buddy. You did great.
Jaden: I really appreciate it. Thank you.
Al: Thank you so much. Thank you.