The past few weeks have him even more worried than usual.
It’s been 17 years since former Vice President Al Gore raised the alarm about climate change with his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Since then, he’s been shouting from the rooftops about the risks of global warming more or less nonstop.
But the events of the past few weeks have Gore even more worried than usual.
“Everywhere you look in the world, the extremes have now seemingly reached a new level,” he told me in an interview. “The temperatures in the North Atlantic and the unprecedented decline of the Antarctic sea ice, both simultaneously. We see it in upstate New York, we see it in Vermont, we see it in southern Japan, we see it in India. We see it in the unprecedented drought in Uruguay and in Argentina.”
We can’t always say that a specific weather event was caused by climate change, but it is making certain extremes more likely. And this summer, the extreme weather chaos that Gore predicted in “An Inconvenient Truth” seems to have arrived all at once.
“Every night on the TV news is like taking a nature hike through the Book of Revelation,” Gore said.
‘We know how to fix this’
Despite the apocalyptic weather news, Gore is also hopeful.
Clean energy is cheaper than ever, and electric vehicle sales are surging, turbocharged by government subsidies. Put that all together, and Gore thinks developed economies could draw down their emissions with surprising speed.
“If you sketch out what the potential curves take you to by 2030 or 2040, it becomes increasingly realistic to say, ‘Yes, these expansive goals definitely are achievable,’” he said.
To make the point about how quickly renewable energy is growing, Gore quoted the economist Rudiger Dornbusch: “Sometimes things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”
But Gore was quick to add that every second counts. The faster we stop burning fossil fuels and releasing other planet-warming emissions, the more quickly global temperatures can stabilize.
“We know how to fix this,” he said. “We can stop the temperatures going up worldwide with as little as a three-year time lag by reaching net zero,” he said. “And if we stay at true net zero, we’ll see half of the human-caused CO2 coming out of the atmosphere in as little as 30 years.”
In other words, all hope is not lost. But Gore has no illusions about how hard it will be.
“Eighty percent of all the energy used in the world today still comes from fossil fuels,” he said. What’s more, Gore acknowledged that the oil, gas and coal companies are not going down without a fight.
“Fossil fuel companies are desperately trying to use their political and economic networks and their successful capture of policy in too many countries to slow down this transition,” he said. “They don’t disclose their emissions. They don’t have any phase-out plan. They’re not committed to a real net zero pathway. They’re greenwashing. They’re performing anti-climate plotting.”
Gore is particularly livid about the fact that fossil fuel companies continue to play a major role at the annual United Nations climate change conference known as COP (full name: Conference of the Parties to the United Nations climate convention).
Hundreds of oil and gas executives participate in the proceedings, and this year, the president of COP, which will begin in November in the United Arab Emirates, is also the head of that country’s state oil company.
Tensions are rising, and Gore said he didn’t think the COP28 president, Sultan al-Jaber, should be in the role.
“The president of COP28 obviously is not the right person for the job,” Gore said. “This is not a good time to undermine the confidence that people deserve to have in the process.”
Gore suggested reforming the COP process in ways that would limit the influence of fossil fuel companies, and removing the ability for rich countries to veto language calling for a phase out of fossil fuels, as they have done for years.
“The climate crisis is in the main a fossil fuel crisis,” Gore told me. “If the world is not permitted to discuss the phasing down of fossil fuels because the fossil fuel companies don’t want the world to discuss it, that’s the sign of a very flawed process.”
Extreme weather around the world
Record heat is blanketing much of the globe. The heat index at an airport in Iran reached 152 degrees Fahrenheit (67 degrees Celsius). Italy, Greece and Spain are sweltering, with temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Almost 80 million people are facing dangerous levels of heat across the United States.
As parts of China experienced record heat, John Kerry, the White House’s climate envoy, arrived in Beijing to restart climate talks on Sunday.
Smoke from wildfires in western Canada is blanketing cities in the Midwest and the Northeast of the United States. Wildfires in the Canary Islands of Spain forced more than 4,000 people from their homes and burned about 10,000 acres.
Optics and action at the World Bank
Almost one year ago, Al Gore called David Malpass, then president of World Bank, a “climate denier,” setting the wheels in motion for Malpass’s early exit. His replacement, Ajay Banga, has been in office for a mere six weeks.
How’s it going so far?
Banga, the former chief executive of Mastercard, seems to be having a ball. He kicked off a months-long world tour, recruited chief executives to join the bank’s new private investors club and received the rock star treatment at the Global Citizen Concert in Paris. But beyond the spectacle, he has started to deliver, too.
Last month, at a global finance summit in Paris, he said that the World Bank would pause debt repayments for countries that were recently hit by a disaster.
Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados and a champion of calls to reshape the global financial system, gave his praises at the Paris festival. She told a cheering crowd that developing countries had been waiting for the debt pause for years.
“Ajay, you’ve done it in 19 days,” she said. “And, if I could sing, I would tell you we’ve only just begun.”
Rishikesh Ram Bhandary, a climate finance expert at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, told me that the “ball is still very much in his court in terms of clearly articulating how he can transform the bank.”
Still, one thing is certain, he said: “There is a lot of enthusiasm and energy surrounding his presidency.” — Manuela Andreoni
Join us in person
On Thursday, Sept. 21, The Times will host a live Climate Forward event in New York City.
We’ll be interviewing world leaders, activists and business leaders onstage, and sharing ideas, working through problems and answering tough questions in real time.
You can register here to attend.
What else we’re reading
BlackRock, once the face of environmentally focused investing, added the head of Saudi Arabia’s state oil company to its board, DealBook reports.
Ford is slashing the price of its electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck as demand softens and inventories pile up.
Worms brought by humans to the Arctic are changing one of the planet’s most fragile ecosystems.