Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Al Gore advocates for gender equality, political action to slow climate change


al gore our choice bookSlowing climate change is neither inevitable nor impossible, former Vice President Al Gore said in a speech Tuesday night in New York City. Gore, who was launching his new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, said that he has "absolute conviction that we have all the tools to solve [several] climate crises."

In that light, one climate in peril may not sound like such a tall order, the Nobel Peace Prize (and Oscar and Grammy) winner may hope. But with a myriad of gonzo geoengineering schemes in the air—and on the airwaves—and recent right-wing flack for touting solutions that he has financial interest in, Gore and his book may face a stiff challenge. The sold-out crowd at the American Museum of Natural History, however, applauded his work—tough topics and all—at length.

For instance, population growth, often an uncomfortable subject, should not be ignored, Gore said, noting that it "is certainly not a taboo" to bring it up in discussions about environmental issues. He noted that even though the global population has quadrupled in the past 100 years, demographic changes are already under way that would slow population growth—and presumably keep resource consumption and pollution production in check. "This is a success story in slow motion," he said, pointing out that global population is expected to eventually stabilize just above nine billion within the next few decades.

Near-zero growth, however, could be attained with four basic societal acheivements, he said. The goals include: the education of girls, the empowerment of women, the spread of fertility management and a higher child survival rate. Regardless of climate change, he noted, these aims are "all things we should be doing for good and beneficial reasons otherwise." 

The message of external benefits is one he also highlighted for any opponents of his cause célèbre. Climate change skeptics, for example, should be invited to help end U.S. dependence on foreign oil—by supporting renewable energy. Those who assert going green will further stifle the economy, he said, should be invited to help create jobs in the U.S.—in local renewable industries.

The existence of climate change, however, is "unequivocal" and is already having serious impacts on the globe, ranging from what some ecologists are calling the sixth great extinction to the rapid melting of the polar ice caps, he noted. These massive changes, which are easier to envision than the invisible gasses that are causing them, are still "a challenge to our moral imagination," he said. Allowing civilization to continue on the same path, he noted, would be "the most immoral act ever committed by any generation that has ever lived."

To fix it, however, will take more than recycling more newspapers. "It's important to change the light bulbs and the windows," he said, "but it's much more important to change the laws and the policy" governing energy and emissions. It comes down to a question of societal willpower, Gore said. With Americans spending an average of five hours a day watching television (which amounts to about 17 years over an average lifetime), he noted, that's precious time that could be applied to advocating for change. If there's one renewable resource that needs to be tapped more, he said, it's "political will."

Image of Al Gore at the American Museum of Natural History courtesy of R. Mickens/AMNH

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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