1 Sep 2017

Al Gore: 'It is right to give hope to the future generations'

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:14 pm on 1 September 2017

The catastrophic floods in Texas and the sub-continent this week are terrible tragedy and a sign of things to come, former US vice president Al Gore says.

The sequel to his groundbreaking documentary about the impacts of climate change, An Inconvenient Truth is out now in cinemas. 

An Inconvenient Sequel details the groundswell of action by many nations to combat climate change, including the Paris Agreement, and counters the denial rhetoric and lack of action by US President Donald Trump.

The Paris Agreement was a “tremendous historic breakthrough” Gore says but only a start.

“If you add up all the commitments together there’s still not enough to solve this crisis, but they give us a good head start in making more progress that can enable us to avoid the truly catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.”

"It is right to give hope to the future generations."

Gore says there is “no question” this week’s flooding in the US, India and Bangladesh has been exacerbated by climate change. 

“The areas of the ocean over which Hurricane Harvey passed on its way to Houston were up to 4 degrees Celcius warmer than normal, and it is the heat energy in the upper layers of the ocean that makes these storms much stronger than they would normally be.”

Gore says this is of course a global phenomenon, as New Zealand saw with Cyclones Cook and Debbie. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico super-charged its effects, he says.

“The water was warm not only on the surface, but down to a depth of 200 metres so these hurricanes or cyclones normally they will churn up the ocean and colder water from the depths comes to the surface which short circuits the strength of the storm.

"But that didn’t happen with Harvey because the water at depth was also warm.”

Warmer ocean temperatures, he says, feed a great deal more water vapour into the storm.

“It’s a terrible tragedy and unfortunately - according to the scientists - a sign of things to come, and that’s why we have to stop using the atmosphere as an open sewer for 110 million tonnes of global warming pollution that we spew into it every day,” Gore says.

Gore however believes there is cause for optimism with both India and China rapidly decarbonising.

“India has made an astonishing u-turn. They’re closing lots of coal-burning power stations. They’ve closed 37 coal mines, and electricity from solar - unsubsidised - is now significantly cheaper than electricity from burning coal in India.”

India has announced it won’t need any more coal-burning power plants, Gore says.

“They’ve announced that they don’t need coal burning plants any more In five years and they are cancelling some of those that are now in operation and vastly expanding their solar capacity - it’s really a very encouraging development.”

India has also committed to making 100 percent of its new cars and trucks electric vehicles within 13 years, Gore says.

He says transportation is a major emitter of greenhouse gases and New Zealand has an opportunity in this area.

“You’ve got 81 percent of your electricity from renewables, and you’re scheduled to go up to 90 percent within 8 years; that’s extremely impressive.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the pollution from cars and trucks is now larger than the production of electricity, so using renewable electricity to power electric vehicles and transform the transportation fleet is a very effective way to help solve the crisis.

He says a quarter of global warming pollution is because of the electricity generation required to heat poorly insulated buildings with inefficient windows and lighting, and New Zealand has an opportunity to boost employment by retrofitting old buildings to modern efficiency standards.