As the record books check off 2016 as the (new) hottest year in history, the evidence of climate change only becomes more glaring. Al Gore—one of the most noteworthy champions for awareness—continues his appeal to the public, over 40 years after his crusade started.
Recently, Temple Emanu-El played the New York host for former vice-president’s Gore’s enlightenment, and publicity tour (he has a new book and sequel to his 2007 Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth coming out this year). The temple setting was fitting, as he preached on the dangers of climate change to a congregation of believers.
The one-time Tennessee congressman originally brought the issue of global warming to the national stage in 1976, when he organized a congressional hearing on the topic. Since that time, the human race has made great strides in protecting our habitats. However, as we take steps forward, we continue to take several steps back.
Gore opened his presentation with three questions anyone concerned about climate change should ask themselves: Do we really have to change? Can we change? Will we change? And for all three, Gore gave a resounding “yes!” He even harkened back to Renaissance era astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (who was the first to theorize the sun was the center of our solar system), as he facilitated the notion that belief systems can be changed. This is relevant in a time period when our President, Donald J. Trump, is an admitted climate change denier.
When a political figure of such status questions such a key issue, the only way for this environmental activist to respond, are with the difficult to swallow facts at hand—even if the current government regime seems to dispute actual facts.
Humans continue to pollute the atmosphere as we burn fossil fuels, destroy rain forests with controlled burns, and release large sums of methane into the air from livestock and the melting of the polar caps. Gore put it best when he said, “We are using this [the atmosphere] as an open sewer.” And this sewer is eroding our lone defense against the intensive power of the sun—the ozone layer.
Because of the boom in global industrialization since World War II, carbon emissions into the air have increased at a staggering rate. Recent evidence has found that since the 90’s, pollution has weakened our ozone so seriously that we are now 150 times more likely to have an unusually hot day than we would have 40 years ago. Adding to the knowledge that the planet is being slow cooked like a stack of ribs, is that since 2001 we have seen 16 of the 17 hottest days ever recorded.
Last year the American southwest saw days so hot, that they were officially designated as life threatening. In July, parts of Iraq reached a high of 129 degrees. The same time the year before, Iran reached a heat index (a measure combining temperature and humidity in the air) of 165 degrees.
What makes this heat even more dangerous is that it sucks the moisture out of soil. This loss of moisture has made droughts last longer and cost countries like China and India billions. From 2006 to 2010, 60 percent of what was once fertile soil in Syria is now desert. And for already arid regions like the Middle East and northern Africa, they could “soon be unlivable.”
But that sapped moisture doesn’t leave the ground and go unaccounted for. It often goes into the air as humidity, causing “atmospheric rivers.” When these rivers flow they cause an unusual weather phenomenon dubbed a “rain bomb.” These were once a rare occasion. Yet they are happening so much more often that they have even been caught on camera. Rain bombs however, are the least of many people’s worries.
Along with rivers in the air, ocean temperatures continue to rise. A warmer ocean surface means more storms, and violent ones at that. Houston, Texas was victimized by these brutal weather patterns as they endured five major floods from 2015 to 2016. The US as a whole has had seven “once in a thousand year” weather events recently. In the United Kingdom, while they have had the hottest years on record for them, from November 2015 to January 2016 the region saw the wettest three month period in over 100 years.
Along with fierce weather, our warming planet has seen massive loses of ice in the artic. The western section of Antarctica is in “irreversible levels of retreat.” Gore hammered home the seriousness of the problem when he displayed a slide of a 100 mile rift in one section of the ice shelf, which is the size of Delaware. He noted that there unfortunately no stopping this section from breaking off of the continent, and melting into the waters of the ocean.
When that happens, sea levels will rise to dangerous heights. Major American cities like Miami (#1) and New York (#3) are some of the most at-risk cities for permanent flooding in decades to come.
The planet is ferociously reacting back to the treatment it has been dealt by human industry. And so, people’s lives are being put in danger on a daily basis. At the beginning of the decade, 55,000 people died in Russia from the combination of droughts and forest fires. Riots occur across the globe over dwindling food supplies. Diseases, like the Zika Virus, are on the rise because of unhealthy conditions. Even the US Surgeon General stated that climate change is causing a medical emergency.
Even on a shallow level, the results of climate change are a concern because they can cause significant problems for the global economy. The situation is ripe to cause an abundance of “political chaos.” On two occasions Gore had to calm himself while speaking, as his strong passion for the subject got him close to yelling out his frustrations.
If you are feeling a chill of discomfort, and mild fear wash over you then good—you care. But, there is hope. Carbon dioxide levels have stayed steady in the last three years. And despite all the backwards steps we have taken with carbon emissions, technology has made great strides in making humans an environmentally cleaner inhabitant of this planet. Many more cities in the US, and abroad, are aiming to use 100 percent renewable sources for energy—for example, wind and solar.
President Trump promised during his election campaign to put more Americans back to work. Focusing on the coal industry, which has long been a primary source in carbon emissions. Yet Gore insisted on the massive job and money making opportunities in the clean energy industries.
Wind turbine service tech is one of the nation’s fastest growing jobs. Not to be outdone, employment in solar energy outnumbers those in oil, gas and coal combined. We have progressed 70 times faster in solar use than 2001 estimates expected. And with higher demand, comes serious investment from governments and the private sector. “This is a dramatic success,” said Gore.
These forms of energy are also much more affordable for the customers that use it. This is because renewable energy is cheaper, since it costs nothing to produce. And even when the sun isn’t out, and the wind isn’t blowing, battery technology has come so far that it is more than adequate to sustain energy levels when renewables are not available.
“This is our home, we have to change,” implored Gore as many of the people in attendance nodded in agreement. When asked by an audience member what can one person do to incite change from a less influential position, Gore listed his four suggestions: Learn about the subject, win the conversation (meaning don’t let individuals in denial go unchallenged), be forceful in making change amongst your own social circles, and be politically active.
Al Gore has been a force for change in the fight for protecting our environment. And we all can be an influence of change for our friends, families and communities. But if you don’t believe me, let Mr. Gore tell you why: