On October 6th, Seventh Generation and the University of Vermont welcomed the 45th US Vice President, Al Gore at Ira Allen Chapel on the university’s campus. The highly anticipated speaking engagement entitled “The Climate Crisis and the Case for Hope,” which is part of an Energy Action Seminar Series facilitated by UVM Energy Alternatives, was truly an emotional roller coaster and had Gore left the stage at the halfway mark, all in attendance would have gone home rather depressed. “We are going to win this struggle” he stated, “the question is how quickly we will win,” Gore remarked before elaborating on the deep sinkhole humanity has fallen into.
The lecture followed a path most familiar with the former vice president’s advocacy would expect. The rising atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) levels that we are witnessing come from a variety of sources, but as Gore pointed out “the main problem is burning of fossil fuels, when we address this, the rest will fall into place.” The first part of the lecture really focused on the crisis. The audience watched in horror footage of major weather events, many have seen before, but taken in all at once really underline the major recent changes that we have seen in our global weather patterns. Gore noted that of the “14 of the hottest years on record have been in the last 15 years,” and that the average temperature at night during this time has increased, meaning that people and the planet, really can’t get a break from the heat.
Gore went on to talk about the cost of carbon, or as he tried to drive home, the lack of cost it represents to our economy. “We need to put a cost on carbon,” he noted “put a cost on denial” he then continued in reference to those who deny climate change. This statement was met by large applause by those who filled Ira Allen Chapel, hitting home for a crowd that will likely be talking a lot about carbon pricing in the upcoming legislative session. Political instability, floods and mudslides, wildfires, drought, storm damage, dying coral, infrastructure loss, species extinction, melting glaciers, famine water security, ecosystem loss, our way of life, infectious disease, and sea level rise all represent the cost of carbon we are already paying Gore noted on a slide with an animated cash register racking up the cost, concluding “there is a financial risk to using fossil fuels”
It’s worth noting, that this notion does not make Gore an outlier anymore. Just last week the Governor of the bank of England, Mark Carney echoed the same message when he spoke on the increase of major weather events and the related financial cost at meeting of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London. Additionally, going back to last year, the department of defense listed climate change as an agitating factor in areas already experiencing political instability.
As was said earlier, if Gore had sent everyone home after the “The Climate Crisis” part of his lecture, without the “Case for Hope” portion, everyone there would have a pretty doomy and gloomy demeanor for weeks to come. Instead, the mood took a 360 change with Gore trumpeting the triumphs of the past year that have put humanity on a course towards beating climate change. Among these he gave Burlington credit for achieving 100% renewable energy. He went on the new power generated in 2014 three quarters of it was renewable energy, and reflecting on the fact that those who still deny climate change can agree, renewables just make economic sense.
To close, Gore instructed the audience, “always remember, that political will is a renewable resource.” As Vermont and the rest of the nation watch national and local campaigns for political office start up in which politicians’ attention, or potential lack of attention, can greatly shape our climates future, let’s hope that holds true. Leaving Ira Allen Chapel, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of optimism, and optimism is definitely a renewable resource.
The full seminar “The Climate Crisis and the Case for Hope” can be heard courtesy of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics