Emma Green is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers politics, policy, and religion.
So let's talk.
In the seven years since An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore has continued his crusade against global climate change. It remains the most important issue the cities of the world can invest in, he says.
“Go whole hog on electrification,” Gore urged during an interview with AtlanticEditor in Chief James Bennet on Monday night at the magazine’s CityLab summit. “Put these solar panels in. Start generating renewable electricity. Deal with the heat through tree planting and green roofs. Cheap fossil energy has created an incredibly inefficient infrastructure.”
Gore painted an alarming picture of the future of ocean temperatures, hurricanes, and wind storms. “The cumulative amount of man-made global warming pollution is trapping enough extra heat each day to equal the amount of heat energy that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima bombs going off every single day,” he said. “That’s a lot of energy.”
In the U.S., like all political issues these days, taking action against climate change seems to be on a permanent legislative hold. Last month, the Obama administration proposed a plan to create stricter limits on how much carbon new power plants can emit, but they may face legal challenges from opponents in the utilities sector and the Republican Party. As Coral Davenport writes in National Journal, "The coal industry and its friends in Congress view [these regulations] as a declaration of war."
And as Gore pointed out, the political environment in Washington also affects global efforts to address climate change. “The dysfunction and paralysis of our government now radiates paralysis and dysfunction into the global system," he said. "The negotiating process has produced these zombies, neither alive nor dead: Kyoto, global trade agreements, and right down the list.”
Although Gore seemed optimistic about the progress being made in public opinion about climate change, he used some pretty extreme language to condemn climate change deniers, comparing them to gay bashers and 1960s-era racists. He also had unkind words for journalists.
“It is now like a family with an alcoholic father who flies into a rage whenever the problem is mentioned, so everybody learns to keep the peace by never speaking up,” he said. “The news media, for example, is largely scared to death to say the word ‘climate.’ The coverage has been pathetic.”
For all these failings of the press and the politicians, Gore offered two solutions: Impose a carbon tax on companies and publicly shame climate change neglecters and deniers.
“We have to put a price on carbon in the marketplace, and we have to put a price on denial in the political system,” he said.