Five years after the release of his Academy Award-winning documentary, former Vice President Al Gore is once again attempting to build awareness and momentum behind action on climate change with a slide show.
The "24 Hours of Reality" program, created by Gore's Climate Reality Project, started at 8 p.m. EDT on Wednesday in Mexico City, concluding with a speech from the former vice president. Speaking from New York City yesterday evening, Gore said the program marks a new era for action. "Climate change is really not a political problem. It is a human problem," said Gore. "We can start by addressing the deniers of climate change."
The presentations consisted of a one-hour slide show in 13 languages highlighting the dangers of climate change, tailored to the local presenters and staggered across every time zone over the course of a day. The entire program can be seen online at ClimateRealityProject.org. The website's counter indicated 8.5 million people viewed the site while the presentations were streamed live.
Slides prominently featured large natural disasters over the past few years, showing scenes from floods in Australia and Pakistan, droughts in East Africa, and hurricanes along America's Atlantic Coast, and linked these weather events to shifting climate patterns. "Global warming has changed the conditions in which all storms form," said Gore, who quoted a scientist stating that the phenomenon represents a "new normal."
"They used to say that you can't connect any single event to climate," said Gore, but now large weather events are more likely and more severe. "We're not only loading the dice; we're painting more dots on the dice." He cited examples of record temperatures set throughout the world in the past year, including more than 200 instances in the United States of record highs being met or broken.
World tour of weather catastrophes
The high temperatures have caused droughts around the world, said Gore, and crop losses in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan forced those countries to withdraw their crops from international markets to feed their populations, causing a spike in world food prices. Gore said this spike in prices is part of what led to the frustrations of Mohamed Bouazizi, the food vendor in Tunisia who immolated himself earlier this year, setting off the Arab spring.
Gore implored skeptics to "open their minds and their hearts" to his argument that climate change is driven by human activities and requires immediate and far-reaching action. In the presentation, Gore said climate skepticism resulted from a concerted effort by major polluters to sow uncertainty among the public, likening the effort to tobacco companies attempting to cast doubt on the link between smoking and harmful health effects. According to Gore, many of the same lobbyists and institutions that aided the tobacco companies are now trying to thwart action on climate change.
During the slide show, Gore played a clip of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) saying that volcanoes contribute substantially more carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere than people do. "I don't believe for one moment that Speaker John Boehner intends to deceive," said Gore. "I do believe someone told him that in a persuasive way." Gore described the volcano argument as a red herring and said that these sentiments arise from the role industry plays in politics. "It is a fact that the largest carbon polluters are the single largest source of campaign contributions," he said.
Gore then lauded some countries' efforts in addressing the problem, like China's adoption of wind energy, becoming the largest wind user in the world, or how solar photovoltaic cells are seeing widespread use in Sierra Leone. "The Vatican has the goal of being the world's first carbon-neutral country," said Gore. "They have two advantages: They are very small, and God is on their side."
The slide-show marathon did draw some criticism, both for the method and the message. Tom Harris, executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, said the program was largely a wasted effort. "I think it's sad to see them spend so much time and energy on something on something that's not true," said Harris, who described his group as offering a "climate-realist perspective." "This extreme weather thing is not a function of temperature," he said.
A doubter's lament
Harris also said "90 percent of the important facts [in the presentations] are wrong or misrepresented." He cited temperature data and solar activity data that contradicted some of the trends Gore displayed.
Though he acknowledged that climate change is occurring, Harris said humanity is not necessarily driving the phenomenon, so attempting to stop warming trends doesn't make much sense. "The amount of climate change impact that humans have is very small," said Harris.
Harris said that the focus should instead be on preparing communities to deal with changes in weather patterns. "The sensible response to climate change is to work hard to help people adapt," he said. "We have a moral obligation to help people in other parts of the world." The assistance, Harris said, should focus more on helping people immediately with disaster warning systems, sea wall construction and evacuating vulnerable areas, rather than on long-term solutions like carbon emissions cuts that will have a negligible payoff.
"We have houses in northern Canada falling down because the permafrost is melting," said Harris, referring to the below-ground layer of ice that usually remains frozen year-round. He said residents of those areas were disappointed in how officials responded to the problem. "The government offered a strategy to help their grandchildren but not them" by lowering carbon emissions, said Harris.
Harris said that the climate debate is fraught with demagoguery, which will hamper finding solutions to these climate issues. "One of the troubles is that on both sides, there is a tendency to demonize the other side. It prevents people from actually having a dialogue," Harris said, recalling an interaction on a plane with a scientist who believed humans are causing climate change.
En route to the international climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, the two of them realized that though they disagreed on the science, they were seeking similar goals. "We both had the same moral compass, but operate from different data," said Harris.